Why good notes matter
Taking good notes in class is an important part of academic success in college. Actively taking notes during class can help you focus and better understand main concepts. Good note-taking will improve your active listening, comprehension of material, and retention. It will help you better remember what you hear and see.
After class, good notes are crucial for reviewing and studying class material so that you better understand it and can prepare appropriately for exams. Efficient and concise notes can save you time, energy, and confusion that often results from trying to make sense of disorganized, overwhelming, insufficient, or wordy notes. Good notes can provide a great resource for creating outlines and studying.
How to take good notes in class
There’s a lot going on during class, so you may not be able to capture every main concept perfectly, and that’s okay. Part of good note-taking may include going back to your notes after class (ideally within a day or two) to check for clarity and fill in any missing pieces. In fact, doing so can help you better organize your thoughts and to determine what’s most important. With that in mind, it’s important to have good source material.
Preparing to take good notes in class
The first step to taking good notes in class is to come to class prepared. Here are some steps you can take to improve your note-taking before class even begins:
Preview your text or reading assignments prior to lecture. Previewing allows you to identify main ideas and concepts that will most likely be discussed during the lecture.
Look at your course syllabus so that you know the topic/focus of the class and what’s going to be important to focus on.
Briefly review notes from previous class sessions to help you situate the new ideas you’ll learn in this class.
Keep organized to help you find information more easily later. Title your page with the class name and date. Keep separate notebook sections or notebooks for each class and keep all notes for each class together in one space, in chronological order.
Note-taking during class
Now that you are prepared and organized, what can you do to take good notes while listening to a lecture in class? Here are some practical steps you can try to improve your in-class note-taking:
If you are seeking conceptual information, focus on the main points the professor makes, rather than copying down the entire presentation or every word the professor says. Remember, if you review your notes after class, you can always fill in any gaps or define words or concepts you didn’t catch in class.
If you are learning factual information, transcribing most of the lecture verbatim can help with recall for short-answer test questions, but only if you study these notes within 24 hours.
Record questions and thoughts you have or content that is confusing to you that you want to follow-up on later or ask your professor about.
Jot down keywords, dates, names, etc. that you can then go back and define or explain later.
Take visually clear, concise, organized, and structured notes so that they are easy to read and make sense to you later. See different formats of notes below for ideas.
If you want your notes to be concise and brief, use abbreviations and symbols. Write in bullets and phrases instead of complete sentences. This will help your mind and hand to stay fresh during class and will help you access things easier and quicker after class. It will also help you focus on the main concepts.
Be consistent with your structure. Pick a format that works for you and stick with it so that your notes are structured the same way each day.