10 Note-Taking Tips

Note-taking is not an easy skill to learn. From taking notes during lectures to reviewing your textbook for a test, you may struggle to figure out which information is worth writing down. Here are some ways to make note-taking easier, more fun, and more effective.

1. Take notes during class

This one may seem obvious, but it’s an important step in practicing note taking. Taking notes has consistently been shown to improve recall and understanding of lecture material. Plus, your professor will likely share additional information that doesn’t appear in your textbook. Lectures are often thought to enhance the reading and learning you do on your own!

2. You don’t have to write everything down

It’s impossible and counterproductive to write down everything that is said during lecture. Focus on the key topics and information, which will help keep your notes relevant and easy to read. By having to summarize and focus on key points, you engage more actively with the material since you have to decide what information is relevant. If you still have trouble writing it all down, try using shorthand or abbreviations.

3. Don’t just copy things down

Copying information word-for-word from a PowerPoint won’t help you learn; it’s all about putting things into your own words. Paraphrase, summarize, and analyze what is said. You’ll learn more because you’ll be actively engaging with the material, instead of just passively copying it down.

4. Add questions and key points

While writing your notes, add in highlighted key terms and questions you have about the material. When it comes time to review your notes, you’ll quickly understand the key topics and questions.

5. Hand-write your notes

This one may be unpopular, but studies have shown that handwriting notes on paper or a tablet gives much higher rates of retention and understanding of material. Laptops can cause distraction, and many classes might not even allow them, so it’s good to get in the habit. You may argue that handwriting is slower, but that’s actually a good thing: it forces you to focus on what’s important, whereas when typing you might just write everything down without thinking too hard about what you write. If pen and paper is too old-school for you, some great apps for handwriting notes on a tablet include Goodnotes and Notability.

6. Experiment with different formats

There are tons of note taking methods out there, such as the Cornell MethodOutline Method, and mind mapping. Some might be better for visual learners, and some might work better for different subjects. Everybody learns in different ways; find what works best for you!

7. Use all your senses

Researchers have found that incorporating smell into your learning may help you recall information better. Using scented pens to highlight important facts is one way to incorporate smell into your notes. Consider talking or singing while you write to improve your memory.

8. Annotate what you read

Many students simply highlight or underline key points when they read. This has been shown to be ineffective for remembering what you’ve read. Instead, try and jot notes or questions in the margin as you read. This will force you to engage with the reading and react to it, as opposed to highlighting words that seem important and ending up with a page that is 90% yellow highlighter.

9. Organize your notes

Well-organized notes are easier to look through and review from. If you hand-write, use a notebook and write down the date and topic on each set of notes, and if you use a tablet or laptop, use an app to organize your notes.

10. Someone else’s notes can’t replace your own

Everyone has a different style of note taking. Someone else’s notes won’t necessarily help you learn the material, and they definitely won’t give you the benefits of writing your own notes. A better way to study with friends: compare your notes! You may find that you both picked up different information and can help each other fill in the gaps.