How Do I Take Effective Notes?

Below are different ways to take notes, along with step-by-step descriptions and ways to connect your note-taking to other learning strategies. (Make sure you’ve reviewed our Taking Effective Notes page before diving into the strategies below.)

Taking Notes in Lecture Courses

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.

Taking Notes in Problem-Solving Courses

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.

Taking Notes on PowerPoint Slides

Many professors create PowerPoint presentations for use in the classroom and as study guides. These PowerPoint presentations are guided lecture summaries, often posted on the Brightspace site for the course. More importantly, 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.

Taking Notes While Reading

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 in an online document.

Taking Notes During a Video

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 explaining the video to a potential audience.

Taking Notes During a Group Discussion

When having a conversation, appropriate 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. This type of 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 Texas State University’s Student Learning Assistance Center colleagues for granting permission to adapt their handouts.)

Video: Taking Effective Notes

Watch our Taking Effective Notes video to learn tips and strategies for note-taking in various settings.

*Return to the Study Skills & Learning Strategies homepage