A familiar excitement fills your mind as you begin a new school term. “This season will be different”, you tell yourself; the one where you stay ahead of lecture material, take elegant notes, and asborb information faster. As the lectures begin, you scramble to get all the information you hear into your notes, and you begin feeling overwhelmed with all the knowledge you are expected to retain.

Does this situation sound familiar?

Different Approaches to Studying

Taking notes efficiently is a crucial way to cope with the pressures of learning difficult academic content. The mindful note-taking habits you develop now in high school will help you in your journey through medical school and during your career as a physician. Now is a good moment to reflect on what note-taking techniques work for you and which ones you may wish to adapt. In this blog post, we will look at different approaches to taking notes, tips to organize the contents of your notes, and ways of making the most of your notes to aid your studying.

First it is important to realize that different students prefer different ways of learning. Some students are visual learners and learn better through reading (and re-reading notes). Writing excellent notes are the obvious study approach in this case.

Some students prefer taking notes on their computer, which helps you get down information faster; others prefer taking notes on paper, which aids in processing information more deeply.

Other students are audio learners, and may benefit more from listening to a lecturer thoughtfully than from frantically writing down notes. Certain university medical courses offer lecture recordings, which help you listen through a lecture’s material more than once. 

You should aim to gain the most from a lecture according to the strengths of your own learning style. If you find yourself barely recollecting what a lecturer mentioned, while feeling that your notes are poor quality, reflect on how you could change your response during lectures.

Tell a Narrative

A useful way to process new information in a lecture is to construct or imagine a narrative to go along with the facts. For instance, when learning about the mechanisms of cell reproduction, imagine the many steps involved in cells going from replicating their deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) strands to physically splitting themselves into two halves. Thus, when a teacher gives you new knowledge, such as a certain protein that helps the nucleus divide DNA strands, you can easily orient the information within the narrative of knowledge you already know. Without a way of conceptualizing new information, a lecture could seem like an overwhelming flood of meaningless facts.

As you gain more medical knowledge, you will encounter a variety of narrative systems, ranging from molecular pathways to organ systems to even a patient’s understanding of his/her illness.

A molecular example would be our body’s immunological response to a bacterial infection, which follows a repeatable or predictable series of events, like a sports team running a tactical play. 

Another example is that our body breaks down food into nutrients through well-rehearsed molecular mechanisms.

On a human physiological level, blood flows through our body following the laws of fluid physics. In a sense, these formulas tell a story of blood circulation that repeats and varies itself. Similarly, medical researchers have designed mathematical models to tell the narratives of how our kidneys remove waste from the bloodstream in the nephrons, as well as how nerve cells in the brain communicate with one another.

Developing a keen imagination, noticing and reasoning through these patterns will help you take notes faster and process new information effectively.

Make Your Own Pattern to Organize Info

There are a variety of techniques you could explore to help organize your notes as you write them. One helpful approach is to colour-code words. For instance, when learning about human anatomy, you could write new technical terms in blue; anatomical features in red; important details in black, and general info in pencil. Instead of getting confused with your own notes, a colour-coded system helps you recollect your own thoughts and notice important facts faster during revision.

Other ideas include underlining or circling important details. You could even edit your notes as you go through them after the lectures, adding these features as you absorb the content more deeply. Explore different ways of coding your notes to help organize your ideas.

What to Do With Notes

Once you have taken notes and revised them after the lectures, you may wonder how you could make the most of them. One approach that some students may find helpful for memorizing notes faster is to distill the key points of every lecture into shorter lecture outlines. You can then memorize these outlines to grasp the crucial ideas from every lecture. Once you have memorized the basics, you could then link up the details with the big ideas. For instance, in neurology lectures, one could first summarize the key parts of the brain and their general functions.

With this framework, one could then go through the notes again and learn the specific proteins and anatomical structures associated with each brain region.

Helpful techniques to re-enforce your network of knowledge include testing yourself with cue cards. Remember: there is no ‘right’ way to take notes. The key is to help yourself learn new knowledge, so explore techniques that work best for you!

Key Points:


  • Reflect on your own learning style, and develop a strategy of note taking that aligns with your own preferences
  • Find a way of weaving facts into narratives when taking notes to process new information faster
  • Explore the variety of ways to use your notes efficiently to memorize faster



8 Science-Based Study Tips to Ace Your Next Test by Careerswiki


How Do I Learn Best? by VARK


A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop by Cindi May, Scientific American

Lunan Zhao

Lunan Zhao

Medical Sciences Editor

Lunan is a medical student in Canada and a visiting English student at Mansfield College, Oxford. He is particularly interested in medical humanities, social medicine, public health, as well as knowledge translation, and is excited to be Scholastica Inspires’ Medical Sciences Editor! In his free time, he enjoys exploring the distinct ways that metaphors shape both our literary worlds and scientific imagination, and loves going for jogs.