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Taking good notes is an important part of academic success in college. Not everything the professor covers in class will be in the course textbook, or outlined in slides, etc.  In many classes, you may be asked to do a reading or watch a video before a class discussion. Actively taking notes can help you focus and better understand main concepts. Good note-taking will improve your active listening, comprehension of material, and retention. Taking notes on both synchronous and asynchronous material will help you better remember what you hear and see.

Part of good note-taking includes revisiting your notes. During this time, check for clarity, fill in definitions of key terms, organize, and figure out any concepts you may have missed or not fully understood in class. Figure out what may be missing and what you may need to add or even ask about.

Below are some suggestions. Find out what system works best for you!

What Should You Take Notes On?

  • Important figures, dates, and terms.
  • Information following signal words and phrases.
    • Ex. “There are 2 main ideas,” “In summary, …,” “there are several reasons why…”
  • Topics discussed extensively or repeatedly in class or in readings.
  • If your professor changes their tone or inflection, this can indicate importance.
  • Any assigned class readings.
  • Guest lecturers that come to class or events assigned to attend outside class time.
  • Feedback given to you directly during office hours or class critiques.
  • Anything you feel you may want to recall later!

Handwritten vs. Digital Notes

Consider the advantages of each before deciding what is best for you. You may even choose a different one for each class, depending on the type of content.

  • Handwritten Note-taking
    • Advantages:
      • Students learn and retain information because they are selective of what they write down.
      • Provides more focus for students prone to digital distraction.
      • Easier to create diagrams and illustrations.
      • Sometimes better for visual learners.
  • Digital Note-taking
    • Advantages:
      • Easier to edit and reorganize for later studying.
      • Can be backed up, shared, searched, etc.
      • May be faster, therefore easier to take higher volume of notes.

General Note Taking Tips

  • Review your syllabus periodically so you know what to expect week to week.
  • Take an inventory of your reading material and notes.
  • Organize your notes into a method that works for you.
  • Label your notes by week, date, and topic.
  • Experiment with different ways of taking notes:
    • Outlining
      • Perhaps the most common form of note-taking, the outline relies on main topics, subtopics, and details in order to group ideas.
    • Cornell Notes
      • Divides the page into a note-taking section, a cue column (where notes are condensed into brief main ideas or questions), and a summary section.
    • Mapping
      • Allows you to record concepts spatially and doesn’t rely on a linear format.
      • You can draw branches between a main topic, subtopics, details, quotes, or other supporting facts.
    • Charting
      • Relies on columns (and sometimes rows) to group notes by topic. Charting or mapping may be preferable to an outline if a lecture or text tends to skip between topics.
    • SQ3R Method - A reading comprehension method.
      • Survey: Read through the headings and read the finally summary to gather the main ideas discussed in the chapter.
      • Question: Turn the headings into questions as this gives you a specific purpose for reading and help you understand the section more quickly.
      • Read: Read to answer you created for the section.
      • Recite: Put your answer into your own words.
      • Review: When you completed the chapter, look over your notes and recite points you had written down to test your memory.

Additional Resources: