Paper or digital? Tips and tricks on effective note-taking

Taking notes can be made more efficient with typing, but is this really the best way to do it? We tackle that question in this article, keep reading to find out!

a year ago   •   4 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Daniel Thomas / Unsplash

Why take notes?

Note-taking is absolutely crucial in years 11 and 12 for many reasons. Taking down notes causes you to subconsciously pay attention and allows you to focus at a higher level when in class. Keeping notes also allows you to learn better.

Students who actively engage in note-taking, rather than just reading the textbook, are able to understand and recall the information at a significantly higher rate. It allows students to summarise notes and stick only to the information that is important, hence is easier when studying for exams, increasing efficient studying and reducing learning information that is repeated. Memory retention is also greatly increased when writing notes due to engaging muscle memory.

Spending the least amount of time on notes but still making them legible during exam season

Writing notes takes a lot of practice and won't come overnight, but, there are many tips to help you on your journey. In order to condense your notes to help increase the efficiency of your study, look at the verb of the content being asked in the syllabus. Is it an ‘Identify’? if so, in your notes, there should only be a simple definition.

Contrastingly, if it is a ‘discuss’, you would have more information regarding definition, advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, it would be greatly beneficial to look through the past questions asked on that topic and see which sections of the textbook/syllabus generally tend to be asked with heavier mark weighting and those which only tend to be asked in Multiple choice. For example, in legal studies, the World Order essay is only assessed as a 25-mark extended response, so your notes should be dense.

However, Human Rights require much less due to being asked in MC and short answers only.

Refining notes

Refining notes can be done by summarising the content by taking out information that is repeated. Keep only what is needed! Additionally, ensure you make your notes according to what can be asked in an exam. Always ask yourself, ”how or can they ask this in an exam?’.

This will ensure the notes are kept according to what can be asked, rather than having unnecessary information. It is also important to ensure you keep revisiting and editing your notes throughout the year, constantly editing them to improve them.

Not only will this help you in storing the content in your long-term memory, but it will also help you in improving the notes in terms of adding things you may have seen in past papers, or by reading HSC markers feedback, allowing you to enhance the quality of your notes.

How to format notes

There are many ways you can format your notes. It would be good to test a few and see what works best for you!

Cornell method. The way I found most helpful in writing my notes, and in studying them was to have the Cornell method. A method that involves a table with two columns. The left column includes the syllabus dot points, as well as past HSC questions.

The right column included all my notes according to the left syllabus points/questions. This will help with revision and writing notes, as well as testing yourself as you can cover the right column and try and answer the left column questions and dot points.

This is an example of my notes for legal studies, Human Rights. The left column includes past HSC questions the syllabus, helping me structure the amount needed in my notes.


  • Highlights key points of the topic which are commonly asked in exams
  • Highly structured making it revision friendly


  • Not great for subjects that require many diagrams, charts, or visuals



  • good for comparison


  • Not effective for linear note-taking or notes that require steps or stories



  • Easy and fun to create
  • Helps to follow ideas


  • Could run out of space on the page if there are too many branches of information

Should I do handwritten or digital notes?



  • Increases memory retention
  • Increase creativity
  • Makes it easier to recall information due to muscle memory


  • Editing becomes very difficult
  • Less handy than digital notes



  • Editing becomes much easier! Can constantly revisit and change things up
  • Can attach links that you can easily visit


  • Not as efficient in muscle memory as handwritten notes

When writing notes, it is also important to colour code, bold, and italic key things to help which not only makes it more aesthetically pleasing but also helps with memory. Colour has been found to increase attentional levels and can boost up learners' academic performance and level of motivation.

Warm colors like red, yellow and orange have a greater effect on human memory in retaining information than cool colors such as brown and grey. Additionally, colours will increase the likelihood of you revising as it greatly increases your willingness to read. Think about it. Would you rather read a page of notes with colours, or that's just black writing?

If you’re interested in receiving tutoring, support or guidance from someone who has been through the tough years of year 11 and 12, you can browse 97+ ATAR scorers here. You can also gain many exam and note-taking tips.

Written by KIS Academics Tutor, Verdi Maximous. She currently tutors the subjects she state ranked in - HSC Business Studies and Studies of Religion II - as well as year 7-10 math. She currently studies Veterinary Medicine at the University of Sydney. Book a session here.

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