Today I wanted to talk a bit about how to use doodles and bullet-journal style note taking to improve your memory when studying for a big test. As any student knows, when you are cramming for a big exam, it can be difficult to keep track of all the information. Using a visual note taking method can help your brain, when test time comes, use links of color and structure to “chain” back to the data you need to recall.

My doodle-note test prep technique includes a few steps:

  • First, I review class notes to reinforce what I know and gauge what information I’m not confident that I know.
  • As I am reviewing my notes, I am creating a new set of notes that include only the points of information that I don’t know, so I can exclusively study what I need to learn before the test.
  • As I am making my new set of notes, I’m thinking about how the data is structured (i.e. a concept with sub-categories, vs an “if/then” statement, etc) and visually structuring my notes in a way that, visually/structurally, tells me something about the concept I’m studying.
  • I pick 1-3 colors and color my doodled notes. Both color and structure of information will help me memorize the information.
  • I’ll use this one-page study sheet to study till my test.
    • One way to interactively study the information is to, on a new sheet of paper draw the structure or shapes of a part of the study sheet, then try to fill it in without looking at the study sheet.
  • When I am sitting in class and I receive my test booklet, I flip the test over and redraw my study sheet on the back (or, more typically, only the parts I think I might forget once I’m settled into the testing process) If inclined, I could even use colored pens to help jog my memory.
Doodle Note Study Sheet on Psychology (Classical Conditioning and Behavior Therapy)
Doodle Note Study Sheet on Psychology (Classical Conditioning and Behavior Therapy)

Notice how I used different shapes, colors, and structures around the page to illustrate different concepts. When it comes time to recall on a test, remembering the color or structure of a part of the page can help your brain link it to the information there.

[The study sheet above was for a first-semester graduate-level Psychological Therapeutic Perspectives course and covers Classical Conditioning (associated with Watson & Pavlov), Albert Bandura’s social learning (aka vicarious learning) theory that humans can learn by watching other humans, and Wolpe’s association with systematic desensitization. It also includes a doodle summary of the three waves of behavior therapy, a definition of how classical conditioning explains how a neutral stimulus can become a conditioned stimulus which can then elicit a conditioned response, and the ever important reminder that both positive and negative reinforcement both seek to increase desired behavior rather than eliminate undesirable behavior.]

I’ve included a second study sheet from earlier in my doodle-note taking experience. A bit simpler in structure and denser in information, this doodle note illustrates visually that the conditions of Client Centered Therapy can be split two ways: into implied conditions and core conditions. Core conditions are then defined below with three large triangles.

Remembering that this data splits into two branches and then defines one of the branches will help me structurally link in my mind during test taking. Remembering that the data exists in yellow-bulleted sets of three will be a visual clue to help my brain chain back to the information I need to remember during the text.


doodle note illustrating conditions of Carl Roger's Client Centered Therapy
An early example of my study sheets, this one visually illustrating conditions of Carl Roger’s Client Centered Therapy and defining the core conditions of congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy.


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