How To Improve Note Taking Skills

A big part of success in college will come down to how effectively you take notes when in class, or listening to a lecture online. And this is why one of the most common questions we hear is “how to improve note taking skills?”

Effective note-taking can really enhance your learning and studying efforts. College courses can be very overwhelming, with the sheer amount of coursework and subjects, but when you master effective note taking it will become much easier to succeed.

Why is it important to take notes in class?

If you are anything like me, then note-taking during class will help you pay attention and listen to your professor. If you find that you have a habit of daydreaming during lectures, then taking notes can really help focus your concentration. Doing this will greatly help your understanding of the topics and material when you decide to review it later.

How to Improve Note Taking Skills

Why Are Note Taking Skills Important?

Note-taking during your class can provide a real benefit when you go to review that topic later. When you are in class, lecturers tend to focus on the most important topics and concepts, which you can then use later for guidance.

Watch out for things your lecturer seems to focus on a lot during the class and things that are written on the blackboard or whiteboard. These things are usually important to what you are learning, so it is a good idea to make sure that you make note of them.

Also, it can be very useful to look back at these notes as a way of testing your knowledge and ensuring that you know and understand everything your lecturer was discussing in class. Taking good notes will save you a lot of time and will prevent the need to rewrite notes later. Instead, you can use your time to study and learn your course work.

When you take your own notes during class, these notes can often be easier to remember and learn than when you try to learn and remember information straight from a textbook. Your note-taking will help you comprehend what you are learning.

How To Improve Note Taking Skills?

To improve your note-taking skills follow these effective note-taking strategies while doing your course work.

Every student will have their own preferred way of taking notes. What’s most important is you find a way to take notes that are brief, so you can follow what is going on in the class and listen to your lecturer.

It is important to be able to identify what is important about the topic being discussed in class. By identifying this, you can then focus on taking down only what is relevant and necessary, rather than writing absolutely everything the lecturer is saying. To do this, be alert and look out for the main points. Listen carefully to the way your lecturer is referring to points and try to identify the points that he/she may be emphasizing.

Find ways to shorten what is being said while still being able to remember the explanation of the topics.

Don’t Write Down Every Word

You may find by writing down a phrase, or a single word, that you will remember the full sentence later. This will allow you to be quick and effective at note-taking during your classes. Some students find using abbreviations and symbols to be very effective or a bullet point/numbering systems.

Think for a minute before you decide to write anything down. Try to come up with a short sentence in your own words that explains what is being said. You can then look into these points in more depth when you are revising later.

When taking your notes it is important to find a way of distinguishing main points from points of less importance. Indenting your points can be a very effective way of doing this. Be sure to leave plenty of space so that you can write down further notes later if you need to and it is always a good idea to date your notes so that they are easy to navigate back through later.

How To Remember Study Notes

When it comes to improving your note taking skills, what is important is the notes you take in class make sense to you. The last thing you want is to try and revise and not make sense of what you took down in that class.

Develop your own system or method for taking notes. Keep them in an organized manner with plenty of space so you can make adjustments later, or add additional explanations to areas you may be unclear about. Don’t leave it too long to revisit your notes after the class, otherwise, you may not remember much of what was taught.

Types Of note taking

1) The Cornell Note-taking System (The Five “R’s” of note taking)

The Cornell note-taking method is very popular among students. It is a great way to help you stay organised and take notes effectively during classes.

To use this method of note-taking:

  • Divide the paper into sections by drawing a line down your page 2 1/2 inches from the left side to create a 2 1/2 inch margin. This will be used for writing down the key words. Then draw another 6-inch area on the right for sentence summaries.
  • During the class, you will record your notes in the 6-inch area on the right side of your paper. When doing this, it’s important to use your own words. Also, make sure to include the main ideas and any other important details.
  • When you’re writing down your notes, use short sentences and phrases that you can understand. Make sure your writing is legible and clear. Don’t try to take down everything that is being said during the class. Take down points and be brief.
  • Review your summary sentences and underline key words. Don’t over do it when underlining because you don’t want to create a mess, or a page that is too difficult to read.
  • When reviewing your notes, write the keywords in the column on the left side of your page. This column is often referred to as the recall column and it should just contain key phrases to help you recall the information.
  • These words can be used later when you a studying to stimulate your memory of the material and make it easier to recall. By using the recall column you can use the keywords to test your understanding of the topics discussed in class and think through the information clearly.
  • When you are revising your notes after class, you re-read the main 6-inch column notes but spend the majority of your time studying the key points in the left column. This is where the most important ideas are.

Some students like to create a third section at the bottom of the page where they write a summary of the main ideas.

2) The Mind-Mapping Method

Mind mapping is a great way of note-taking in class that allows you to show relationships and connections between pieces of information, as well as hierarchies of such information. It makes it easy to add in additional information and can show an overview of the topic at a glance.

When you use this method of note-taking you store all the important information on a single sheet of paper. You can use colors and images to make it more visual and easier to learn. Color-coding related information can be very effective and easier to see at a glance.

Mind maps allow you to take down a large amount of information and organize it in such a way that makes it easier for your brain to remember. Making links between the information and using images and color can contribute vastly to learning and the ability to recall information.

To use the mind-mapping method:

  • Begin by drawing a box or circle in the middle of your page. You can write the subject or topic heading the box.
  • You can then use the lines extending that box to write down the most important points or subheadings relating to that topic.
  • Keep it simple. Label each extension or branch with one or two keywords.
  • If there are more details relating to these main points, you can extend more lines from those main subheadings.
  • Again keep it simple. Use phrases that will help you remember the information. You can always add more detail later if required.


3) The Outlining Method

The outlining method involves organizing information in a logical and structured manner using space indentation. The major points in the subject will be at the left side of your page with further points relating to the main point being indented further to the right.

With the outline method, the level of importance for each point or idea you write down will be emphasized by the level of space or distance from the left margin. Points that are less important will be indented further to the right of your page.

This method of note-taking, when done right, can be extremely effective and very useful for studying for exams. However, it can sometimes be difficult to use this method in a class where the information is delivered very quickly.

Take time to learn each of these note taking strategies and identify which one works best for you. It’s also a good idea to learn what kind of learner you are, you can check out our article on the different types of learners.

Now you’re equipped to know how to improve note taking skills, increase your grades and make the most of your learning experience.


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