How to take notes in a way that boosts memory

Most of us take notes on a regular basis, whether we’re frantically trying to keep up with a professor’s droning monologue or just writing down a few things to remember from or for a work meeting.

Most of us take notes on a regular basis, whether we’re frantically trying to keep up with a professor’s droning monologue or just writing down a few things to remember from or for a work meeting.

It’s a great way to boost your retention and make sure you recall information accurately.

It’s also an immediate way to test your grasp of the material and keep your thoughts organized on the page. But can you take notes in a way that boosts your natural memory, and deepens your understanding of the material even further? Yes you can, and here’s how.

Use the Right App

Your first job is to choose the right note-taking solution. There are dozens, if not hundreds of note-taking apps on the market. From a high level, they look mostly the same.

However, certain apps have built-in features that make it easier to take notes and stay organized. If you select the right one for your purposes, you’ll be able to jot down notes quickly in real time, store them in the cloud, then access and/or organize them from any other device.

If you’re not having to wrestle with your note-taking program, and you have a streamlined experience taking notes, it’s much easier to pay attention to the person who’s speaking. You’ll also retain more of the context and have more tools to make your notes highly effective.

Take Notes by Hand (If You Can)

If possible, try to take your notes by hand. Writing something physically makes it easier to remember in the future; for some reason, typing on a keyboard doesn’t have the same effect.

There are many possible explanations for why this is the case, but it’s a well-reviewed and established scientific phenomenon. It may be that recording information by hand forces you to think through the content more thoroughly, or the tactile act of writing helps to cement the information in your memory.

In any case, many modern note-taking apps enable you to use a stylus to hand-write your notes, so you can capitalize on the best of both physical and digital note-taking worlds.

Process What You’re Writing

Some people take notes without really thinking about them. They allow their hand to become a vessel for the person speaking, and write down every word said verbatim (or nearly so).

Although this allows you to capture a greater percentage of the content delivered within your hearing, it’s not so good for future recall. Instead, take a moment to process seriously what the person says … then try to put it in your own, concise verbiage.

That can be a bit more time consuming, and you won’t catch everything the speaker is saying (especially if he or she’s a fast talker), but you’ll understand and remember the substance much better.

Start Chaotic, Then Apply Form

Don’t obsess over achieving perfect form when you take notes initially, especially if you’re taking notes from someone who isn’t organized. Instead, write everything however and wherever you can, and don’t take the trouble to render it in complete sentences. This way, you can record the content unimpeded. Later, you may revisit your raw notes and reorganize them.

Revisit and Rewrite Your Notes

Immediately after the class or meeting, when the information is still fresh, spend some time reviewing and rewriting your notes. You can spend time organizing them in the order you deem to be most logical. You can convert it to complete sentences.

Most importantly, you can review the information to evaluate what you understood and what may not have fully grasped. It’s a solid opportunity to learn and retain more information, and thus give your future self better notes to work with.

Learn (or Create Your Own) Shorthand

This isn’t an essential strategy, but it’s one that many people have found helpful for attention and memory retention: learn how to write shorthand. Shorthand is a notation system that relies on concise symbols to represent certain letters, groupings of letters, individual words, and sometimes entire phrases.

It’s designed so that you can write as quickly as possible, and limit the number of characters you have to reproduce on page – without reducing the comprehensibility of the writing.

Of course, if you don’t like shorthand, or don’t have time to learn it in full, you can devise your own system for shortening words and phrases. The goal is to spend less time actually writing and more time focused on the meeting or class.

Taking notes in a more constructive, focused manner will help you pay more attention in your most vital settings – and potentially enable you to recall more later. You’ll also keep your notes more organized and focused, which will produce excellent material to study or review thereafter.

It will take time to become a master note-taker, but with diligence and patience, you’ll get there.