Tips to Take Great Notes in College

by | Dec 14, 2022 | Admissions

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College lectures can be overwhelming, especially when you’re taking many different courses or are working and studying at the same time. It isn’t unusual to struggle with taking great notes in class.

How do you determine what’s important and what to leave out?

Great notes can help you perform better in your projects and exams. Clear and concise notes will improve your understanding of main concepts. As you take notes, it pushes you to think about the ideas and remember them.

If you’re not proficient at note-taking, you’ll have a hard time making sense of disorganized, insufficient, or wordy notes. Poor note-taking can lead to poor academic performance.

With that in mind, here are several tips to help you take great notes in college:

Prepare to Take Great Notes

To take effective notes, start by coming to class fully prepared. Make sure that you have the right supplies on hand including a couple of pens, highlighters, a notebook, and sticky notes.

Before you go to class or start reading, preview the course or topic outline. Doing so will allow you to identify main ideas and concepts that will be discussed. In addition, briefly review notes from previous class sessions to help you situate new ideas that you’re about to learn.

On a fresh page in your notebook, indicate the topic and date. It’s advisable to keep separate notebook sections or notebooks for each class and have your notes organized in chronological order. Having your notes properly organized will make them easier to read and comprehend.

Write Down Key Facts

To take notes, you don’t have to write down everything that’s said by your professor. The point of note-taking is to summarize information so you can review it later. If you try to write every word, you’ll quickly fall behind – not to mention that you’ll fill your notebook with unnecessary details.

Learn how to identify and write down the most important information. Writing down key facts helps you remember the material better, and can help you recall important concepts when you need them. Pay attention and jot down any facts that stand out to you, such as dates, names, and definitions.

Does the lecturer repeat or emphasize something? Then it’s likely to be something important to include in your notes. If visual aids are presented in class, be sure to take notes on them. Often, visual aids can often provide helpful context for understanding the material.

Use Symbols and Abbreviations

You don’t have to write your notes in full sentences and words. To save time and energy, use symbols and abbreviations to represent key words and phrases. For example, instead of writing “because”, use the symbol “b/c”, or write “prof” instead of “professor”. Additionally, you can use ‘>’ to indicate a point that is more important than the rest, ‘-‘ to indicate an example, and ‘&’ to indicate a relationship between two points.

Using symbols and abbreviations will help you to quickly capture the information you need without having to write out entire words. It’s a good idea to come up with your own symbols and abbreviations that you can use throughout all of your notes. While at it, create some subject-specific shorthand.

Organize Your Notes

To make your notes easier to read after class, make sure that they’re properly organized. Pick and stick to a structure that works for you. There are different popular note-taking styles for you to choose from such as:

  • Cornell Notes: Includes sections for the date, essential question, topic, notes, questions, and a summary.
  • Charting Method: Uses columns to organize information. This method is useful for lessons that cover a lot of facts or relationships between topics.
  • The Mapping Method: A visual method of organizing notes (such as in flow charts)  which is useful when learning about relationships between topics.
  • Sentence Method: This format is simply writing down each topic as a jot note sentence. It’s handy for fast paced lessons where a lot of information is being covered.

As we’ve mentioned, start by having a different notebook or section for different classes. Your notes should also highlight the topic, indicate dates, and have chronological order. This will help you easily find and reference the information you need.

It’s also advisable to color-code your notes. For instance you can write headings in red, main points in black, and general notes in blue. Color-coded notes are easier to scan, read, and memorize.

Review Your Notes After Class

Great note-taking doesn’t end when the class does. The idea isn’t to write notes and file them away and forget all about them. To make sure that you have effective notes, review them shortly after class. Are there important points that you missed? Is there information that isn’t clear?

Fill in any important details and make note of any questions that you have. If possible, you can also compare your notes with those of other students in your class. They might have noted down something important that you missed.

Read your notes regularly and especially when revising for exams. You can further summarize your notes for better understanding and retention.

Write Down Your Questions and Follow Up

As you take and review your notes, you might have some questions. Write them down immediately they come up. Doing so will help you stay focused and engaged during the lecture. You can follow up with the lecturer to have your questions answered.

Critical thinking is a key skill to develop for your academic and professional success. Making note of your questions and following up or conducting further research will help you have a better understanding of the topic at hand. Jot down your questions as you think of them, it could make all the difference in your learning experience.

Final Words

Taking notes in college is an essential part of success in higher education. With these tips, you can make sure you are taking effective and efficient notes that will help you in your studies.

Remember to take notes in your own words, review your notes often, and ask questions if you don’t understand something. Taking notes in college can be a challenging task, but with the right approach, you can make sure that you are getting the most out of your notes. 


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