Nota Bene: Taking good notes

In college with the more difficult material, good note-taking skills become more important. You may feel that you understand something you have just read, or what was said during class; but it is often very difficult to recall ideas or concepts days or weeks later. Note taking is a great way to remember key concepts, and for reorganizing ideas in ways that are easier to recall later. You can take notes anytime, but they are especially important while you are reading new material or during classroom lectures and discussions. Although it might seem more convenient, even a tape recorder is a poor substitute for good notes, and is useless come test time!


Some of you may have already worked out note taking methods that work for you, but others may have never taken notes. For anyone, the way to learn to take good notes that are effective for your style of learning is practice. LOTS of practice. So, for the novice chicken scratcher to the most experienced notes-meister, I have assembled some tips of my own (plus a few culled from the Internet) that might help. 

General tips and organization

          Be as neat as possible!

          Taking notes requires a clear, consistent system that will be easy for you to use. Try writing notes in an outline form if that works for you, but many other styles are possible.

          Give each day's notes a date, a heading of some sort, and number the pages.

          Have a notebook and a reliable pen in hand. (Forget index cards, a good notebook is always better.) Be prepared to take notes as soon as you start reading or when class begins.

          Avoid distractions in class or out.

          Take notes in margins of your book! Take notes, don’t highlight.

          Ask lots of questions in writing, and bring them to class.

          Draw pictures or diagrams if they help. Doodles are always cool, and probably Freudian in someway.

          Make a glossary of terms or key ideas.

In class

          Participate in class! Use your notes from the readings to facilitate the discussion.

          Listen for what is emphasized, especially terms such as "in summary...", "the point is..."

          If something is written on the board, it is probably important!

          If something is repeated, you should probably write it down!

          Listen and watch for all material presented in alphabetical or numerical fashion.

          Listen carefully when a teacher elaborates on important material and then briefly summarize it in writing.

After class

          Write a summary or reflection of the class period immediately after class.

          Go over your notes after class. A few minutes then will save lots of time later.

          Identify the main ideas by underlining or highlighting.

          Clearly know what the assignments are, and write them down in your notebook.

          See the instructor for clarifications as soon as possible.

Finally, your notes are valuable, especially to you! So take the time to make good ones. You will develop a style that works for you, and another’s notes will not be nearly as useful. I still use notes I took 30 years ago on a regular basis. Leonardo Da Vinci’s notes just sold to Bill Gates for over $50 million. You never know who may be looking at your notes 500 years from now!