BlogStudyHow to Organise Your Study Notes and Keep on Top of Them

How to Organise Your Study Notes and Keep on Top of Them

study notes

So you’ve been writing study notes for a while when you suddenly realise that maybe they’re not quite as quality as you thought they were.

Your maths notes are mixed in with your Othello study, and somehow there’s a drawing of Ho Chi Minh on your poster of Chemistry formulas.

Disaster, right?

Well, no.

While all study notes can be useful, realising that your notes aren’t quite up to the standards you’d hoped is a really good motivator to clean them up and stay on top!

By following these simple steps you can easily turn a mess of information, or even just average study notes, into super study tools.

Step 1: Take an Inventory
Step 2: Plan Your Cycles
Step 3: Study Your Notes
Step 4: Rewrite

Step 1: Take an Inventory

First things first you’ll have to collect all the study notes you have so far and take inventory. It’s easiest to do this subject by subject.

For example, go through all your Modern History notes with the syllabus handy and figure out which syllabus points you have covered and which ones you’ve missed, are lacking in detail, or just don’t make sense.

This gives you an easy list of things to go over in the future.

A basic inventory checklist could look something like this:
  1. Print out your subject syllabus – if it’s one of those 23 page syllabus just print the contents page for a general overview of what topics you should know.
  2. Tick off each syllabus point you have covered in your notes and highlight ones you haven’t covered or only have minimal information for.
  3. Go over the study notes that you do have and apply the 5 second rule – look for 5 seconds, then cover them and see if you can remember the key points. Put an asterisk next to any syllabus points where you can’t quite remember the key themes in your notes.
  4. Count up and make a new list of the syllabus points you need to cover – this will help you figure out how much time you’ll need to work on them.

Go and print off your syllabus now!

This is also a good time to figure out what is and isn’t working about your study notes.

Maybe you’re only incorporating one or two study styles and need to add some new study skills, or perhaps you’ve been slacking off on colour coding.

By addressing these issues you can make your study much more effective and keep your study notes interesting.

The study notes below are an example of the ‘text wall’ and while there’s a lot of content there, it’s pretty hard to digest (not to mention kinda boring!). These are the kind of things you want to monitor while taking inventory.

study notes

Breaking this information into a mind map will make it much easier to understand and interpret key themes quickly, as well as way more appealing to look at!

study notes

In this case you would use the mind map along with the original notes – one for quick-look memory jogging of key ideas and the other for extra information and detail.

You’ve effectively added to your study, incorporated another study style and condensed your notes all in one! This is just one of many ways you can plan to reorganise or reformat your notes to improve your study.

Give it a try: grab your best set of study notes and the syllabus you already printed, then begin marking off what syllabus points you have and haven’t covered so far.

Step 2: Plan Your Cycles

Planning what steps you’ll take next can be tough. In some cases all you’ll need to do is write a few good summaries of your reorganised notes and then move on to new content with a more effective study style.

In other cases you may need to start from scratch and rewrite your notes altogether, but this usually only happens in worst-case scenarios!

It’s also important to take into account how much time summaries/rewriting will take in comparison to how much time you actually have.

This is also a good time to look at a calendar of upcoming exams and assignments to figure out what notes you’ll need ASAP and which ones might be able to wait a little longer for reorganisation.

Re-planning a schedule or cycle is usually the best way to organise. Weekly summaries are a good place to start, but some people prefer fortnightly or topic-by-topic notes.

Protip: leave a spare weekend here and there, just in case you miss a set of notes somewhere along the line.

A really common question is whether or not to borrow study notes from friends.

On the one hand they can be really useful and help speed up the note-taking process, but there also seem to be a lot of things that can go wrong with borrowing.

Here are some pros and cons:
Notes are already formattedMay be formatted poorly or in a way you don't understand
Easier to read/interpret than textbooksMay be lacking in detail or specifics
May have information from extra sourcesOften doesn't list extra sources used
Good for a quick fix if you're running out of timeNot always reliable, may have incorrect information
You can cross-reference with your own notes to make sure it all adds up

I won’t say to definitely not borrow study notes from friends, and when you’re coming close to a deadline and have none of your own they can be lifesavers, but do be careful about when and how you use them.

Borrowing notes is great to help you figure out how to set your notes out, catch up on bigger topics or information you missed and cross-referencing, but try not to rely on them. Your friend’s study notes aren’t always right or right for you!

Speeding Up Note Taking

That being said, a lot of the time the urge to borrow study notes stems from a lack of time. When it comes to catching up on notes quickly, there are a few hacks to speed up your note writing but stay effective.

