How to Take Effective Notes

Updated: May 5

Note-taking skills are often overlooked, but they are a very crucial part of an effective study plan. Taking notes is a very personal practice. It may take some time to figure our your style, but here I provide some tips that can help you get started.

Closeup of a hand holding a computer mouse next to a keyboard and a partial view of a laptop. In the background, there is a partial view, out-of-focus view of a person sitting in front of a desk.

When possible - write, don't type. It forces you to be concise. When you type, you're more likely to write things down verbatim without internalizing what you are writing.

Choose your method. Will you write notes using a tablet, lecture note printouts, a notebook or note-taking sheets?

Preparing BEFORE your lecture

  • Go over your lecture notes and/or slides if your instructor provides them to you ahead of time. Read the corresponding textbook chapters if you have time.

  • Don't worry about memorizing any information. Instead, try to get a general idea of the concepts that will be covered. If you have any major questions at this point, write them down.

  • If you are completely lost and do not understand any of the material, you may want to review previous lecture material. Otherwise, you may have a hard time keeping up.

Taking notes DURING lecture

  • Come prepared. Bring any materials you may need for note-taking. Highlighters and sticky-notes can be very helpful for note-taking. Tablets generally have these options as well.

  • Minimize distractions. Avoid sitting next to chatty classmates. Find a spot that allows you to focus. Generally, students tend to pay most attention at the front of the classroom.

  • Always write down the date, course, chapter number and lecture title.

  • Try to be concise and use abbreviations whenever possible. Do not worry about your notes looking perfect. They do have to legible though.

  • Do not write everything down and do not rewrite anything that is already on the slides/lecture notes. Focus on any additional material that the instructor provides.

  • Write down any examples or hints that your instructor may provide.

  • If your instructor spends a long time explaining a concept or going through an example, make note of this. It generally means the material is very important. You can put a sticky note or draw a big star/symbol next to it.

  • Write down any questions you may have or put a question mark next to concepts that are still unclear to you. Try to get clarification during lecture or right after if possible.

Reviewing your notes after lecture

  • Review your notes no later than 24 hours after your lecture.

  • You can make your notes more presentable by adding subtitles, colour and extra notes. Some people also choose to rewrite their notes in a different format, as it helps them study.

  • You can colour-code your notes after lecture. You can use different highlighters or pens to distinguish important terms, equations, dates and examples. This is particularly helpful if you are a visual learner.

  • Complete your notes. Add any extra examples or information that may be useful for studying purposes.

  • If you still have any question marks on your notes, try to find the answer and write them out. You can use sticky notes for this.

  • Stay organized. Keep your notes in a binder or folder arranged by chapter or date.

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