How Do I Take Effective Notes?
Below are some different ways to take notes, along with some step-by-step descriptions and ways to connect your note-taking to other learning strategies.
If you're looking for more information on one specific strategy, click on the name below to jump to that portion of the page. We encourage you, however, to read all of the information below.
- Lecture Courses
- Problem-Solving Courses
- PowerPoint Slides
- While Reading
- During a Video
- During a Group Discussion
The most common note-taking approach is writing down as much of what the professor says as possible. However, there is other important information to document while in class, including key terms, ideas about what might be on the exam, and your own “cues” that connect the class information to something memorable. One approach of note-taking that creates space for all these information sources is the Cornell Method*. Another approach that helps you make connections between ideas as you take in the information is mind mapping.
In courses that rely upon equations or step-by-step processes (such as Math and Chemistry), it is important to capture the sample problems along with verbal explanations of each step. T-Notes* offer an effective way to document problem-based examples, with a verbal explanation in your own words on one side, and the corresponding mathematical steps on the other.
Many professors create PowerPoint presentations for use in the classroom and as study guides. These PowerPoint presentations are guided lecture summaries, often stored on the Blackboard site for the course. More importantly, the PowerPoints can be tremendous learning tools if you use them actively by taking your own notes on the slides. This can be done electronically by using the “Click to add notes” feature on each slide, or by printing the PowerPoint presentation as “Handouts” with lines next to each slide for your own written comments.
Whether reading a textbook, article, or novel, it can be very frustrating to get to the last page and realize, “I have no idea what I just read!” Not only is this a waste of time, but also a missed opportunity to learn what the professor intended you to learn while reading. Note-taking is a key component to reading actively, including notes in the margin, on sticky notes, or on a laptop document.
Often you will be assigned to watch a video for class. Since your brain may associate this with a movie or Netflix show, the initial response can be to sit back and watch passively. Learning, though, takes action! Before starting the video, document the title, the source, and the purpose. This includes context such as why your professor assigned the video, what you are intended to gain from the experience, and the related course concepts. Taking notes helps you to maintain attention to the video, and to make meaning while watching. As the video plays, take notes much like you would if in a class lecture. Unlike the classroom, you can pause every few minutes to check your notes and confirm you have not missed any key points or critical details. Once the video is over, write a quick summary, as if you were providing a description in Netflix explaining the video to a potential audience.
When having a conversation, polite behavior includes paying full attention to the speaker, listening carefully instead of thinking about how to respond, and summarizing what the speaker said to check for understanding. All of this contributes to the learning process as well! If there is a group conversation in class or if you are studying in groups, consider taking notes during the discussion. It might seem counterintuitive, since polite behavior is about not being distracted. The note-taking, though, is directly related to the purpose of the discussion, and is not meant to be as detailed as the type of notes you would take in the classroom. Focus on key words and phrases that connect the conversation back to what was learned in class. Write down questions that the group generates. Make sure to write down the name of the group member who shared a particularly-helpful point, as it will be a reminder of who to speak with if you want to have more conversation.
(*Special thanks to our colleagues at Texas State University’s Student Learning Assistance Center for granting permission to adapt their handouts.)