Note-Taking Tips

Taking good notes is a vital skill for succeeding in college. There are several common note-taking methods and it’s important that you select one that works for you and use it often so that you will become adept at retaining the important points of a lesson. The more you practice, the better you will become. With good note taking techniques, you’ll be able to record the fastest instructor to your satisfaction and have a great study tool to use when preparing for your assignments and exams!!

Regardless of the technique you use, some aspects remain the same:

  • Take notes selectively.
  • Use your own words whenever possible.  If the instructor uses a word you don’t know, write it down (you may have to sound it out since you likely won’t know how to spell it) and look it up later.
  • Be brief: focus on major points and important information.
  • Use abbreviations and symbols rather than writing out every word.  You can translate into a more complete text after class.  If your instructor uses abbreviations, as is often the case in science classes, know and use them too!
  • Write legibly.
  • Don’t worry about grammar or spelling.
  • ALWAYS date each page of your notes.
  • Review your notes as soon as possible after class and edit as needed.  If they’re hard to read, it’s easier to fix this right after class.  Underline or otherwise highlight things to look up or clarify.  These notes will help you when you come back to study more thoroughly later.

Knowing WHAT to write can be difficult so make it easier on yourself by being ready for class.  Show up a little early and remind yourself what the previous class was about.  What homework did you do?  What topic did you read about?  This will prepare you mentally for what is about to happen -- it is extremely difficult to pick out the most important points if you don't have any idea what the lesson will cover! Then, when you're in class, remove any distractions and focus. 

You'll find that many instructors will:

  • pause before or after an important idea.
  • write out important ideas on the board, overhead and/or PowerPoint.
  • use repetition to emphasize an important point.
  • use introductory phrases (i.e. “A point to remember …” or “A critical consideration …”)

You must:

  • mark ideas emphasized in lecture with an arrow or other special symbol.
  • take down examples that the instructor presents and “note” them.
  • pay close attention to transitional words and phrases.  Listen for words such as “therefore”, “finally”, and “furthermore”. These words usually signal an important idea.
  • listen for signal words:
    • that lead to main ideas/points:
      • “There are three reasons why … “
      • “First …  Second … Third … “
      • “… and most important … “
      • “A major development … “
    • that indicate support material:
      • "On the other hand … “
      • “For example … “
      • “For instance … “
      • “Similarly … “
      • “Also …”
      • “Furthermore …”
      • “In contrast …”
    • that signal conclusion or summary:
      • “Therefore … “
      •  “In conclusion … “
      • “As a result … “
      • “Finally …”
      • “In summary … “
      • “From this we can see … “
    • that are often said more loudly:
      • “Now this is important … “
      • “Remember that … “
      • “The important idea is that … “
      • “The basic concept here is … “