Share the load

If a few of your friends are behind on study notes as well (or haven’t started) you can work together to cover the content quickly.

Figure out which syllabus points need to be covered and split them between the people involved (usually works best with groups of 3-4) to write notes on.

By using a shared platform such as google docs you can work collaboratively to cover the content and keep each other up to standard, pointing out any areas that might not be working as well as others or could be lacking in information.

Get recording

Almost everyone talks faster than they write or type, so recording your notes rather than writing them can quickly cut down on time.

By going through your textbooks or class work and highlighting relevant information, then recording yourself reading it aloud you can get your study compiled in half the time.

Plus, you’re less likely to plagiarise anything if you’re reading it back in your own words.

Cut it down

When you’re coming up to a deadline or exam, the quickest way to speed up note taking is by reducing the amount you need to write.

Figure out what syllabus points are being covered in the exam and what their weighting is, then prioritise your notes based on that and what notes you already have.

For example; if you have notes (even if they’re kinda lame) on syllabus point 1, drop that to the bottom of your note priorities list; ignore any syllabus points not on the exam for now.

Slang it up

Sometimes none of the other methods work and you just have to buckle down and write a ton of notes.

In these cases the best way to speed things up is to drop the technical language and use slang and text talk like it’s going out of style.

Use shortcuts like “bc” (because), “w/” (with), “w/o” (without), “+” (and), etc. to cut sentences down as much as you can to make notes taking just that little bit quicker.

Give it a try: grab a page of your most recent notes and try out one of these techniques on them – rewrite them in a new way or even use a new method to condense them!

Step 3: Study Your Notes

By now you probably know how to read over your study notes, but studying isn’t just about reading and writing! Try some of these techniques to incorporate different study styles and learn more effectively.

Quizzing – give your notes to a friend and ask them to quiz you, giving as much detail in your answers as you can to see how much you recall.

Flash cards – write a question on one side and an answer on the other for quick quizzing. These are great for social study but can also be used to test yourself when you’re alone!

Teach someone – try to teach a major concept or theme of your study to someone who knows nothing about it. Make sure they have your notes so they can point out anything you missed.

Recordings – record yourself reading your notes so that you can play it back whenever you need. Putting these recordings on your phone means you can study on the go.

There’s more information and techniques for different study styles in this article!

Step 4 (Optional): Rewrites

Study notes are only as effective as you make them, so one of the best things to do is constantly re-evaluate them!

A smart idea is to go back to your study notes after an exam and have a look at how they stack up against your marks and feelings about the test.


“The Dawes Plan of 1924 saw the amount of reparations to be paid by Germany to the Allies reduced significantly, as well as French forces finally moving out of the Ruhr area they had been occupying for some time. This gave Germany time to focus on her economic growth as US loans began to come in, however this made the German economy reliant on the USA.”

Now let’s have a look at the summarised version.


“Dawes Plan, 1924: reparations reduced, French move out of occupied Ruhr. US loans make German economy reliant on USA.”

If you found you knew concept A really well, condense your notes on that to make them as succinct as possible for easy recall.

On the other hand, if concept B had you struggling in the exam, go back and expand upon the notes you’ve already written so that you’ll be better prepared next time.

This way you’re constantly tailoring your note to your own study needs!

Give it a try: Take a paragraph from your notes and try to condense it into one or two perfect sentences. Post your original paragraph and your summarised sentences in the comments!

All these steps are great for turning lame notes into amazing ones, but they also work for when you just want to reorganise your study notes or try something new!

By taking inventory and working from there you can incorporate new study styles and take your study notes to the next level.

Looking for extra help with your HSC preparation?

We pride ourselves on our inspirational HSC coaches and mentors!

We offer tutoring and mentoring for Years K-12 in a variety of subjects, with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or at our state of the art campus in Hornsby!

To find out more and get started with an inspirational tutor and mentor get in touch today!

Give us a ring on 1300 267 888, email us at [email protected] or check us out on Facebook!

Maddison Leach completed her HSC in 2014, achieving an ATAR of 98.00 and Band 6 in all her subjects. Having tutored privately for two years before joining Art of Smart, she enjoys helping students through the academic and other aspects of school life, even though it sometimes makes her feel old. Maddison has had a passion for writing since her early teens, having had several short stories published before joining the world of blogging. She’s currently studying a Bachelor of Design at the University of Technology Sydney and spends most of her time trying not to get caught sketching people on trains.


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