Note-Taking Tips

One of the most important study skills you need to be successful is the ability to take good notes. Knowing how to take good notes makes it easier to study because you can focus on studying on the important information and quickly find the information you need. It also gives you more time to focus on actually learning instead of scrambling to write everything down. In fact, the first rule of good note-taking is simple: DON’T WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN!

Taking Notes in Class

In class, your teacher probably talks a lot faster than you can write. It can be difficult to keep up, especially if you are trying to write down every single thing your teacher says. Thankfully, you do not have to write down everything you hear. The purpose of taking notes in class is to job your memory and help your remember the key ideas being discussed.

If your teacher uses a slideshow presentation or writes on the board during the lesson, taking notes in class is fairly easy. In your notes, you can simply write down whatever is on the board or part of the slideshow. However, some teachers like to include a lot of notes on the board or as part of a slideshow. In this case, focus on including the following information in your notes:

  • Main topics
  • Important dates
  • Definitions and examples

When your teacher is talking you want to listen for clues to determine which information should be included in your notes. At the beginning and end of the class, pay close attention to what your teacher says because this is usually when your teacher gives a summary or review of important information. You should also listen for the following clues:

  • The teacher looking directly at the class and speaking loudly
  • Information that is repeated
  • Phrases such as “the most important” or “pay attention to this”
  • Numbered lists, such as “three reasons why” or “the two main points”

After class, take some time to compare your notes with your friends’ so you can fill in any information you may have missed.

Taking Notes while Reading

Taking notes while reading is different from taking notes in class. Unlike in class, the problem with taking notes while reading is not scrambling to write everything down, it is determining what information you read is important. Thankfully, most textbook authors make it easy to determine the information you need to know.

Before you begin actually reading your textbook, scan the text to note the headers and section titles. These are your main ideas. If you have to answer questions after reading or if the book has questions at the end of a chapter, read those too. Knowing the questions in advance will give you an idea of what to look for as you read.

As you read through the book, watch for the following information and highlight it or write it in your notes:

  • Bold text, which usually contains key words or important ideas
  • Names and dates
  • Answers to key questions
  • Charts and diagrams
  • Text boxes containing important facts
  • Bulleted lists
  • Short passages summarizing a section or chapter

Note-Taking Methods

Everyone learns and remembers information differently. When you take notes, you must use the method that works best for you. For example, if you are a visual learner, it may help to draw pictures or color code your notes. If you are an auditory learner, it may help to turn the information into short rhymes or use mnemonic devices to remember information.

No matter how you learn, you should keep a few things in mind whenever you take notes:

  • Always put information in your own words.
  • Do not always write in complete sentences.
  • Use symbols and abbreviations to save time.
  • Start a new page of notes for each class period or chapter of a book.
  • Highlight or underline key words and phrases in your notes.

The more you practice taking notes, the easier it will become. You will also learn which methods work best for you.

Suggested Activities
  1. Re-read the passage above, taking notes by writing down any bulleted information, bold text and headers you see.
  2. Create a poster to remind yourself and other students how to take notes.
  3. Choose a chapter of a textbook and practice taking notes using the advices given in this lesson.

Discussion Questions
  1. Do your teachers use any specific words or talk in a specific way when they are sharing important information?
  2. How do you currently take notes? Are you taking good notes or could you improve?
  3. What are some ways you can highlight important information in your notes?