Making your own notes is a crucial part of any exam and when I was preparing for UPSC, I realized that it played a major role here too. As UPSC exam includes a vast array of subjects with a loose syllabus, it is very difficult to remember everything and impossible to go through the entire syllabus while revising. This is where effective note-making makes a big difference.
Note making is actually an art because it is very important to know what to add and what not to add in your notes. When I started making my own notes, it was tough to understand what my notes should include and how they should be structured, but over time I got a hang of it.
There are a few strategies that I followed to make great notes. I would like to share them with you so that even you can use those strategies and make your note-making task much easier.
1. Read your textbooks first and make notes the second time you read them
Never go in for making notes from the moment you start reading your textbooks. When you read your textbooks for the first time, don’t start making notes there and then. For the first turn, just read the book and underline/highlight the important things.
You are supposed to start making notes when you start reading the books for the second time. Second time reading will help you understand the important points of the chapter and the things you need to remember.
2. Make bullet points
This is a very important part of making notes. Always keep in mind that the notes you make are in bullet form. They should be short points which are crisp and easy to understand. Long paragraphs are a waste of time and it adds no extra value to the notes.
The way we write our notes is the way we also write in the exam. So make sure that you write your notes in the bullet format as this is the best way of writing answers in the exam as well.
3. Use Digital mode of note-making
I would suggest that you should always make notes on the digital platform. For example, when I was studying for
my UPSC exam, all of my notes were digital notes. This was because the notes you made for the first time are not perfect.
There are a set of iterations to be made in order to get the perfect set. For example, when I made notes for Economics, there were a lot of iterations in my notes and if it would have been in pen-paper, then there would have been space issues, but with digital method there was none. I could easily update my notes from wherever I wanted and there was no risk of losing them
4. Use A4 size loose sheets for your notes
If you are not comfortable making notes in digital mode then you can opt for the pen-paper mode. For a few subjects, even I made my notes on paper but the trick which I followed was making these notes on A4 size sheets and not in registers.
Registers bring in a barrier when it comes to adding notes or pages in between, but when you make notes on loose sheets, you can add sheets in between and update your notes from time to time.
5. Make short notes
Note-making is a very lengthy process but it is one of the most beneficial parts of studying. When I
was making notes, I always made sure that all of my notes are short and to the point so that I could study them just before my exam.
For example, I made notes for modern history. Modern History has a vast syllabus, but in my notes, they
turned out to be of 15 pages only which were very easy to read just a day before the examination. It made my task a whole lot easier and helped me to revise the entire syllabus in just a few hours.
6. Use Current Affairs as a part of your note-making
When you read a newspaper there are a lot of articles which are directly related to some or the other subjects.
Always try making notes or short points for the articles or editorials which you think are important. I used to make my current affair notes in “Ever note” and during the exam combined those current affairs with my
For example, in GS II paper which is regarding Polity and Governance, there were a lot of updates. So there was a Supreme Court judgment on Right to Privacy which had a lot of articles and editorials coming up and what I did was make notes on them and club them together.
I used all those points in my answer in the examination which I guess helped me fetch more marks. Writing an answer which is related to current affairs always helps you get more marks compared to writing a generic answer.
7. Make flowcharts or hierarchy charts
Make diagrams or hierarchy charts wherever possible. For example, in Polity there is a lot of information about government systems and their models, so for that part, one can easily make a chart.
Making diagrams makes it easier to remember things and it stays in one’s head for a longer period of time. It is
easier to make these charts as they save time and it is a better form of representation.
8. Keep updating your notes
One of the most important things you should do is keep updating your notes. When you update your
notes you have the latest information in it and it becomes easier to get all the content in a single place.
9. Divide your note making task with your friends
While studying for UPSC, you would have a bunch of friends who would be preparing for the same as
well. If you find someone with the same caliber of yours and with the same seriousness, then you can divide your work.
One thing you can do is divide the subjects for which each one of you can make notes and then exchange
them. This will save a lot of your time and will make your note-making task easier.
What I did was, I had a friend of mine with whom I could relate to. So with a mutual understanding, we divided our work. We divided a subject into parts, which were Modern History and World History. I made notes for World
History and my friend made notes for Modern History. In this way, I almost saved 15-20 days in the note-taking process.
10. Make template answers
After you are done reading a topic or one subject, make a list of possible questions which could come out of the topic and make a template answer for them.
By doing this you save a lot of your time in the examination. You only get 8 minutes to write each answer and you can’t really waste your time in thinking about the content. Making templates makes it easier to remember the points and you can directly start writing the answer once you know what the question is about.
In the end, I would wish all of you good luck for your preparations and I hope that these points are useful for your note-making preparations. These are just a few strategies you can follow. You can always come up with the new ones and use those which are suitable and convenient for you.
UPSC Topper Himanshu’s notes
To learn and understand how I made notes for the UPSC exam, you can download a few sample ones.
Sample Polity Notes – Part 1 download
Sample Polity Notes – Part 2 download
These insights on note making are based on the interview UPSC Pathshala had with IAS 2017 Topper Himanshu Kaushik, AIR 77
Author: Akshay Palande
Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.