How to Take Great Notes

It’s tempting to robotically write down what’s on the classroom board verbatim or everything that’s being said. But taking great notes is a cornerstone of a good academic experience. When you take good notes, you’re not only creating a study guide for yourself, but also improving your memory and understanding of the material. Sort of like a study hack for your brain!

Here are some of the best practices to help you efficiently take notes and use them to excel!

Taking Notes in Class

This is the kind of note-taking most of us do: Sitting in a classroom with a laptop or notebook, alternating between listening closely to the instructor and jotting down some of what they say. But is this the best way to do it? Try these tips for writing notes during class:

  • Focus on keywords: When you’re listening to your teacher speak or watching a lecture, try to pick out the words and concepts that seem the most important. Is something highlighted in bold? Does it come up frequently?
  • Don’t try to write things verbatim: Instead of trying to write every word your instructor says, use shortcuts to get the important info down. Just make sure you can still decipher what you write when you go back!
  • Synthesize as you go: One of the benefits of note-taking is that it helps you process and synthesize info in the moment. This is why verbatim notes aren’t as helpful: they’re just copies, rather than true notes that include your own questions, insights, and emphasis.

Notes at Home

Notes aren’t just for class lectures. When you’re doing at-home reading, it can be incredibly helpful to take notes as well. Rather than creating a record to help you remember something you can’t access again (like a class discussion), at-home notes are best for helping you focus your studying.

  • Find your organization: Color-coded concept webs? Outline-style bullet points? Full sentences? Organize your notes in the way that makes the most sense for you.
  • Add your observations: You have a little more time when you’re taking notes at home, so use it to add your own thoughts and questions. If you spot a connection between pieces of info or want to tie in some piece of knowledge from another unit, jot it down!
  • Include sources: It’s helpful to note where the info in your notes is coming from, whether it’s a textbook, lecture, or supplementary materials. Not only will this help with organization, it’ll help down the line if you need to put together a works cited page or in-text citations in a paper. Which leads us to…

Notes and Papers

Taking notes and writing papers might seem like totally different things, but they’re both sides of the same idea: taking the information you learn, writing it in your own way, and synthesizing new information out of it. Some effective ways to use notes for better papers:

  • Organize your sources: When you’re writing a paper that requires citations (like MLA citations or APA citations), it’s helpful to have your notes already organized by each source, with all the citation info right there. You can even make this part a little more fun with color-coded cards or inks!
  • Use notes to formulate arguments: Your notes will probably contain a lot of information in short form—which is great when you’re trying to find connections and contrasts to assemble your paper’s thesis or supporting evidence. Highlight important ideas and use them to create an outline.

Any time spent taking notes will pay off big time when it comes to tests and papers, so make the most of this practice!

Cite This For Me can help you cite and keep track of your sources from the beginning, and in citation styles like APA, MLA, Chicago format, Harvard referencing, and others.