Essential College Skills: Note Taking

Note taking is a key to collegiate success. Whether you prefer pen and paper or a digital note-taking program, listening to your instructor, recording important points, and then studying the information later will help your learning. Our short-term memories are helpful, but imperfect. Ensure that you're ready for an exam by using good lecture notes to fill in the gaps in your memory. The notes also serve as a guide, reminding you what to study. And, as an added bonus, transcribing information in your own words will help you retain it.

Don't try to write your professor's lessons word-for-word. Instead, try to capture the main ideas your professor is discussing. Following are some effective note-taking strategies to maximize your time:

Before class

If you prefer to take notes with pen and paper, dedicate a binder or notebook to each course. Use a highlighter or other shorthand symbols to emphasize important details or concepts in your notes during the lecture. If you prefer to take notes digitally, turn off Wi-Fi on your laptop or tablet to limit distractions. Digital note-taking programs may be helpful and offer some back-up protection if your computer crashes. Familiarize yourself with keyboard shortcuts or text expander programs and learn to type quickly. Complete any reading assignments prior to class so that you are ready for the lesson.

During class

Jot down the lesson's main points, rather than trying to record word for word. Stay engaged and actively listen for key details. Pay attention to cues from your professor to separate important information from the other fodder. How do you know what's important?

Write down any questions you have about the lecture in your notes, whether they are questions for yourself or your professor. Follow up after class to lead to more learning.

Begin each lesson on a new page and include the date. Write legibly, if you are using pen and paper. Be brief in your notes, but leave space if you want to expand on an idea later.

After class

Spend a couple of minutes at the end of class reviewing your notes to fill any gaps, rewriting anything that is illegible, and quickly writing a summary of the lesson. Refer to your notes later as you study, complete reading assignments for class, or at the beginning of the following class. Some students combine their lecture notes and reading notes into one master study guide. Other students rewrite key points onto flash cards. Others may scan their handwritten notes into a note-taking application, making them possible to digitally search. Either way, good notes give you a guide to what's important.

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