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How To Effectively Take Notes

Although strong note taking skills is a highly necessary and expected skill for all students, how to take notes well is not something typically taught in school. Many students oftentimes become stressed later down the road in their schooling when they realize that taking notes effectively is essential to learning class material and passing the class.

From taking notes in a notebook or on a laptop in class, to taking notes while reading an assigned article or textbook at home, it is critical that students develop good note taking skills to ensure they are truly absorbing important information from course lectures and assigned readings.

Fortunately, there are many note taking techniques and tips out that students can learn and apply to improve their study skills. We have compiled some of the best note taking strategies to help you and your students learn more effectively inside and outside the classroom.

How To Take Textbook Notes | Note Taking Strategies While Reading

When handed a giant textbook and told to supplement your in-class work with it, it’s not uncommon for student to feel a bit stressed. The pressure of what to leave out and what to write down can be overwhelming, as we obviously do not want to rewrite the whole book. Here are some quick tips to improve your note taking process while reading academic texts.

Create an Outline of the Book. A great starting place for taking notes from textbooks is to make an outline the entirety of the book. Skim through chapter by chapter writing down the headings and subheadings as you go, and leave space for writing in between. This will help to organize your notes and be sure you are taking some notes for all the important topics.

Skim the Text for Key Terms and Ideas. Once you've created an outline for your notes, start from the beginning and skim those chapters and headings for any bolded outline terminology or paragraphs. This will tell you the main words and ideas to focus on. Skimming will help you keep your notes concise and give you an overall idea of what the topic entails.

Write Notes in your Own Words. When writing your notes, make sure you are not just copying down words from the text word for word. Try to write down the material in a way that makes sense to you. This will help set you up for the memorization that’s required for tests and quizzes. Don't try to paraphrase terminology or facts though; it's important to learn things like relevant vocabulary and formal definitions as they are.

How To Take Notes During A Lecture | Taking Notes Effectively

Lectures are where note taking can become particularly difficult because teachers don't always write down what they say. Therefore, it's up to the student to listen and take notes throughout the lecture. All is not lost though! There are some great ways to take typed or handwritten notes during a lecture.

Using technology, like taking notes on an iPad, taking notes on Google Docs or Microsoft Word, recording the lecture audio, video recording lectures…these are some newer and more innovative ways to take notes. Most students can type faster than they can write things down by hand, so taking notes digitally can work well for some students. Here are some other tips to keep in mind:

You Can't Write Everything Down. Don't go into a lecture thinking you need to write down every word. It is nearly impossible to keep up with what the teacher is saying with that approach, and you are bound to miss out on some key information. Instead, try to identify the important sub topics as you listen, or perhaps, even ask your teacher for this in advance. That way, you’ll still be able to listen to the lecture fully and take notes occasionally.

Underline, Highlight, Capitalize. Lecturers will often stress or emphasize certain words or sentences. Make sure to highlight, underline, or bold those words or phrases in your notes. This will help you when writing textbook notes later because you can then skim for those words or phrases in the text and record the information surrounding them.

Abbreviate. In order to keep up with the lecturer, it is good to use shorthand and abbreviations for certain words and phrases such as example(ex), with(w/), between(b/w), and(&), etc.

How To Make Notes For Studying | Taking Notes From Books

When it comes to making notes for study purposes, there are a few different formal methods that educators suggest. These organizational structures can help improve your note taking skills in the long run. Keep in mind: you can always develop your own organizational pattern for note taking if none of these work for you.

Cornell Method. Pioneered by Cornell University, this format of notes includes two columns on the page and five steps: record, questions, recite, reflect, review. Record the information, ask questions, recite the information, reflect on what that information means, and review the information.

Outline Method. This is a linear method that students naturally gravitate to. It is the use of headings, bullet points and is written down the page. This aligns with what is described in our How to Take Textbook Notes section.

Mapping Method. This format looks like a tree with branches or a bubble and baby bubbles. It starts with an idea in the middle which will be the main topic, and then has branches used as major points reaching out with smaller branches (sub points) underneath. If you're a visual learner, this method may work well for you.

Hopefully these tips on how to take good notes will help you become a great note taker in any setting or situation. Remember that the importance of strong note taking skills cannot be overstated. The quality of students’ notes oftentimes affect how a student performs in a course.

If you want some more coaching on how to take notes effectively, schedule a tutoring session with one of our experienced tutors here at JB Tutoring! Our tutors would not be the exceptional students and instructors they are without strong note taking skills. With us, you’ll be in good hands!


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