How to Take Notes

Why Take Notes?

Taking notes helps you to focus in class and increases your ability to successfully learn the material you are studying. By regularly taking notes, you are also preparing future study guides to refer to for tests and writing assignments.

What’s Important?

You are presented with a lot of information in your class, but not everything you read or hear needs to be included in your notes. If you try to write everything down, your focus will be on copying information, not on learning new material. Also, you will most likely be left behind in the lecture. Here are some clues to help you identify what is important information that you should include in your notes:

  1. Information written on the white board.
  2. Headings in a PowerPoint presentation.
  3. Information that is repeated by your teacher or that is emphasized with their voice.
  4. Cues that signal the introduction of important concepts.
    1. g. “This is important because…”
    2. g. “First of all,”

How to Take Notes

  1. Complete any pre-assigned readings from your teacher to familiarize yourself with new material that will be presented in class.
  2. Arrive to class on-time with all your supplies for note taking.
  3. Date your notes. This will help keep your notes organized for later use.
  4. Write your notes in your own words as much as possible. It will be easier to process and remember information that you have translated into your own words rather than information that has been copied from your instructor’s words.
  5. Utilize an efficient writing style that allows you to take notes quickly. You can do this by:
    1. Using your own words to condense information.
    2. Writing in phrases rather than full sentences.
    3. Utilizing abbreviations, symbols and other techniques to shorten information. You may want to create a chart with abbreviations and symbols you plan on using throughout your course. Keep this chart at the start of your notes so that you can easily refer to it if needed.

Example of an abbreviation and symbol chart:                                                                                              

Abbreviation/Symbol Meaning
 b/c because
* important


  1. Incorporate other visual clues in your note taking. This could include using multiple pen colours, highlighters, tabs, underlining, diagrams, etc.
  2. Leave extra space in and around your notes in case you need to go back and add more information later. Check with other classmates or your instructor at the end of class if you missed key information in your notes.
  3. Understanding the concepts in the lecture will lead to better notetaking. Ask questions in class to clarify main ideas or confusing information.
  4. Edit your notes soon after the class. Check for any information that you may have missed, ensure you have focused on the main points and identify any remaining questions you still have. Editing your notes is a useful study technique that helps you further process the information you are learning.
  5. Review your notes regularly to help you learn the material more thoroughly. If you wait until the night before a test to edit or review your notes, you may find that you are missing information or that some of the points are no longer clear in your memory. Avoid this stressful situation by adopting a regular routine of reviewing and interacting with your notes.

Examples of Note Taking Formats

There are many methods for note taking; choose a system that allows you to keep your notes organized based on main points and supporting information. This will help you to keep your notes summarized while highlighting the most important information.

Outline Format

The Outline Format can be adapted into most note taking methods as a basic guide to organizing information.

I.               First Main Idea

a.     First Supporting Point

i.     Additional Supporting Information

ii.     Additional Supporting Information

b.     Second Supporting Point

i.     Additional Supporting Information

II.              Second Main Idea

Cornell Method

For the Cornell Method, leave space on the side of your page to highlight key terms, questions, etc. Also, use the bottom of your notes to summarize the lecture in 2-4 sentences

Key Terms


Missed Information




Take Notes Here
Short Summary

Mind-Map Method

The Mind-Map Method can be useful for lectures which are less-structured or for a teaching style that moves back and forth between information points.

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College Note Taking. (n.d.). Utah State University Academic Resource Center. Retrieved February 19, 2020 from         

Cameron, J., Klassen, C. and Parry, A. Lecture Note-Taking. (2020, February 15). Douglas College Learning Centre. Retrieved February                  19, 2020 from

Tips for Note Taking. The Writing Center. (2014). The George Mason University Writing Center. Retrived February 14, 2020 from