How to Take Notes in Class (Strategies, Skills, and Methods)

author By Mary Boies

If you are not gifted with a photographic memory, taking notes may be your only option for understanding and retaining information. Note-taking is a method of writing where you jot down only the most critical information from your reading materials or class lessons. Remembering specific details or major facts can be challenging, but correctly taking notes will help. However, with all the information the speaker gives, knowing what to write and how to do it right can be challenging. The following Guide provides all the tips to become an effective note-taker. Keep reading to learn more.

Handwritten vs. Digital Note-taking: Which is Better?

Since the introduction of computers to take notes, there has been a debate on which of the two is better. Most people feel that computers are much more effective; however, research has shown that taking notes by hand improves memory.

Consider the benefit of each before selecting what is best for you.


Digital Note-taking

Explain Three Strategies You Can Use to Take Better Notes

Note-taking is not like academic writing, where you have to be formal. This is purposely for your use. Then again, the more organized they are, the better they will be at helping you review them later. With that said, there are various strategies you can use to take notes while in a lecture or when reading; whatever your reasons for taking notes, using these strategies will help you be more effective.

The Cornell Method

Developed in the 1940s by Dr. Walter Pauk of Cornell University, the Cornell method aims to organize notes without recopying. It involves dividing a page into three parts or sections: Notes (Right), Cues (Left), and Summary (Bottom).

To get going, rule your paper and ensure a 2-inch margin on the left side, leaving a 6-inch on the right side. The bigger side is the note section which should comprise all your main ideas from the reading materials or class lecture. These ideas could be in short sentences/ phrases, diagrams, and formulas. For all the relevant questions or keywords on the subject, write on the cue section, then write the review of the main points in the summary section.

The Outlining Method

Researchers and students around the world consider this method the best in note-taking. It is used when the lecture is given in an outline organization: deductive or inductive. Please note that this method is not similar to the outline of the writing process.

The outlining method involves organizing your notes in a structured and logical manner, thus resulting in a comprehensive profile of the readings. You start by writing the main point, followed by subtopics indented to the right below it. The subtopics are filled with your ideas that are indented to the right, and sub-points with room for writing examples. In other words, it involves you writing your ideas in bullet points.

The outlining method works because it is easy, so you don't waste time rewriting. All the information is readable as it is structured logically.

Charting Method

If you love tables, columns, and spreadsheets, then the charting method is for you. This method works well for lectures offered chronologically, particularly for lectures where the main facts closely relate to the ideas.

To get started, you must set up your paper in two or more columns and then assign them a subtopic. Write it down in the corresponding column each time a new idea pops up about one of the topics.

Charting methods are visually appealing and easy to read and understand. However, it takes time, so don't use it concurrently with lectures.

Boxing Method

This is where you put all your main points in… you guessed it, boxes. Just draw several boxes in your paper and fill them with interrelated content. You can choose to divide these boxes by either topics or subtopics. Like charting, this method is also visually appealing and straightforward to read.

Boxing methods are effective, and your notes will look organized. However, you cannot use it in all the lectures as it takes time to organize.

Reading Note-taking Strategies

If you are reading from a book, use the following note-taking strategies:


Take a few minutes to skim the reading material and identify important topics, subtopics, and other vital points you will cover.


Write down broad questions you need to answer based on your survey.


Now that you have read the material section by section with the questions you've written in mind. This will help you know what to look for and better understand the topic.


After reading each major section, write down every keyword and essential note you should remember. Then try as much as possible to answer the questions you had raised earlier.


To enhance memorization, do your best to develop personal connections to what you've just read.


Lastly, reread the notes to remind yourself what you've learned to increase retention.

The 5 Rs of Note Taking

A good technique should have similar and easily identifiable characteristics regardless of which method you use for taking notes. These characteristics are:


The prominent aspect of note-taking has a place to write your notes. It doesn't matter whether you are learning in a lecture hall or reading from a book; you must have a paper, preferably an A4 sized, for short notes.

Once you have the paper, write all the vital information legibly on your paper or notebook. Ensure that you always carry a notebook to class.


After the lecture, read your written and summarized content using your own words. Use the keywords as your cue words. Writing a summary of your ideas helps clarify your points' meaning and see the gaps in your knowledge. It also enables you to prepare for exams early on. In addition, summarizing helps in memory retention, and studies have also shown that it strengthens your memory.


You must test yourself by reciting all the information you've read and summarized. Do this in your own words without going back to your notes. In other words, it's about explaining everything you've learned out loud in detail. You don't understand the topic well enough if you struggle to explain the points or ideas. So you have to go back to the topic and then read and understand it well.


Take a moment to think about what you've just read and consider your opinions. As you do this, come up with questions related to what you've just read, then try to answer them.

Remember that your notes should be related to what you've written. Use the following ways to reflect:

Build Scaffolding- Make a few notes before writing the new notes to help you think about what you already know.

Make Predictions- Write a few phrases about what new knowledge you'd like to learn.


To ensure maximum memory retention, go back to your notes occasionally. Also, do this before reading new materials, and use at least 10 minutes to skim through the main ideas and details. Besides helping in memory retention, you can absorb further information and are more likely to grasp new information when you associate it with prior knowledge.

