Note-Taking 101

It may just be the halfway through the first semester, but when it's time to study for final exams, it's important that you aren't spending time trying to locate information amongst your stacks of notes. Note-taking is a learned art for law school students. Sometimes it can take several semesters to figure out how to maximize both efficiency and accuracy.

Here are some tips on how to organize your notes to put yourself in the best position to succeed come finals time:

Color-coding

Try taking notes in different colored pens or using highlighters after you've taken notes. Some students use a different color for facts, issue, holding, procedure, rationale, and rule. Others use different colors for notes in class and notes on reading assignments. You can also use different colors for each class. Having things easily distinguishable by color will come in handy when it comes time to create your outlines.

Handwritten notes

Studies show that taking notes the old fashioned way - that is, by paper and pen (or pencil) is the most effective way to learn. At first blush, it might seem crazy to have to take down so much information by hand. But the inherent limitations of note-taking by hand also present an advantage: you’re forced to only write what’s important. The other obvious benefit is that taking notes by hand eliminates the need for a laptop, so you’re freeing yourself from distractions and turning yourself into a more active learner.

Organizing typed notes

One law school student shared that they created folders for each class, then subfolders for class notes, reading notes, (outlines, tutoring materials, and any other useful folders. Notes should be saved so you can clearly identify the chapter and/or topic they refer to. And some note-taking programs, like Microsoft OneNote, have built-in organizing systems that you should take advantage of. Later, you can always print all your notes and create binders with indexes to study from.

Find what works for you and stick with it

Ask your fellow classmates how they organize their notes, but take only what will work for you. It's great to find new ways to organize your notes, but make sure that it's a system that is sustainable and makes sense to you. Once you’ve figured out what works, commit to it. Also, remember it's okay to try something out and find out it doesn't work. That's how you'll find an organizing system that does work.

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