How to Take Notes in College – 7 Essential Tips

When doing a college course it is important how to take notes in college effectively, so you can study effectively at home

Your note-taking should include important issues and concepts discussed during the class or a topic section. This will help you better understand and remember those concepts later.

It will also force you to pay attention and highlight what is most important. On top of this, if you have classes or video content, it forces you to listen as your professor is talking. 

Many students find note-taking allows them to put topics and concepts into their own words. This further develops their own understanding and makes a subject much easier to learn.

Taking notes directly from class gives you guidance when revising for the exam. More often than not, what is focused on in class is most likely to show up on the exam.

How to Take Notes in College 7 Essential Tips

Getting Ready to Take Great Notes

When you go to class ensure that you have everything you need for that particular class and have a separate notebook where you write all your notes for that subject. This way you will be super organized and it will be easier to revise and find those notes later.

If your course is not online you may be able to record the class which can be useful when revising and will allow you to recheck your notes. Be sure to get your professor’s permission first.

Comparing notes with other students can be a very good study technique. It will allow you to see what other students thought was important. Plus it helps you identify any points you may have missed.

Below are our top tips on How to Take Notes in College.

How to Take Notes in College


Mind mapping is a different way of remembering information than the normal cognitive way. It is a simple technique of visualizing information in the form of graphs or diagram rather than writing in the form of sentences. The process of mind mapping involves the use of both our analytical side of the brain and our artistic side. Thereby making the learning process even more enjoyable.

Mind mapping can significantly help improve one’s study techniques and help with storing information. The process involves creating a diagram, which generally takes the form of a tree. It will have a unique starting point, which will then divide up into many branches.

Others will have a central idea surrounded by connected branches of associated topics. This visual representation of information can involve the use of colors and diagrams.

The idea behind mind mapping is to make the information and process as simple as possible.

Mind mapping is especially useful for college students who need to remember large amounts of information. A useful way of creating a mind map is to condense your notes as much as possible until you are left with one page. This page of graphics, word flows, or visual representation is then the core piece of information you will need to learn in order to remember your notes from a particular subject.

If you would like more information, check out our guide on mind mapping here.



It’s all well and good making sure you attend every class but you might as well not be there if you’re not listening properly. Perfecting the art of listening, particularly with more difficult subjects, comes with honing your concentration skills.

Your lecture should last for around 45 minutes, with a break afterwards. Hopefully, if you have a double period you will get a break in between. It is possible to train yourself to concentrate for that length of time.

In your break afterwards, you will need to fully refresh before your next subject. Chatting to friends, going for a walk, or doing a few stretches is a great way to give your mind a rest before your next bout of concentration.

You need to listen to your lecturer properly in order to understand the topic at hand. A lot of people take notes continuously at the expense of paying full attention and this equates to a lesser level of understanding. A good way to combat this is to use a Dictaphone or even your phone, when allowed, to record the lecture. This leaves you fully free to listen to the lecture and take notes later.

If this is not possible for you, take small notes when there is a break in talking. Because you have listened you will be able to take more comprehensive notes later on.

To learn more about listening effectively, check out our guide on boosting focus and concentration.


It might sound simple, but a lot of people rush into class without having the right textbooks, previous notes, or idea about the subject of discussion. Whether it’s the morning or evening before, you need to make sure you are adequately prepared for each lecture you attend. Developing a checklist can be useful for this.

  • Make sure you have all notes to date with you in case you need to look back on anything.
  • Make sure you have your textbook with you and page marked if you know where you will be focusing on in that lecture.
  • Finally, take time to ready your course plan, online study notes, or reflect on your past lesson, to know what you will be concentrating on in that lesson. This allows you to get into the right mindset before you enter a lecture and will allow you to take notes more effectively.

This time spent on organizing yourself can make all the difference when it comes to your quality of understanding. It also allows you to feel more in control and less lost during classes.

If you find you are struggling with certain subjects then knowing what’s coming up can give you some time to do some external reading on the subject. This can be a massive boost to your understanding and external reading is always sought after when it comes to examinations.


If you have used the method of recording your lectures then you’ll have more time at this stage to perfect your notes. If not and you jotted down the main points while focusing completely, you should take time later in the evening to expand on the notes and get as much down as possible.

