What is the best method for note storage?


Every college student knows that one of the key skills they need to be successful in their classes is the ability to take notes. There is so much advice out there about how to take notes. There is everything from concept maps to outlining to the Cornell method. For more information on these methods check out our resources page on note taking here. However, I feel like there is not enough information out there about how to store your notes after you take them. As a new student, it can be overwhelming with all of the different options for places to take your notes. Do you go with the five subject notebooks that holds all your notes in one place? Or do you get a different spiral bound notebook for each individual class? Or do you get crazy with it and only take your notes on leftover lunch napkins ;)? Today I will go through with you the different methods that I have tried and the pros and cons of each method of organization based on my personal experience.

Single Subject Notebooks

In high school, I used single subject notebooks for all of my classes that required note taking. The glory of the single subject notebook is that it is easy to stay organized. All of your notes have their own place to live, and you always have the option to just carry some of your notes and not the others. You also have the option of getting different types of notebooks for different classes, for example, having a college ruled notebook for English, a grid paper notebook for math, and a sketchbook for art. This method of organization can get you into trouble, however, if you happen to pick up the wrong notebook one day for some reason or another. The single subject notebook method worked for me in high school because I could leave some of my notebooks in my locker and switch them up as I went throughout my day. In college, I have found other methods that I prefer to this as I have no locker where I can drop my extra notes. I have tried finding places on campus to drop my extra notebooks throughout the day such as using my car or the lockers placed around Tracy Hall. I have never found these drop off locations to be central enough for my purposes, but they might be good for you!

Multi-Subject Notebooks

The first time that I experienced the glory of the multi-subject notebook was when I began college. These notebooks typically have two to five sections separated by dividers that will occasionally have pocket pages to store additional paper. The beauty of the multi-subject notebooks is that you can have all of your notes organized in one place. This way when you are running out of the door in the morning you don’t have to worry if you have the right notes or not. As long as you have your notebook, you have all of your notes for the day with you. The down side of this is that you have to carry around all of your notes on any given day whether you need them or not. Carrying all of your class notes can be a heavy load to carry from day to day all around campus. One of the ways that I have negated this problem is to split my notes up into two multi-subject notebooks, one with enough slots for all of my classes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the other with space for my Tuesday, Thursday classes. Splitting the load into two halves makes it so you do not have to carry around so much paper every day, but you still have the notes that you need for the day on hand.

Binder and Loose Leaf Pages (My Holy Grail)

I have always had a tough time keeping my backpack light. I am a girl who loves to come prepared for any situation that might be thrown at me, meaning that I need a lot of stuff in my backpack. When trying different ways to carry around and organize my notes, I often became frustrated with all of the extra paper in my notebooks. I often felt the notebooks I was using either had too little or too much paper for each of my classes. I lamented this problem to my Mom, and she suggested I use a binder with loose leaf paper.

So I went to the store and got a 1.5 inch binder and tabbed colored dividers. I labeled a different divider for each class I was taking. Then, I took loose leaf paper and added it to each section individually. The loose leaf paper gave me the ability to have just the right amount of paper for my classes. This method also made it so that I could have all of my notes in the same place at all times without wasting any paper. I also would sometimes remove my notes at the end of an exam or module and store them in a different binder at home to make it easier to navigate my current notes.

I have found this method to be the most flexible of all of the methods. For example, say one day you forget your notebook and have to borrow paper from a classmate to stay up to date in your class. When you get home it is easy to then add these notes in the correct section rather than having to rewrite them over again or have loose pages in your notebook. This method also makes it so that you can store all of your handouts in the same place as your notes. You can do this by getting dividers with pockets that can hold the loose paper or you can use a hole puncher and place the additional pages amongst your notes in the proper section. Using this method, you could theoretically print out all of your professor's PowerPoint presentations before class and have them all organized within your binder before the lecture ever begins. Having them organized in this way makes it easier to refer back to them in the future without having to rifle through so many loose pieces of paper.

Digital Note Taking

Another option for taking notes is to use a touch screen device to hand write notes digitally. I personally have never had the opportunity to use this note taking method, but I have heard that it has some great advantages. The first advantage is that you can have all of your notes in the same place at all times. No matter where you are, as long as you have digital access you can pull up your notes for reference. Using apps like OneNote, Notability, or Evernote, you can log into your account on any device and have all of your notes right at your fingertips. These apps also give you features such as the ability to write on your powerpoints and easily change how your notes look using different colors and line variations. If you are in the market for a new device or you have an old device that you have not pulled out in a while, I recommend you give it a shot.

I personally have a touch screen laptop, but I never forked out the money to buy a stylus that is compatible with my screen. I have tried taking notes on my touch screen with my finger or one of those all compatible rubber styluses but I have never been successful. I have found that I don’t have the control with these tools to make my writing legible. I have always felt that it was much easier to just pull out a paper and pen to write my notes out. I recommend if you ever want to use this feature for note taking to spend the money to buy the compatible stylus. The stylus seems to be the key element that makes this method actually effective, and so it is worth the extra cost.

Digital Note Storage

Hand writing is the most recommended method of note taking. Whether you take notes on paper, with a stylus, or even type them, it is still important to keep your notes organized. No matter if you take notes digitally or not, I recommend at the beginning of the semester making digital files for all of the classes you are taking. This way you can make sure to keep all of your digital assignments and notes separated by class so you never have to feel lost digging through your digital files. At the end of each semester, I then go back in and put all of my class files into a bigger file that encompasses all of the classes I took that semester. Having these multi-level files helps me to keep track of everything I have done without my online library becoming totally overwhelming.

No One Size Fits All

There is not a one size fits all method that will work perfectly every time every semester. I suggest you take a look at the method that you are using now and look for the pros and cons of that method. Find what you like and what you dislike, and then look for ways that you could tweak your current method to improve your overall organization. You could even look into using a combination of methods depending on the classes you are taking at the time. For example, you could choose to use a single subject graph paper notebook for your math class and have a multi subject notebook for the rest of your classes. Or you may have a teacher who wants you to turn your notes in physically for checking every once in a while, so you could get a small compact notebook for that class and take all of the rest of your notes on an iPad. It is all about trial and error to find what works best for you.

If you feel like you are struggling with note organization or any other academic skill, we would be happy to help! You can reach us at coaching@weber.edu or by heading to our home page here and setting up an appointment to meet with us one on one.

Until next time! XOXO - Kat

About The Author

Kat A.
Certified Peer Educator


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