Note-taking strategies for students who have never taken notes

By Iyanna Armwood

Taking notes in class is a way to rely less heavily on your memory and focus more on the lecture. It also tests your understanding of the topic because you need to be able to determine what is important.

A typical Chatham classroom in Falk Hall where professors lecture and students take notes.

Here are some tips to help you sharpen your note-taking skills:

Handwritten vs. typed: Some benefits of handwriting your notes are flexibility and less distraction from the internet. Typing can come in handy, though, when a professor shares a lot of information so you can organize all of your notes in one place. Ultimately, it is up to you to choose which is better for you. However, you won’t have a choice if electronic devices, like a laptop, aren’t permitted in the class.

Pay attention to what’s on the board: When taking lecture notes, write down what is on the board, including definitions and lists. If a professor uses signaling phrases, such as “this is important” or “this will be on the test,” you should write it down. If professors emphasize that something is important through their body language or tone, write it down, too. Jotting down examples of concepts discussed in class will help you remember and understand it later. If information is repeated in a lecture, that’s another good indication that it is important.

Find the right structure: There are many different ways to form your notes. The Cornell method requires active learning. That means, it requires you to review your notes and make sure everything is clear and concise, including creating a section where you can put down questions you may have. The outline method encourages you to look for keywords and main points. There is less of a requirement to review, and it is more organized.

Other good habits: Before a lecture, review your notes from the previous class and look ahead in the textbook. That will help you get familiar with what will be covered in class so you can have questions prepared for the lecture.

When in doubt, write it down. It’s better to have too many notes than too few.

Be concise and use abbreviations (for example, b/c instead of because), along with short sentences or bulleted points. Go up to professors with your notes and ask if they are good for that class. They know the main points of the lecture, and they could suggest the best note-taking structure for that class.