The demands on college students are often high, to the point where anxiety, overwhelm, and information overload become real problems.
One tool that can help you wrangle all of that information is sketchnoting – capturing the ideas you’re learning with quick sketches, words, and diagrams.
By giving a visual form to the ideas you’re learning, you’re making it much easier for your brain to recall, understand, and use those ideas in the future.
Here’s a visual note-taking process that you can weave into your study routine to set yourself up for success in your classes and avoid the stress that too-often accompanies them.
In order to develop a note-taking process that helps you, you’ll first need to take a look at the context in which you’re learning.
Here are the conditions of a typical college experience:
1) Multiple courses at once
This is what can cause information overload.
2) Limited amount of time
This is what can cause overwhelm and anxiety.
3) Regular benchmarks: individual classes, end-of-unit assessments, and final exams
These benchmarks can help you organize your note-taking process in an efficient and effective way.
With those conditions in mind, let’s develop your sketchnoting process.
When you’re taking notes in class, I suggest dividing the page into two halves. With a top-to-bottom approach, use the left half to capture ideas with words and the right half to capture ideas with visuals.
Because the pace of information will vary throughout any given class period, there will likely be times when you’ll rely on quick words, phrases, and bullet points to keep up.
When the pace slows down you can look back and add visuals where they’re lacking.
When the class period ends, first take a few minutes to fill in any gaps that might exist in your notes (likely on the visual side).
Then, on a single page, create a visual summary of that class period in the top two thirds – a mind map of the key ideas.
On the bottom of the page capture any follow-up actions you need to take: books to read, videos to watch, and assignments to complete.
Add that summary on top of your in-class notes to give a quick reference for that day.
End Of Unit
When you come to the end of a unit, you’ll want to bring together all of the ideas contained within it.
So go take over a classroom with a big whiteboard or chalkboard, and use your notes from class (starting with the visual summary and digging into the details when necessary) to create a unit summary.
On one big board, map out all of the key ideas from the unit while showing the connections between them.
It can be incredibly powerful to see a large set of ideas all in one place, so snap a photo of that unit summary and use it as a reference during the end-of-unit assessment.
End Of Course
Finals. The most stressful week or two of the college experience.
But it doesn’t have to be.
If you put in a few minutes at the end of each class and a few hours at the end of each unit as described above, you’ll be all set to dive into finals with confidence.
You’ll have a solid grasp on each unit and the ability to dig into the specifics with your notes from class.
With that combination of resources you’ll be ready to rock whatever challenges your final exams throw your way.
Use this process as a starting point in your studies, and then customize it to better fit your circumstances and your learning style.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
Want To Dig Deeper?
If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.
If you’d like to make sketchnoted videos like the one you saw here, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.
And if you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.