How to Make the Best Study Notes to Ace Your Exams
We all have that friend who has the most aesthetic study notes and think ‘how do they do it’?! Well, sometimes the prettiest notes aren’t always the best notes. That’s why we’re here to help you make the best study notes to ace your exams!
It can be disheartening to look over at your friend’s study notes and see them look like what StudyTubers have, full of pretty colours and absurdly well-written fonts. But having notes that look good doesn’t necessarily make them good for studying. Our take on good study notes means having all the key points clearly and concisely, in a way that allows you to understand the basic concepts without having to read pages of text (so copying the textbook will not work)! Let’s go into the key elements of great study notes.
Great study notes should…
Study notes are no use to you if they are untidy and illegible. The whole point of study notes is to summarise what you’ve learned in class, so that you can remind yourself, review the content, and test yourself on what you know. If you’re spending time trying to decipher notes you made at a 2am cram session one day, you’re not using your time efficiently. Bad handwriting, or even bad summaries of class content can make studying a nightmare. So do your future-exam-self a favour, and make sure your study notes are written in a way that is easy to read!
“Study notes are no use to you if they are untidy and illegible”
Study notes should not be carbon copies of your textbooks, otherwise you’ll spend forever just reading through them! As you go into university, sure, your notes will get a bit heavier as the content and detail for each subject builds up. But you should always try to keep concise notes. It’s in the name, these should be NOTES on what you have to study, not a copy of every detail and word given by your teachers. This means summarising key points, important facts, and explaining core concepts that are trickier to understand.
“A good rule of thumb is that your notes should be shorter than the textbook”
A good rule of thumb is that your notes should be shorter than the textbook. If your study notes section on cell biology is longer than the textbook chapter, you’ve probably not been very concise.
Be easy to find things
If you need to find a specific formula or definition, you should not have to flip through pages and pages of study notes.
Your study notes should always be laid out in a way that is easy to find what you need to know (part of this comes by actually reading your study notes to know where things are)! This could include making separate sections using bookmarks, folder dividers, or post-it tabs to know exactly where things are.
NOT just be a copy of the textbook
“A better use of your time is to summarise your textbook”
While copying down the textbook may seem easy and productive, the truth is it really isn’t going to help you. Some lucky people can just read the textbook the night before an exam and ace it (we’re officially jealous of you) but most people need to spend time actually understanding the content. And the best way to do this is to summarise the textbook, rather than copying entire paragraphs. This can be done using bullet points, flow charts, diagrams or even tables. The list is endless. True, rewriting what you have to learn helps it get stuck in your head, but rewriting all the textbooks for your classes probably isn’t the best use of your time. A much better way is to summarise your textbook, and then rewrite the bullet points you’ve made (which should be much more concise and therefore quicker to copy and rewrite).
Cover all topics
This might seem like an obvious one, but your study notes should cover all aspects of your syllabus (not only the things you enjoy revising)! Sometimes completely by accident we miss out things that we’ll need to know for the exam, so always go through your syllabus to make sure you’ve covered it all in your notes.
“Go through your syllabus to make sure you’ve covered it all in your notes”
Sounds great! So how exactly do I organise my notes?
There are many ways to organise your study notes, and each person will have a method that works best for them (that’s why it’s key to know your study style). Here’s one notes structure that could work for you!
- Definitions and formula page - These are things that come up in every exam. You’ll have to know your formulas and definitions by heart, so what better way to do this than have a short section dedicated to them! This makes it easy to find in your notes, and revise in one go.
- Key diagrams - For diagram-heavy subjects, having a key diagrams section will really help in that quick review before an exam. This is also a great tip for open book exams, where you can easily find the diagram you need for a question and copy it down, rather than searching through pages and pages to find it.
- Chapter by chapter - An easy way to ensure you cover everything is to go chapter by chapter through your textbook, and make chapters in your notes accordingly. Not only will you not miss anything out, but it’ll automatically give your notes a structure.
- Checklists - At the end of each section in your notes, why not have a short checklist, summarising the key points covered? This also makes a great last-minute revision page to cover the important bits before an exam.
- Cheat sheets - Before you ask, these aren’t actually for cheating! Cheat sheets are fantastic ways to revise just before an exam or even have them in front of you for open book exams. They are literally page long summaries of your notes, with the absolute key points you want to have in front of you. This makes it quite hard to choose what to include. If you’re having trouble with this, think of it this way: if you could take one page of notes into the exam with you, what would you want to have on it?
“Checklists also make a great last-minute revision page to cover the important bits before an exam”
Top tips for study note pros
Now you know how study notes should be, and how they could be structured. Let’s finish up with our top tips on making the best study notes to ace your exams!
- Handwrite your notes for closed-book exams - Handwriting something is proven to help with memory! However keep in mind - open book exams are more suited to online notes (iPad or laptop) where you can search for text to quickly find key points
- Use clear post it notes for tricky diagrams - Clear post-it notes are a great way to copy down intricate diagrams from textbooks into your notes
- Make use of technology - A great medium of taking notes is using an iPad and apple pencil (some life saving notes apps are Notability, GoodNotes or Noteshelf). It saves you having to carry around loads of different folders, and you can add, move and edit your note pages as you like with no hassle! Sooo much easier to organise than paper notes
“Use highlighters correctly, to spotlight key points”
- Highlighting is not studying - Don’t make the common lazy-studying mistake that highlighting something means you’ve learned it! Use highlighters correctly, to spotlight key points that will help in quick revision (there’s no getting around actually reading your notes to study)!
- Use syllabus as checklist - An alternative to creating a checklist for each section of your notes is to just use the syllabus! This way you’ll ensure you've learned everything you’ll need for the exam, from the prime source creating the exam.
Think you’ve got what it takes to make the best study notes to ace your exams? We’re sure you do! Remember, there’s no substitute for hard work. Study notes should be a part of this work, not a way to get around it. A great platform to share study notes with students around the world is Studocu, where you can access notes by sharing some of your own! For more study guidance, sign yourself up for a free consultation with us at Millie!