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Taking Notes

Charting Method

The Charting Method is a note-taking approach that uses charts to condense and organize notes.

This method involves splitting a document into several columns and rows which are then filled with summaries of information. It's easier to think of your notes as an Excel or Google spreadsheet where each column has its own category of information and each row has its own topic.

You can use this method to organize linear notes you take during class. For example, if you used the Outline Method while taking hand-written notes in class, then you could use the Charting Method to organize your study notes in a visual way that lets you see connections between ideas.

Example of the charting method. Students can write the main topic of the class in the upper left corner of their table, and then write down key subtopics in each row and information categories in each column.

How to Take Notes Using the Charting Method

How to Take Notes Using the Charting Method

  1. Identify categories and topics: Read over your materials first—those could include textbooks, course readings, previous lecture notes, and more. If your professor makes their slides available before class, you can review those too. As you review those materials, ask yourself: What is the main topic of the material? What are the subtopics? What categories of information can be noted about or compared between these subtopics?
  2. Set up your paper or spreadsheet before class: Create columns that represent all of your information categories and create rows that represent each of your subtopics. You should add an extra column on the far right side of your chart where you write extra notes that might not fit with the categories you identified before class.
  3. Record information in the appropriate column: Carefully listen to the lecture and add words, phrases, main ideas, descriptions, and more about each subtopic in the appropriate category column.

Pros & Cons of the Charting Method


  • Helps students pull out the most relevant information quickly.
  • Reduces the amount of writing students need to do in class.
  • Offers an easier way to memorize facts and study comparisons/relationships between topics.
  • Excellent method to use when reviewing and tidying up handwritten notes from class.


  • Need to identify categories and subtopics before class starts.
  • Not a flexible method in class (e.g. you'll need to add columns or rows if the professor brings up a new or unexpected idea)
  • Not ideal for some science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects, such as physics and math.
  • Difficult to use in classes that are fast-paced or where lectures are unstructured.

When to Use the Charting Method

Use the Charting Method when

  • Your test will focus on facts and relationships.
  • Your course content is heavier and presented to you quickly.
  • You want to spend less time editing and reviewing notes before taking a test.
  • You want an overview of your entire course in one spot.