11 Note-Taking Tips For Your Next Class
If you’re in college or high school, taking notes is essential to your success. In many cases, the ability to jot down key concepts and important points continue well into the professional world.
That’s one major reason that developing an effective note-taking method is important. There are great strategies out there, like the Cornell Method, and great apps to help you if you’re using technology in class.
But you don’t have to start from scratch in order to learn how to take better notes. Below you’ll find 11 note-taking tips that you can use in your next class or lecture.
Let’s get started.
1. Focus on the main points.
Learning to summarize the main talking points is still one of the top note-taking strategies out there and is far more effective than copying lectures word for word. This is one of the reasons that handwritten notes are more effective for learning than laptop-based note-taking.
One study points out that although computers allow for a greater velocity when taking notes, handwriting enhances student’s grades when performing memory tasks. There is no doubt that laptops are popular note-taking devices for college students, but they may be best left out of the lecture hall.
By summarizing the class lecture, you also avoid taking notes that you can get elsewhere — through a textbook, a study guide, or a handout, for example. Know what you don’t know, take notes on those main topics, and leave transcription techniques behind.
2. Use effective note-taking systems.
You can find a wide variety of effective note-taking methods out there.
The Cornell Method is one of the most widely known systems, but if you’re a visual learner or you’re learning a complicated subject, other methods like the charting method or the outline method may work best for you. You might also consider a combination of methods.
Whatever your note-taking style, remember that the recipe for good notes comes down to what you can use to study, review, and ace your next test or exam. The best note-taking method in your arsenal may not be as effective for your peers or classmates.
Use a system that creates effective lecture notes that you can study, no matter whether you need to use abbreviations, bullet points, or illustrations to get there.
3. Classify and order your notes.
Some notes are more important than others. Having a way to isolate which of your notes covers the various, important subtopics you need to know in order to pass the exam can be critical during the review process.
Many students choose to keep their notes in chronological order, but there is no hard and fast rule that says your notes need to be organized in this way. Create a system that helps you gather knowledge in the most effective way possible.
Note-taking apps for your iPad or other digital tablets can help with that. Almost every major note-taking app allows you to highlight text and move it around. This is far more efficient than trying to leave blank spaces on paper and fill in the gaps as needed.
Using technology, you can organize your notes based on topic rather than in the chronological order that the information was presented. Organizing in this way can help you review notes more effectively by consolidating all key points about a specific topic into one place.
4. Choose your tools before class.
Top note-taking tip: Prepare your tools before heading to class. Don’t wait until you sit down in the lecture hall to sharpen your pencil or download the note-taking app you think you want to use.
Do all of that well in advance so that you’re familiar with the hardware and the software that you need to succeed. Preparing in advance gives you the opportunity to test your equipment, develop a note-taking method that works for you, and figure out your learning style.
Especially if you’re switching over from pen-and-paper note-taking to digital devices like laptops or tablets, take a little extra time to figure how to take good notes. Do you need an extra charger for your computer? Do you need a specific app or stylus for your tablet?
Make those essential purchases beforehand so that your class notes don’t suffer the consequence. If you need an extra pack of pencils, pick them up. If your stylus is sliding all over the glass screen of your tablet, order a screen protector that can help you solve that problem.
5. Use visuals when possible.
Visuals and doodles are one of the fastest ways to transcribe a lecture in your own words. In many ways, they’re even faster than using your own words to do it!
What’s more: Visuals are one of the most effective note-taking strategies out there. On average, doodlers recall 29% more information on memory tests compared to non-doodlers engaging in the same activity. Psychologists theorize that doodling is beneficial because it forces the brain to actively tune in to content (like a boring lecture) rather than tune it out.
The other big reason for doodling is simple: Some concepts and ideas just work better in visual formats. Imagine trying to learn about all the parts of the double helix (the structure of a DNA molecule) without a visual representation to help you see how the proteins interact with one another.
Visualizing, doodling, and sketching are great ways to pack information into relatively small sections of your notes. Don’t be afraid to use these illustrations to better understand important study concepts.
6. Don’t transcribe the lecture.
One of the problems that students have when trying to take effective notes is that the teacher or professor can speak far more quickly than any student can write.
Research indicates that the average writing speed for a student is somewhere between .03 and .04 words per second, while a lecturer speaks at around two to three words per second. We’ll leave you to do the exact math, but students who try to write word-for-word class notes during a lecture are going to fall hopelessly behind.
While handwriting is slow, this process forces you to summarize the key points of the lecture in a strategic way. You need to understand the content, digest it, and create a summary that you can jot down on the page. The mental requirements for note-takers using this method are much higher than simply transcribing the lecture, but it gets better results.
