ChatGPT could be a revolution for taking notes in University or College. This article is all about how to use ChatGPT for Note-taking.
There is evidence that taking notes yourself is not very effective for learning and this is why ChatGPT can help. There is potential to use ChatGPT-generated notes as a reference for better reading comprehension or even more advanced note-taking methods that incorporate active recall and non-linear approaches like mind mapping.
I’ll explain what I mean in more detail.
Writing notes yourself isn’t very effective for learning
Here is the thing with traditional note-taking, actually writing linear notes left to right down the page is not exactly a very beneficial learning activity. This is called the encoding effect of note-taking. There is some minor research support for this phenomenon, but in reality, linear note-taking isn’t that effective in the long run compared to other moethods.1
In terms of encoding information, there are much better options out there. One example is an activity like free recall, which just writing down everything you know on a page from memory. Alternatively, you can use more effective non-linear methods of note-taking like mind mapping which are very good for encoding information if you do them right.
If writing down linear notes isn’t that helpful, why use notes at all?
I think the real benefit of taking notes is that the information is presented in a simplified way. It’s often helpful to read a simplified version of the material before diving into the details too much. In the research, this is called the storage effect.1
Simplified notes should serve this purpose. They offer a foundational and basic understanding that you can leverage by adding more detail.
To me, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to offload this task to ChatGPT.
You probably won’t do too well on an exam if you just read the basic overview of the material, but if you have this simple foundational understanding it’s easier to learn the more complicated details later.
To be clear, there are better methods out there when it comes to recalling information. I view taking notes for storage with ChatGPT as almost more of a reading comprehension boost rather than a memorization tool.
I have a whole other article on the 9 best ways to memorize using active recall if you want to learn some more effective ways to actually retain the information you read. However, as you will see, some of the more advanced techniques in this article also have some active recall potential.
But, to be clear, there is still value in using ChatGPT for this purpose, its primary benefit is just not memorization.
With that out of the way, let’s get into how you can use ChatGPT to take notes for you.
How to Use ChatGPT for Note-taking
Here I will outline the main ways that I think ChatGPT could be used to take notes. These start off as very basic uses that mostly aid in reading comprehension. But the later techniques use active recall and mind mapping, two very solid evidence-based methods for increasing retention.
But first, it’s worth noting something. You can use ChatGPT for many more purposes than note-taking. I have a whole article on the different ways you can use ChatGPT to study and learn new information as well. This gives a broader picture of how ChatGPT can assist with your learning.
With that out of the way. let’s get into the techniques.
Ask ChatGPT to take outline notes
One of the most basic ways of using ChatGPT for note-taking is by asking it to take outline notes. This is definitely the note-taking style that ChatGPT is best at doing.
Here I just gave ChatGPT the Wikipedia page for Psychology and gave it the prompt below this image. Just keep in mind that you need to copy and paste in only small parts for it to take notes.
write formal outline-style notes with the main ideas as headings
If you want you can ask ChatGPT to use shorthand for you as well to make reading a faster experience. Although I don’t think this is necessary.
Ask ChatGPT to summarize the information
Another option is to have ChatGPT write its notes in paragraph form summaries. If you want a nice explanation for something on your lecture slides or a textbook, this is pretty effective.
Here I asked CahtGPT to summarize the history of psychology in paragraph form.
Promt: Write a paragraph summary of X
You can either go broad or narrow in scope with these summaries. Just keep in mind that ChatGPT usually doesn’t give super-long outputs.
The longer the piece you ask it to summarize, the less detailed and big picture its output will be. If you want more detail, input less information.
In reality, I wouldn’t use this technique unless I’m stuck on a piece of text and I just need to hear it in different words. It’s not really worth referring back to this since it’s basically just the textbook you started with but rephrased.
There are, however, some interesting note-taking techniques that are exclusive to ChatGPT that are worth diving into.
Layered note-taking technique
The layered note-taking technique is a fairly unique approach that I came up with. This is also a really cool way to write notes in a way that incorporates active recall.
