Effective note taking is important because it:

  • Supports your listening efforts
  • Allows you to test your understanding of the material
  • Helps you remember the material better when you write key ideas down
  • Gives you a sense of what the instructor thinks is important
  • Creates your personalized study guide

 Tips for taking good notes during class

Arrive early to class to prepare your mind. Review notes from previous classes or readings. If your instructor is early, ask clarification on any points of confusion.

Stay organized: Keep your notes and handouts separate for each class. For example, you might have a different notebook and folder for each class or a large notebook with a different tab for each class. This will save you the time of trying to organize and locate your notes when studying for an exam.

Use visual cues: Try highlighting, underlining, or drawing arrows or exclamation points next to any main or difficult concepts. This will call attention to these sections and remind you to spend more time reviewing them.

Develop your own shorthand: Use abbreviations or symbols for commons words. For example: b/c for because, def. for definition, + for more, - for less, and arrows for increase or decrease.

Group together similar concepts: Grouping or “chunking” material is a good way to make studying and memorization easier. You can try drawing the main concept and connecting it to smaller, related concepts or making an outline of the information. Either one can serve as an effective study guide.

Write your notes: Studies show that students who take notes with pen and paper absorb more information and perform better on tests than those that type lecture notes. Researchers Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) found that students that typed notes took more notes but retained less information. Students that hand-wrote notes could not transcribe everything their professor said, so they had to digest and summarize the most important pieces. This cognitive process made the brain work harder which led to more retention and comprehension. Students with laptops in class also have the tendency to get distracted and use the device for non-academic purposes.

Leave room to add separate comments or reactions.

Review, edit, clarify, and elaborate your notes on an on-going basis. The next day of class, a week later, a month later. When reviewing, recite or rewrite key concepts. This spaced practice helps with memory.

Common note-taking systems

There are various forms of taking notes, and which one you choose depends on both your personal style and the instructor’s approach to the material. No specific type is good for all students and all situations, so develop your own style, but you should also be ready to modify it to fit the needs of a specific class or instructor. To be effective, all of these methods require you to listen actively and to think; merely jotting down words the instructor is saying will be of little use to you.

Cornell method

Outlining method

Mapping method

Charting method

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