Return to MCAT® Blog Homepage

How To Take MCAT Notes You’ll Actually Want To Review

Have you ever attended a class or watched an MCAT lesson, taken beautiful, detailed notes and, upon getting home, promptly decided that your MCAT notes would better serve as a table coaster? 

Or maybe you decide to finally break them out ahead of your exam only to realize that you have a better chance of comprehending the Dead Sea Scrolls than your notes? 

If the answer to any of these is yes, then it is time for an upgrade. And I’m not talking about splurging on a tablet and stylus or a fancier set of highlighters (but let’s be honest, there are some really cool highlighters these days). 

Effective note-taking is a powerful tool for enhancing learning, retaining information, and improving your recall. This skill is especially important when studying for a test as convoluted as the MCAT. With the right approach, your MCAT notes can help you grasp complex concepts, remember key details, and enhance your test performance. 

MCAT Note-taking Strategies

It is important to remember that there are a lot of different note-taking methods. Let’s focus on some of the more popular approaches. 

The Outline Method

Our first approach has been the bread and butter of note-taking for a long time. 

The Outline Method involves structuring your notes hierarchically with main topics, sub-points, and supporting details. 

This method works exceptionally well for subjects that require a clear and structured breakdown of information. It’s also highly effective for reviewing and revising notes, as the hierarchy makes it easy to identify the most critical points.

The Cornell Note-Taking System

Developed by Dr. Walter Pauk at Cornell University, this method might just be that fresh approach you have been looking for. 

The Cornell system divides the page into three sections: Cues, Notes, and Summary. 

On the right side, you write detailed notes during the lecture, while reading or watching a video. This takes up the majority of the page. 

On the left, you create a small column to jot down keywords, questions, or “cues” after the session to help connect and organize the material. Finally, at the bottom, you summarize the entire page’s content. 

The Cornell method encourages active involvement in your learning process, which helps to boost memory and retention.

Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping is a visual technique that uses diagrams to represent information around a central subject.

Begin with the main concept in the center of the page and branch out into subtopics, using lines, images, keywords, and colors. 

This method is especially beneficial for those studying subjects that involve many interlinking topics or ideas. This kind of sounds like what the MCAT does for every science section, doesn’t it? 

It’s also helpful for brainstorming and creative thinking.

Unlocking the Power of MCAT Notes

The possibilities for how exactly to take MCAT notes are endless. You don’t need to pigeonhole yourself into any specific approach. Instead, find the one that works best for you. 

However, regardless of the approach you use, there are a few general tips you want to keep in mind:

  1. Utilize association learning. Your mind is designed to best learn information in groups or categories, not in isolation. Draw connections to other topics or sciences when you take notes. You will find it much easier to recall this information later.
  2. Use your own words. This is a key step to engage with the information you are writing down. Put information into your own words to ensure you truly understand what you are writing down. Avoid writing down statements you see on a slide or copying your instructor verbatim.
  3. Digital note-taking. In today’s tech-driven world, digital note-taking apps like Evernote, OneNote, and others offer powerful tools for organizing, searching, and sharing notes. Most have cloud syncing, making your notes accessible anywhere on any device. And I don’t know about you, but the ability to correct your notes with a single click without making a mess is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
  4. Be consistent. While there are many different note-taking methods, don’t jump between them as if you are playing, “The floor is lava.” Give an approach a fair chance before you decide it is not for you. Once you find the one you like, stick with it to form a habit.
  5. Review and revise your notes regularly. I cannot stress this one enough. You could have the best, most organized notes in the world, but you will not benefit from them unless you actually review them. 

Adopt these strategies, and you’ll be the MCAT note-taking ninja of your course, the scribe supreme of your study group, and the scholarly sage that even the library ghosts whisper about. Try your new note-taking skills the next time you watch a Blueprint MCAT Self-Paced module or when you’re in a Blueprint MCAT Live Course class.

And remember: while knowledge is power, organizing that knowledge is the real superpower. So go forth and annotate, mind map, and outline your way to academic stardom – or at least to a place where you recognize your own writing.

MCAT is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which is not affiliated with Blueprint.