Once this is done and you have the full lecture in front of you, you can begin the process of condensing your notes. A big mistake that students make is by not shortening their notes enough and trying to learn too much information. This is counter-productive, and with multiple subjects, your mind is going to get burnt out.

When we’re condensing our notes, we’re making sure that we retain the main points so that when we recall them, we can explain them and expand on their meaning. There will be several methods of condensing your notes until you can create your mind map, where you will have all of the subjects main points on one easy-to-read word chart.

If you have a good understanding of your lecture and original notes, then by just learning these key phrases, you will be able to expand and give full and complete answers.


In college, you will have access to past papers that students have taken in prior years. More often than not, you will also have access to repeat papers and all answers for the last five years or so. This gives you ten complete exam papers to work on. Surprisingly, many students don’t see the opportunity in this and might attempt one or two past papers before moving on.

Past exam papers need to be completed for a number of reasons. Firstly, to boost your confidence. Now it’s important to keep in mind when you first attempt them you’re more than likely going to get a few answers wrong. Don’t let this dishearten you. Instead, use the answers that are provided to see where you are making your mistakes.

This is a much more effective way to understand the question because by taking the opportunity to rectify the mistakes at this stage means that you will be ready for them if the chance presents itself when you’re taking your final examination. Once you have got to the last paper, you will be answering the questions fully and will gain confidence in the fact that you are completing exam questions.

The second reason why it’s so important to complete past papers is it gives you the opportunity to see if you need to make any adjustments to your notes. Maybe something hasn’t been explained adequately, or you forgot to cover a certain topic. Whatever it is, by attempting the past papers you will be able to identify the topics you need to cover more adequately.

If you do not have past exams papers for your course, or your course is completely online don’t worry. It is likely that your course has a forum for both current and past students. Here take the opportunity to ask plenty of questions about your course and their experience with the exam. You can gain a lot if valuable information here. Past students love to share their experience with the exam. They will likely guide you and tell you what areas to focus on.


It can be difficult to cover everything that comes up in class, particularly when you’re trying to listen closely to what’s being said. But you do have a resource available to you, your classmates.

Each person will take notes in their own way and it’s beneficial to share notes to make sure you’ve got all the important parts covered. Try to organise a study group at the end of the week to go over each other’s notes and discuss your thoughts on the lectures.

This is incredibly beneficial in making sure everybody knows what’s going on and can be a real lifesaver when you stumble on a point that you can’t seem to master. Hearing someone else’s take on a subject helps you to deepen your own understanding as well.


There are many note-taking and study techniques that were once promoted highly but have since been found to not work effectively. Time Magazine covered a research paper conducted by the Association of Psychological Science. In highlighting the biggest areas where techniques were ineffective they wrote:

Highlighting and underlining led the authors’ list of ineffective learning strategies. Although they are common practices, studies show they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning; because it draws attention to individual facts, it may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences. “


Don’t waste time on things that you think you’re supposed to be doing. Focus on what works and most importantly, what works for you. By tying in all of the methods we have spoken about and testing yourself on the exam papers, you will be able to find what methods are working best for you. Remember, less is more and effectively condensing your results will lead to much better overall exam results.

In the same report, the best methods of study involved the following:

“In contrast to familiar practices like highlighting and rereading, the learning strategies with the most evidence to support them aren’t well known outside the psych lab. Take distributed practice, for example. This tactic involves spreading out your study sessions, rather than engaging in one marathon. Cramming information at the last minute may allow you to get through that test or meeting, but the material will quickly disappear from memory. It’s much more effective to dip into the material at intervals over time. And the longer you want to remember the information, whether it’s two weeks or two years, the longer the intervals should be.”

This distributed method should be applied to your study plan. Don’t focus on one subject continuously, learn your subjects together so you’re dipping in and out and adding information into your long term memory. Remember cramming is a short term solution and can make information hard to bring to the fore when you need it the most.

How to Take Notes in College: A Summary

As you can see, learning how to take notes in college is not only possible, it can be easy if you implement the tips and tricks mentioned in this article. Take the time to read through each point and make a list of what you need to do to accomplish each point.

The most important aspect in taking notes is being prepared. If you turn up to class missing papers, books, rushed and just not ready, taking effective study notes becomes nearly impossible. Give yourself plenty of time, think ahead, be prepared and you’ll be able to learn how to take notes in college that will make it so much easier to pass your exams with flying colors.