You are here: Skills and Workshops for Academic Success- Note-taking

Students taking notes in hard copy
The note taking skills you need may vary from course to course, but good basics will give you a solid start to taking notes that are useful to you when you review.

Taking notes in class

1. Read the assigned material before getting to class.

By reading the assignment, and reviewing the key points, if possible, before class, you will take better notes and be able to identify topics that are in both the reading and the lecture, often a sign of importance.

2. Listen for key words.

Even if the professor doesn’t say, “this will be important” some verbal and physical clues will tip you off. When the professor speaks louder, repeats words, writes things on the board, or gives examples, it is usually a good time to pay extra attention.

3. If possible, print out the professor’s power point slides before class.

This will allow you to follow the professor's train of thought and write additional information or examples on the side in your own words.

4. Before leaving class (or soon after), review your notes.

Before leaving the classroom, take a few minutes to read through your class notes. You might find words or sentences you didn’t finish and organization that becomes clearer at the end of the lecture. By reviewing them within two hours of class, you will be able to remember details you missed. The longer you wait, the more your memory fades. After two weeks, you could have lost about 80% of the information that is not well recorded.

5. Make a friend in every class.

After class you can compare notes and make sure you didn’t miss anything. It's a good way to review, too.

Taking notes from a reading assignment

1. Review the headings, graphics, photos, list of terms, and summary before reading.

Previewing your reading material provides repetition as a memory tool and its helps you determine where to focus your attention.

2. Don’t highlight or underline too much.

A quarter of a page is usually sufficient to mark in a book or article. More than that and you'll end up re-reading most or all of the page as a review.

3. Read a portion of material - a section or page - before deciding what is most important to write in your notes.

You may want to mark briefly in the book to identify where to find the key facts and ideas before you summarize in note form.

4. Don’t get caught in the definition trap.

Terms and definitions aren’t the only things that are important. The concepts and abstract ideas should be processed and put into your own words in your notes.

5. Create a list of questions after you read.

Your memory will serve you better if you think critically about the material.  Try to write down questions about something you didn’t understand (which will make it easy to participate in class or visit the professor) or a list of questions you think could be used on an exam.