Note Taking Strategies for Nursing Students

effective-note-takingNursing school curriculum requires a high-level of dedication to studying course material and reviewing it often. Learning to become a learner who is able to capture strong notes from lectures and reading materials helps prepare you for not only exams needed to pass the course, but for a lifelong career in nursing where continuous education is a must and excellent note taking skills is necessary. To become an effective note taker while attending an online nursing school is intimidating, especially when you are unsure what information is important enough to be deemed “noteworthy.” It requires more than simply putting course material on paper and regurgitating it for the exam. Learners must be able to takes good notes and learn to retain the information and pull from it when needed. Our Learner Advising and Life Resources Department endorses several note taking strategies to develop better skills that can be applied in nursing school.

  • Understand Organization.

    Organization and structure is the foundation for recording effective notes and without the two, there is no flow nor consistency in the notes. Learn how to use a multi-list approach that breaks main sections into smaller and smaller sections based on relevant content.
  • Be Active when Reading.
    Pace is important when focusing on crafting useful notes that is not filled with worthless content. When listening to a lecture and reading book material, practice connecting the ideas and concepts to create a continuous bridge of information that is supported. This strategy encourages you to always look for the right links between concepts, which is shown to improve memory, to help you formulate the connections.
  • Learn Note Taking Methods.
    Every learner uses specific strategies that benefit their personal learning structure. Just as one learner benefits from reading, another learner may understand better by hearing and seeing elements of the lecture. Practice several methods and try combining methods to see what benefits you.

    • Pen-and-Paper Method. There is a reason why the traditional method of using a notebook and pen to record course material is still a popular method. Because it works. It has only adapted to today’s technology of note taking on a computer, tablet, or phone. Taking notes in the margins of your book as you read and listing questions that you have immediately next to the corresponding concept helps you, as the learner, maintain consistency in your notes (not to mention it will be a helpful reminder to remember where your questions stemmed from).
    • Mind Map Method. Often times the traditional method is just too traditional for some learners who will adopt a more creative method of note taking—mind mapping. By connecting concepts through a spider diagram, visual learners are able to grasp the concepts better by simply drawing it out.
    • “Teach It” Method. When reading the lecture notes you captured or reviewing the book material is not enough, try the “teach it” method. Envision yourself as the teacher lecturing on the topic to a class that is unfamiliar with the topic. Record yourself explaining concepts then take some time to listen to it to find out how accurate you are.
    • Other Methods. Note taking depends on the type of learner you are. Auditory learners are able to learn better by recording lectures then listening to it later, not necessarily taking notes. Heard of a photographic memory? Learners who have the ability to easily remember by taking a mental snapshot of lecture notes and reading material are able to sort it mentally and recall it fairly quickly. They only need to study the page once or twice before they categorize it. Any learner can obtain a photographic memory through a mental exercise: 1) picture a place that will become a memory library such as a childhood home or a fictional library, 2) visualize yourself sorting and categorizing information into buckets, and 3) when studying, visualize yourself taking the material to your memory library and sorting it. Part of this exercise is to always return to your memory library and see yourself going through the buckets to retrieve the right information.
  • Learn when to Listen and what is Noteworthy.
    Especially with online education that has recorded lectures in the modules, learners have the ability to return to the recorded lectures if needed. However, it is beneficial to learn how to listen intently to lectures in hopes of not having to return to lectures more than once. As you listen, learn to decipher what is worth noting. Not everything the instructor says is noteworthy and spending time trying to capture everything the instructor focuses on will steal your attention away from what is actually being taught. You may return to your notes and be clueless as to what the lecture was about because of the lack of attention you had on what was being covered.
  • Reflect, Review, and Refer.
    The 3 “R” strategy should not be overlooked and time should be set aside to complete each step. Because of the greater degree of independent study time online students have, it is recommended learners do not go a day without reflecting and reviewing the information from the lecture or reading. Spend time reflecting on the information to create links between concepts to help solidify your understanding of the material then review it. This is the time to think out loud. Talk your way through your notes, focusing on what you remember from the lecture and reading. Finally, refer to the concepts you just learned, which will help you develop the skills needed to summarize course material without plagiarizing straight from the course.

Learning to become an effective note taker takes persistence and time, but it is a skill that will benefit you while in nursing school and throughout your career as a nurse. Take the time now to build up and improve your note taking skills so you can reap the benefits and transition into a lifelong learner. Our Learner Services Department can recommend further note taking strategies for you.