This is basically done by breaking down the topic into its core and simplified components. Once this is done you can request that ChatGPT re-write its notes and add more detail each time. This effectively adds layers of detail each time.
You can also implement active recall here. Try adding on the next layer of notes yourself, then asking ChatGPT to do it, and comparing your responses (assuming you have already read the material).
So how do you do this?
You can do this by pasting in some text and asking ChatGPT to pick out the core ideas of the material with minimal detail. From this point, it would actually be a very good opportunity to try and elaborate on these points yourself to practice some active recall before you ask ChatGPT to add on the additional detail.
Let me show you what I mean.
Promt: break down the X into the core parts with very little detail
You can see that already the amount of text is becoming too much for these screenshots. ChatGPT likes to add a lot of detail pretty quickly. That’s why each of these prompts, until the last one, is asking it to not go crazy on the amount of text.
Promt: write this again but with slightly more detail on each point
Promt: write this again but with a lot of detail
A twist on this technique
This note-taking strategy can either be applied using linear methods (like the ones previously described in the earlier examples) or using a mind map, a non-linear method of note-taking.
I have a complete article on how you can use ChatGPT for mind mapping with some special prompts I came up with as well if you want a more in-depth look at this topic.
But I’ll give the broad strokes of this note-taking technique here.
These layers can be visually laid out in the style in the above image. There are numerous benefits to doing this.
- Increased emphasis on the relationships between the main topics
- Ability to use visuals to encode information
- Improved retention over linear note-taking strategies
- Big picture view of the topic
I hope you can see that this layered approach has some serious potential for mind mapping and regular note-taking. However, there is another way that you can use ChatGPT for better mind maps.
Information categorization technique
This next technique is also a bit unique. This is because this is mainly focused on helping you take better notes with non-linear strategies like mind maps using ChatGPT.
You can apply this to linear note-taking strategies as well, I just don’t see the point compared to mind mapping in this case.
When you create a mindmap one of the main challenges is coming up with a way to organize the topic. There are many ways that a topic can be structured.
Here are a few ways you can structure a topic you are taking notes on.
- Key Figures
- Major problems and their solutions
- Evolution of Thoughts and Theories
- Geographical regions theories were developed
This will also vary depending on your subject a bit. If you are taking biology you might structure things in terms of their medical application for example (what I’m saying is, there are many ways to do this).
The great part about ChatGPT is that it can give you ideas for the different ways to structure a topic.
Here I just asked ChatGPT to show the different ways that I could chunk my history of psychology example.
This is great right? Now have many more ideas for how to structure your mind map.
However, with all of these techniques, there is a common issue. We might want to save ChatGPT’s output for later reference.
How to Save ChatGPT’s Output
However, the significant challenge is, after ChatGPT has given you its output, how do you save it?
If you want to organize your ChatGPT notes and be able to look at them when ChatGPT is down or unavailable, saving its output makes a lot of sense.
You can always just copy and paste what you need into a program like Notion or whatever digital note-taking app you prefer. However, I use a different solution for this.
I use an extension and service called Zoho Web Clipper to save ChatGPT’s output for later review. I can’t speak to the other solutions out there for this. All I can say is that there aren’t that many out yet, and this one just worked really well for me from the start.
Here’s how you can save ChatGPTs output using the Zoho Web Clipper extension:
- Open up the extension on the bottom right to save the whole chat or save individual messages by clicking “add to notebook” at the bottom of each one.
- Click “done” in the notebook and choose a notebook to save it to.
- Now you can log in to your Zoho account to see your saved notes.
The research suggests that relying solely on traditional note-taking methods may not be the most efficient way to retain information, which is where ChatGPT comes in. By using notes generated by ChatGPT, one can improve their reading comprehension and employ more sophisticated note-taking strategies like active recall and mind mapping.
- Morehead, K., Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. (2019). How Much Mightier Is the Pen than the Keyboard for Note-Taking? A Replication and Extension of Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014). Educational Psychology Review, 31. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-019-09468-2
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