Note-taking strategies

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[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

Got note-taking Strategies?

There are as many note-taking strategies as there are note-takers. Everyone works a little bit differently and needs a slightly different thing. What you need will likely change from semester to semester, and maybe even from course to course. I have tried probably almost 100 different systems throughout my long educational career, and I can attest that the only perfect system is the one you stick with. Here’s what I have used this semester, and it has worked mostly very well for me.

Reading notes

I do my reading notes on paper and my class notes on the computer, and then add my reading notes into my class notes as I’m reviewing at the end of the week.

I like handwriting notes for a few reasons. It slows me down while I am reading and forces me to engage with the material more methodically. This is sometimes a con, but most of the time a pro. I give each of the cases in my notes a nickname, which then corresponds with the icon I pick to represent it in Notion.

note taking strategies

I also really like to be able to connect ideas spatially with diagrams and arrows and flow charts. You can do this on programs like One Note, but I like how easy it is on paper.

I wrote before that I highlight only in gray in my case books, but I color code my notes. Cases are pink, rules are blue, vocab is purple, and things I need to finish or ask about are green. I use erasable highlighters, and when I get an answer to my question or finish the unfinished task, I just erase the highlighter.


I love diagrams. Nothing helps me organize processes or ideas as well as a flow chart or a tree diagram. I often write my case briefs in timeline form instead of the traditional paragraph form. I find it is much easier for me to see the important information if I can easily see how it is connected to all of the other information on the page.

note taking strategies

Class notes

I’ve written before about the wonders of Notion, but I could do a thousand blog posts about how much I love it. My whole life is organized in Notion, from my calendar and to-do lists to meal planning, recipes, personal reading notes, to all of my class notes, case briefs, and outlines.

I have a landing page for school that has all of my assignments for the week. Then each class has its own landing page with all of the info for the semester, the BARBRI Outline, a case brief spreadsheet, and subpages for vocabulary, rules, outlining, and each week’s notes.

I keep all of my case briefs in a chart and link to just that week’s cases in my weekly notes subpages. Notability has little emojis available for different kinds of labels, so I label each of the cases to jog my memory. We’ll talk more about this next week, but here’s a preview!

note taking strategies

I made a template for weekly notes pages that includes the assignment, a weekly checklist, vocab, and rules. I have two columns of notes, one for reading and one for class notes, and then under each, I have a toggle list by subject. My contracts professor is kind enough to post her weekly slides before class, so if I have time, I’ll also import the slides into my weekly notes before class starts.

I love Notion for my class notes because of how easy it is to organize everything. I can hide whatever I am not focusing on in that moment and look at just the main topic or just the one case at a time.

My system took quite some time to perfect, and I still run into snags every once in a while. The main thing is: Find a system that works for you and stick to it. There is no such thing as a perfect system, and it’s far better to have a consistent one than an ever-changing “perfect” one.

Click here to learn more about note-taking and law school outlines. 

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