Tips for Effective Notetaking

Taking good notes and getting the maximum benefit from that effort can not be done in the boundaries of any single class period. Real learning takes preparation, focus, and practice and that means expanding the timeframe. Your academic success is riding on how well you manage this task.

Before Class Begins

  • It is important to get some background on the topic to be discussed.
  • Identify key concepts and terms.
  • Remind yourself of where the class has been headed most recently.
  • Check out the course textbook.
    • Make note of the headings.
    • Read through the chapter objectives.
    • Make a list of the terms.
    • Focus on the charts and diagrams that have been included.
    • Take the time to read the assignment.
  • Just before the period begins reread your notes from the last class.

During Class

  • Work to stay focused.
  • Participate.
  • Write down as much as you can so you will have a good record of what was discussed.
  • Format your notes effectively.
    • Every class, start on a new page in your notebook and include the date.
    • Leave margins.
    • Indent key ideas or terms.
    • Stay organized.
    • Leave plenty of white space.
  • Focus on:
    • Terms and definitions.
    • Concepts or terms that are grouped together in a list.
    • The connections from one idea to the next.
    • Anything that surprises you
    • Anytime the professor references the text.
  • Don't put your pen down when examples or stories are offered.
    Those are the "real life" connectors that can help you make sense of all of that information later.
  • Watch and listen for signals from your professor that something is especially important. There are lots of cues and they vary from professor to professor but if they offer an extra explanation or add detail repeating something that they have already touched on - don't miss it!
  • If notes or handouts are provided by the professor make sure you add in as much as you can of your own understanding as they are teaching. Sitting passively and just listening often means that your mind will wander and you can end up struggling to focus on to what is going on.

After Class

  • Make sure you reread your notes as soon as possible.
  • This is the time to fill in the blanks by checking with a classmate or asking the teacher, and to make sure you understand what you have written.
  • Get started on really learning the material. To do that you need to decide on an active study strategy that will help you check your learning as you work with your notes. Some options include:
    • Figure out some likely test questions for each section of your notes and jot them down in the margins.
    • Revise and condense key information or questions onto a study sheet or onto flash cards.
    • Keep a key term chart of course vocabulary - put definitions in your own words and make sure to add an example of how the term fits in the "real world."
    • Expand on a chart that you find in the textbook or develop your own that helps to categorize and compare information.
    • Make a time line to sort out information that is given in a sequence.

About Once per Week

  • Go back over the notes you have taken in each class.
  • Read through the information quickly.
  • Recheck the study tool you made up to go with the material.
  • Do a little practice and see how well you remember the key information.

It is much better to learn as you go and avoid the stress and anxiety that goes along with waiting until just before an exam to learn everything.