Tips for Successful Note Taking 

Wondering how to become a better note-taker? After choosing your desired note-taking method, the following tips will help you write effectively.

Include Dates and Topics

Trying to remember the type of topics and when they were discussed can be extremely nerve-wracking. But it doesn't have to be so. When taking notes, ensure you write that particular day's date. Place the date and the topic at the top of each session to stay organized. This will make things easier the next time you try to locate a subject. Ensure you always start notes on a new page if you want them to be easier to read.

Focus on the Speaker

Note-taking is essential but shouldn't distract your focus from the speaker or reading materials. Only take notes to complement what is being taught; doing the opposite is like putting the cart before the horse.

Don't Write Everything

The whole idea of note-taking is to be able to summarize the lesson or reading materials in shorter phrases to use later. If you write everything you read or hear from the lecture, you will get behind and lose some vital information. In addition, if your notes are as long as the source material, they won't be helpful. So identify what is important and what's not. Some of the things that you should write are personal anecdotes and off-topic information.

Prepare Beforehand

Avoid distractions as much as possible, especially because a lot goes into someone's mind during a reading session. So, start with the challenging topics, including the readings and preparatory works. Here are some steps to take as you prepare to take notes:

Preview Your Reading Assignments Before Lecture

Doing this beforehand will allow you to identify some main topics that could be discussed during the lecture.

Also, check the notes from the previous class to better predict what will be taught in the class.

Review your Course Material

Look at your course material to know what the focus of the class will be.

Pay Attention to Certain Words/ Phrases

Sometimes lectures will use certain words or phrases to signal that what they are about to say is important. These words could be, opening, closing, for example,/ instance, repetition of the exact phrases, etc. So pay attention to these words to avoid missing vital information.

Use Short and When Needed

Shorthand is simply using abbreviations to increase your speed when taking notes. This writing method uses symbols to represent letters, words, or phrases. Shorthand is generally used by many professionals, including journalists, to save time.

Many forms of shorthand exist. These forms are Pitman, Gregg, and Teeline Shorthand.

Pitman Shorthand

This type of shorthand involves only writing the words as they sound. It has its own set of symbols, consonants, and vowels. For instance, the sound "f" on elephant, rough, and form is written similarly.

Gregg Shorthand

This is based on the frequency of the letters and words when writing and in speech. "S," for instance, is one of the most used letters in the alphabet. And since it is similar to "z," some versions of Gregg use the same stroke to represent both letters. Sometimes you may have to reuse the same strokes. For instance, that for "f" is a bit longer than the one for "s" while that of "v" is much longer.

Teeline Shorthand

This uses curves and strokes as a representation of the letters in the alphabet. Unlike other shorthand methods which use phonics, tree line uses different symbols to represent certain letters. In short, it involves removing certain unnecessary letters, and this writing system usually ignores vowels and silent letters.

An example of Teeline shorthand is,

-You should always write an introduction

-U should always write the intro.


There is no specific rule on what type of shorthand you should use. So feel free to invent your own as long as you understand what you've written.

Use Headings and Subheadings

You have to establish a hierarchy when taking notes to convey importance. Headings and subheadings represent the key information and supporting ideas making it easier to skim through and locate some points. This is important, especially when you want to refer to the notes much later. Remember to use your own words to write these headings and subheadings to process the information much better.

Use Colors

Establishing a hierarchy when writing notes is essential. But more important is using colors to distinguish the content, making it more visually appealing and easy to locate specific topics, subtopics, or sub-points. More important points should stand out on a page than the less important ones.

Choosing the right colors has nothing to do with color but the contrast it creates. Contrast means the difference between lightness and darkness. Choose high-contrasting colors for your notes as they draw the eye better than those with low-contrasting colors. For instance, you can use blue color for the main topic and read for subtopics. Or use yellow for your own opinions rather than those for the lecturer.

Adopt the "Question, Answer, Evidence" Method

This method is much more effective because it forces you to engage with what the speaker is saying and describe it in your own words. This paraphrasing technique works well and will help you understand and retain information.

Instead of copying everything, focus on what the speaker is saying and try to understand it. Formulate your notes as questions when you know everything, then answer them.

The answer should be beneath the question. Then provide evidence of your answer underneath the answer. This will allow you to record all the relevant information in an easy-to-read format.

Revise Yours Notes as Soon As You Can

Note-taking is useless if you are going to stash them away. Taking detailed notes aims to read them later and understand more about the topic taught. So it would help if you revised them as soon as possible. If you can't remember some of the points you wrote, don't be too hard on yourself. Therefore, have some patience and set realistic reading goals for yourself. Revising could also help you rewrite them, allowing you to retain as much information as possible.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions

If you want to understand what you are being taught, you must ask questions you don't understand. Asking questions will allow the speaker to clarify what they are saying so that you can better grasp them. It will also enrich your mind and make you learn faster. If you don't dare to ask questions in class, you can follow your teacher outside after class and ask them to clarify some points.

Parting Words!

Note-taking is an important part of learning. Whether in high school or grad school, taking notes will force you to stay focused in class and help you remember more about what you've learned. If you keep all the above tips in mind, you will comprehend and retain vital information.

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