26 May 2015

how I take notes part I: from online resources & textbooks

Having been a student almost all of my life, I’ve picked up a few tricks and refined my note-taking methods. In both my undergraduate and current course, there is a lot of information I need to know and this means I have to be extra productive during each study session involving textbooks, online resources, online videos, etc. 

In this series of blog posts, I hope to be able to share how I take notes from:
1. Online resources and textbooks - so textual resources
2. Online videos and lectures
3. Resources in relation to practical skills.

I don’t claim to be an expert, nor do I claim that my methods are perfectly honed but these are the things that I’ve come to realise work for me and I hope one or two of them work for you also.


Most of my note-taking comes from online resources and I’m lucky in that my medschool has an online database of notes for almost every topic I need to know about as a student. As a result, I tend to use these notes first and then supplement them by reading textbook chapters (usually from Kumar & Clark/Moore & Dalley/Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine - depending on whether the topic is physiology/anatomy/clinical). The online database from my medschool is quite good at breaking things down into simple terms before explaining the more difficult concepts so if your school has something like that, I’d definitely recommend you seek it out and utilise it :)

Further to this, I like to do practice questions (there are plenty online for medical students for quite a cheap fee - seek and you shall find :) - I don't like recommending them because different question banks will work for different people and don't want to be blamed if I recommend one that doesn't work for you!), and when I do a question, I will write notes on them regardless if I was right or wrong.

The picture above shows a Moleskine cahier notebook. On the left are notes from the practice questions I’ve been doing and on the right is a full-page spread on liver function tests. These are brief notes and I use as few words as possible - why use five words when you can use one? I never ever write in full sentences and bullet points are a super useful thing to use and I use a variety of these: dot bullets, line bullets, arrows, hearts, squares, hollow circles, asterisks etc).

The picture above are notes from my medschool’s online resource that I mentioned earlier. I numbered each main topic and then re-phrased the information into words of my own. Any jargon is translated into an easier to understand phrase - directly contradicting what I said earlier because this is an occasion where I may use more words than necessary!

When I take these notes, I don't copy them down as I read them. I read the whole text first, noting down key words on a scrap piece of paper (if I have time) or if not, I just skim read it, then I read it again and then I finally start taking notes. When I take notes, I process it and then paraphrase as explained earlier. 

I like to draw tree diagrams if appropriate. Immunology lends itself very well to this and helps me make sense of the bigger picture. Drawing diagrams and making things more pictorial can definitely help them enter your brain easier - at least for me it does! I think I’m quite a visual learner so this really works for me.

Finally, condense things! Post-it notes are ideal for these and in the picture above, I put the main symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus onto one single post-it. Subheadings are highlighted through the use of a hand-drawn box though I sometimes use actual highlighters for this purpose too. 

In a way, these notes were probably a poor example because I do have a basic background in immunology due to my undergraduate degree which had modules on said topic. However, the principles apply for any topic I study - especially for the ones I'm not so familiar with.

My main principles are:
1) Always start with the basics and break everything down to its bare bones. There's no good diving into the deep end - so start with the most basic stuff and then build on that. Think of it as putting on layers of clothes!

2) Never write in full sentences/paragraphs. Big chunks of text are scary when it comes to revision time!

3) Don't be scared if you don't get things on the first go. Sometimes, it can take a while for concepts to sink in. Before one of my undergraduate exams, I didn't understand NMR at all (even after studying it for hours on end) but the night before the actual exam, I dreamt about it and woke up completely understanding it. I answered an essay question on it in the exam and received a first class grade! I have faith in my brain and you should too, in yours :)

The next part of this series will cover taking notes from videos and lectures. It may be a while before it is posted but it is on my to-do list so don't fear :)

Do you have any tips for note-taking from textual resources? :)


  1. Thank you for this! I love your blog :)

  2. Thanks for sharing all your tips! :)
    Do you use one notebook for all your notes, or do you segregate based on topic/module?

    1. I try and use one for each topic :) x

    2. Thanks Angela! :)
      Perfect excuse to buy more notebooks haha xx

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  4. I'm PT student(from thailand) and finding how to taking effective note
    before License test in next month.
    I love your note so much . It's wonderful.It's inspired me.
    Thank you for sharing your great work.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment and good luck with your test :) x

  5. Hello! I love your blog and your notes are SO NEAT! What kind of pen do you use for these notes? They look like Muji pens, but I'm not really a pen expert XD. Keep up the great work! Keep calm and study on!