What Are the Best Note-Taking Strategies?

What Are the Best Note-Taking Strategies?


Much of a student’s academic career is spent listening, absorbing, and recording information to be recalled at a later date. It is challenging, often tedious work – but work that pays off. Work that later makes for an easier study session, resulting in a high grade on an exam – and, if they’ve taken fantastic notes, an even higher grade at the end of a semester. It involves the student keenly paying attention in class, that is, to their professor’s lecture, picking up on their most important themes, points and principles, and simply writing them down in a way that they can, one, remember them and, two, refer back to for studying purposes.

Here are 10 basic steps to become a better note-taker

1.      Don’t write down everything heard in a lecture. Focus on the main points, listen and try to focus on the “meat” of the subject, or point of the lecture. Most times, one’s professor will provide points, examples, or anecdotes to help their students better remember key points in a lesson.
2.      Write with brevity. Class notes should be pithy in nature, consisting of key words and phrases. In fact, notes with loose-ends (such as a word without a definition or meaning behind it) allow the student an opportunity to expand on their notes through exploratory research.
3.      Be accurate. If the student is not sure they heard something correctly, they should not write it down. Rather, they should write a question mark near that section of notes to examine after class. In this case, they should also ask their professor for clarification after class.
4.      Do research before class. Most times a professor will have a syllabus informing students what subjects or topics will be covered at certain times throughout the semester. It is to the student’s benefit to be well informed on the subject beforehand, so they can focus on some of the bigger ideas discussed in the lecture – which means that reading ahead in a textbook or conducting preliminary research never hurts the student’s understanding of a subject. It can only help.
5.      Develop a system that works. Don’t worry about punctuation, picture-perfect spelling; instead use abbreviations, write succinctly, and leave plenty of white space in the notes to expand on after class.
6.      If a point is missed, don’t dwell on it. If it’s a crucial point, ask the professor after class. Simply leave some extra space and go on. It is better than missing yet another point in the lecture.
7.      Keep notes in organized places. For example, refrain from writing downs on random pieces of paper – they could be misplaced too easily, never to be seen again. Instead keep notes in ONE notebook for a certain class. Organizing one’s workspace helps organize their mental clarity when learning.
8.      Use symbols/punctuation to indicate the most important information. Many times a professor will say something is crucial to know or to remember; and so it may benefit the student if the student marks this passage or fact in their notes with a symbol that stands out from the rest of the notes.
9.      Immediately after class, reread the notes that have been taken. This will help the student store the information into their long-term memory and clear up any questions they may be looming from the lecture.

10.  For some students, rewriting their notes after class is a helpful exercise. It helps them expand on words or phrases that had to be abbreviated, often causing them to perform a bit more of research to make sure that what they wrote down was indeed accurate and correct.

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