7. Jot down any possible questions.
In many classes, reviewing the material prior to the class is part of the at-home work. English professors require the reading to be done before the class, not after, and subjects in history and communication often operate in the same way.
If you have the opportunity to do it, review future material before it is covered in class, and jot down any questions you have prior to the lecture taking place. In large lecture halls, you might not have an opportunity to ask your professor directly, but knowing your questions in advance will help listen for answers to those missing concepts.
This can also help you take notes even faster because you’re already familiar with the accessible material and what notes you can get through textbooks and handouts (see #1 on our list). Instead, you’ll be able to focus on the main topic and take better notes pertaining to key concepts that you don’t fully understand rather than trying to learn that information on the fly.
8. Record the lecture.
One of the most useful options you have when attending a spoken lecture is to record it. There are several apps that allow you to do this, including Noteshelf and Notability, two note-taking apps that help you take better notes in class.
Even if you end up using a voice recorder and importing the file to your laptop, a word-for-word recording of the lecture can be a valuable tool when you review your notes.
However, it’s important to note that a recording isn’t a substitute for writing things down. Note-taking works because it forces you to rephrase, rewrite, and summarize information into something you understand. It’s that deconstructive process that helps students absorb the necessary information.
Recording a lecture is a great idea because it gives you a version of the source material. Refer back to the lecture when you need to clarify something in your class notes, but don’t use the lecture as a substitute for writing things down.
9. Determine your starting point.
While everyone has a similar goal in class (pass the exam!), the notes that you take and the skills that you need to learn may be different from everyone else.
Every high school and college student starts at a different place when trying to learn new concepts. It’s likely that you have strengths and weaknesses that are different from the rest of your classmates.
With that in mind, take a minute to think about the use case for your notes. Obviously, taking notes improves your recall of factual information and helps you pass a class, but you take even better notes if you can figure out your strengths and weaknesses early in the semester.
To that end, many teachers and professors provide assessment tests or placement exams that can help you figure that out early. Once you determine your starting point, work to create effective notes that can help you reach your end goal with top marks!
10. Highlight handouts and textbooks.
Anyone who has never used highlighters to isolate keywords is missing out on one of the best note-taking strategies out there.
Class handouts are different from your own notes, namely because you didn’t actually write them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. Just like a textbook, handouts contain important information that you need to understand. However, you don’t necessarily need to copy that information word for word in order to get the most out of it.
Instead, use highlighters to mark up your textbooks, handouts, and other class materials. This is a great note-taking tip for visual learners. Use multiple highlighter colors to rank, prioritize, and/or categorize information based on levels of importance. You can leave blank any information that you already know or that you don’t find relevant to the main points.
Keep in mind that you can use digital technology for this purpose. Note-taking apps like GoodNotes and Notability are equipped with highlighter tools that you can use to mark up specific sections of text. This is especially useful when your class notes or textbook are delivered in the form of a PDF document.
11. Leave extra room for a summary.
If you’ve ever seen the Cornell note-taking method in action, you’ll have an idea of how the page is laid out. With Cornell Notes, the top two sections of the page are dedicated to notes and questions, while the bottom two inches are dedicated to an after-class summary.
No matter what note-taking strategy you use, leave blank space at the bottom of the page to summarize the contents of your note-taking exercise. You could do this after a single class or after several lectures on a specific subject, but give yourself a way to quickly determine the contents of the notes on a page when it’s time to review.
Digital note-takers have a huge advantage over traditional pen-and-paper students here, especially when using specialized note-taking apps like Noteshelf, Goodnotes or Notability. These apps typically scan all handwriting and imported notes with optical character recognition (OCR) which makes searching for specific notes easier than ever.
Take Digital Notes on Paperlike!
If you’re planning to use an iPad and a note-taking app to take better notes, using a tablet is one of the most effective ways to bring digital technology into your learning space. Research has shown that taking notes by hand is better than using a laptop.
Using an iPad or a similar tablet allows you to replicate the function of handwritten notes by writing things down by hand. It also gives you the ability to do things with your notes that you couldn’t have done before, like moving text around the page, capturing audio, importing scanned documents, and more.
The one drawback to using a tablet instead of regular paper is that you’re forced to write on a glass surface rather than paper. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re accustomed to the friction and resistance that paper provides when you write on it. It can even cause muscle fatigue.
That’s why Paperlike is such a transformative device. Our screen protector makes the surface of your iPad feel just like real paper. For note-takers, this is a game changer. Paperlike eliminates the downsides that come with upgrading your note-taking technology and gives you the ability to take world-class notes every time you sit down for class.
Order your Paperlike today and experience the next level of digital note-taking.