Learn How to Take Class Notes

Extraordinary note-taking methods especially for taking class-notes

Why take notes? and why to spend time learning how to take class notes. There are three basic reasons: to learn, for reference, and to keep you thinking. But taking good lecture notes isn’t easy. Good lecture notes must summarize the main points, include the important ideas in you own words, and list the specific details needed for your purpose in this class. To be successful, you must make what you hear part of your own thinking. In our day-to-day life, note-taking influences the academic success of all high school and college students. They will increasingly have to depend on their ability to take notes in order to be successful in the classroom.

Good class notes are essential to good study skills. If you study bad notes, it’s pretty clear that you won’t perform very well on tests. But what are good notes? Good notes capture the most important facts and enable you to understand how every fact fits into a larger puzzle. Many students fall into the trap of attempting to write down every word the teacher speaks. This is unnecessary, but even worse, it’s confusing. The key to good notes is identifying the most important things to write down.


I believe that all students would benefit if teachers deliberately train their students in note-taking techniques, especially the lower-achieving students. So, note-taking skills should be taught to students in the same manner that they are taught writing or computer skills.

Two Distinct Categories of Note-Taking

Studies about the effect of note-taking on achievement recognize that there are two distinct categories of note-taking. The first category suggests that the notes themselves are valuable because (1) help the learner rehearse the lecture content and (2) can serve as a memory device that can help the student to remember parts of the content that were not included in the notes themselves.

The second category suggests that the act of taking notes is important because it 1) increases attention and concentration, 2) encourages students to process the material at a deeper level, and 3) provides a means of connecting new learning with prior knowledge.

In other words students need to take notes during their class or lecture because –

  1. A permanent record is constructed which is invaluable for revision and subsequent relearning.
  2. The permanent record helps to overcome our limitations in recording and storing information.
  3. To clinch the argument, those who take notes do better in tests and examinations than those who do not.

Moreover some lectures cannot be fully understood during the lecture itself. In mathematics and science especially the material has to be worked through later. Indeed the purpose of most lectures is not to impart information for immediate recall. The aim is rather to present fundamental ideas, to outline topics for study, and to get students to follow up references and to do further work and study on their own.

The Amount of Notes to Take

There is no simple answer to the question of how full your notes should be. Lecture notes range all the way from the verbatim account to the barest of outlines. The amount you need to take down will depend on:

  1. The content of the lecture – very factual expository lecture may necessitate a great quantity of notes.
  2. Whether or not you are familiar with the topic – the less familiar you are with the subject the fuller your notes will need to be.
  3. Whether the information is readily available in a textbook or elsewhere – if no other source is readily available, notes may have to be full.

In taking notes there are, then tree courses open to you: (1) you can take down as much of the lecture as possible, (2) you can take outline notes, including, in more details, definitions, tables of figures, graphs etc., as may seem necessary, (3) you can take a skeleton outline only – or no notes at all. The middle course (2) is generally recommended the most.

  • Be Prepared To Take Good Notes
  • Know Your Instructor’s Style
  • Understand What You Write
  • Take Your Notes The Same Way
  • Make Notes On Your Notes

Using Abbreviations for Note-Taking

It is found that students perform note-taking more efficiently when they are allowed “to encode information” using abbreviations. The use of abbreviations decreases hands and eyes engagement and enables to record spoken information more efficiently. Moreover, abbreviating the spoken word increases the attention and concentration span, and provides more time for students to comprehend class material. They can process spoken information into written form faster and it enhances retention of the information and can lead to improvement in the overall organization of their notes. Common symbols and abbreviations which are generally useful include:

e.g. – for example

cf. – compare, remember in this context

n.b. – note well – this is important

> – greater than

< – less than

= – equals – is the same as

≠ – does not equal – is not the same as


Note Taking Tips

As you begin how to take class notes and get involved with the complexities of note-taking, you may tend to forget the simple things that can make life a lot easier.  These tips are little hints that we all know but forget sometimes.  They can be summarised by four directives:

  1. BE ALERT – so you are aware of and prepared for the lecture content and situation.
  2. BE ORDERLY – so you can process the lecture now and for review later.
  3. BE SYSTEMATIC – so you can establish a habit pattern and won’t miss anything important.
  4. BE UP TO DATE – so that your well-designed note-taking system gets done.

Below is a list of tips that may help you be alert, orderly, systematic, and up to date.

  • Attend lectures regularly.  Once you miss one, it will be easier to miss more.
  • Use a standard 8 ½” x 11” loose-leaf notebook, for continued organization and review.  Spiral notebooks do not allow reshuffling your notes for review.
  • Keep the notes for one class separate from other classes.  Best yet, keep each class in a separate binder.
  • Write on one side of the paper for easier organization.  It’s possible to overlook material written on the back of a sheet.
  • Leave your notebook at home and carry with you only enough pages to keep track of the lecture.  This way you won’t lose your entire set of notes if you should misplace them.
  • Carry extra pens and pencils for editing and unforeseen obstacles (UFOs).
  • Don’t doodle because it distracts.  Keep eye contact when not writing.
  • Make notes as complete as needed and as clear as possible so they can be used meaningfully later.
  • Leave blanks where information is missed or misunderstood.  Fill in gaps after a lecture or as soon after as possible when the aid of the instructor or classmates.
  • Develop your own system of enumerating and indenting.
  • Use symbols such as asterisks for emphasis.
  • Mark or separate assignments given in the class in a space apart from the lecture notes.
  • Separate your thoughts from those of the lecture; record your own items after the lecture.
  • Be alert for cues, postural, visual, etc.
  • Record examples when helpful.
  • Listen especially at the end of the lecture.  If the instructor has not paced his lecture well, he may cram half of the content into the last 5 – 10 minutes.
  • Get into the five-minute technique and review your notes right after class.  At this time you can change, organize, add, delete, summarize, or clarify misunderstands.
  • Recopying by itself is a debatable advantage by the five-minute technique is not.
  • Have study sessions once or twice a week to learn omissions, clear up misinterpretations and get other students’ opinions about interpretations.

Learning how to take class notes is very important since Note-taking is an important academic task that helps you to remember what you have learnt and helps you to review materials for re-use in revision and assignments. It is important that you are critical when note-taking and that you only write or draw what you will need later on, and that you record the information in a format that is easy to understand. You should look out for clues about what is important. The lecturer or author will organize his or her material in a logical way so try to utilize their organizational skills when note-taking. And most importantly, after taking effective notes, it is important to organize and store your notes effectively. Effective note-taking should reduce your study time, should increase your retention of knowledge, and should provide you with a summarised list of resources for your future projects.


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