Skip to main content
The final part of the Learning Strategies series about notetaking.

A Deep Dive into Notetaking – Charts, Tables, and Final Thoughts

headshot of althea kaminske, phd, with "Learning strategies in medical school" written underneath

Learning Strategies with Althea Kaminske, PhD

We are back with the final part of this Learning Strategies series about notetaking. I am Dr. Althea Kaminske, Senior Director of Academic Support and Achievement in Medical Student Education at IU School of Medicine. In this series, I’ll be exploring the learning strategies that can help you identify the best ways that you can manage the “fire hose” of information in medical school. This week, we will talk about charts and tables, using a combination of methods we have discussed, and concluding thoughts.

View the entire video for the series on Youtube

Charts and Tables

Charts and tables organize information into columns and rows, allowing for side-by-side comparisons of different factors and dimensions. For example, I have made an example chart of note-taking formats below.  

Charts and tables are very effective for condensing large amounts of information that is highly structured or related. Organizing information into a chart has a few key advantages. Deciding what goes into a chart and how to best organize your chart requires a lot of detailed, item-specific processing and relational processing (1). Finally, once the information is formatted in a chart, it is very easy to practice and assess retrieval practice. You know you’ve recalled 100% of the information if the chart is complete (2)! However, it does take some skill and practice to decide what information can or should be in a chart.

If you notice that information often comes in a repeated structure (e.g., you realize that you’ve listed the location, function, and structural characteristics of several different types of neurons), then you may need to create a category chart instead of several different lists. 


While each of these formats can be used alone, it is also possible to combine formats. For example, you could create a flowchart by laying out flashcards in a sequence. You can put diagrams in charts to help understand the structure, function, and location of different structures. A flowchart could be combined with a diagram to show how neurotransmitters are released into the synapse. 

As with any of the formats above, the key to making combination notes is recognizing what type of information needs to be recorded and choosing the appropriate format while making sure it’s in a format you can practice spaced retrieval with.

Final Thoughts 

I really like using these different formats because they are already set up to practice spaced retrieval, they condense large amounts of information, and by selecting how the information is organized, they help learners build their understanding of the material. An additional tip I give students is to create a cover sheet or a tracking sheet to help track and monitor their progress on the material. This could also be achieved by a header at the top of the page of notes that logs previous practice attempts with this set of material (e.g., “11/5 40%”, “11/6 70%”, “11/7 100%”, “11/15 95%”, “11/30 100%”). Recording progress can help you to identify which material you still need to work on, which material you have a good handle on and can set aside for now, and which material you may need to revisit for some spaced practice.


Meyers-Levy, J. (1991). Elaborating on elaboration: The distinction between relational and item-specific elaboration. Journal of Consumer Research, 18, 358-367.  

Kelman, E. G., & Straker, K. C. (2000). Study Without Stress: Mastering Medical Sciences. Sage Publications. 

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Default Author Avatar IUSM Logo

Althea Kaminske, PhD

Althea Kaminske, PhD, (she/her) is the senior director of student academic support and achievement at IU School of Medicine. In this role, Dr. Kaminske develops and oversees effective evidence-based practices in student support programs. She is an award-winning educator, author and science communicator who is passionate about making the science of learning accessible for all.