Twelve Effective Note Taking Strategies

Messy or incomplete note taking habits hinder a student’s ability to retain important course details.  Given that writing down notes is a major part of every course you take, equipping yourself with key note taking strategies supports you in getting the most from your education.  Writing information down, organizing it for visual cohesion, and having it on hand to reread later, all combine to make learning almost a breeze.

  1. Scanning and reading ahead, in addition to allowing yourself enough time for detailed note taking, will prepare you for active listening and writing down information.
  2. Excellent note taking has nothing to do with excellent penmanship and everything to do with excellent listening and reading skills. Practice makes perfect—teach yourself to listen for key words (such as ‘the following 3 parts’) and transitional words (such as ‘therefore’ or ‘subsequently’) to begin scribbling down crucial information to follow.
  3. Leave space around your notes as you go so you can insert additional notes as you move forward. Also, leave space in the margins to add further details.
  4. If you are a visual learner, sketching charts and diagrams as you go, or leaving space to add them to your notes later, gives you extra study power later on.
  5. Handwritten notes trump keyboard note taking every time due to its inherent power to help you retain more as you go. The action of writing things down increases information retention.
  6. There are many software programs and mobile apps for tech-loving students that will help keep note taking brilliantly organized. Compare and contrast before choosing which one will suit you the best.  Evernote, GoodNotes, OneNote, Simplenote, and WorkFlowy are excellent options to check out.
  7. Practice using bulleted or numbered lists, headings, and coloured (highlighted) sections to categorize your notes into more cohesive and readily understood sections.
  8. For active note taking, devise questions as you listen and read. Write these down in the spaces you left on the paper.  This keeps the learning active rather than passive.
  9. Write your notes in phrases, your own words, and your own abbreviations to create a flow and synergy to your note taking.
  10. Repetition is essential for increasing memory retention. Reading your notes repeatedly, and even reciting them out loud, will help etch them into your memory bank.
  11. For the discriminating student who wants to get technical, visit for specific styles and techniques for note taking. The top approach of choice according to this and most other sites is the ‘Cornell Method,’ which instructs to leaves space on the page for a title, key questions, key words, and a summary.
  12. Schedule time to review your notes on a regular basis. This gives you the opportunity to note any missing information or questions you have for your tutor and will help you remember important facts.

Better grades begin with better notes.  Experiment with a variety of different note taking styles and strategies until you find the one that makes you a better student.

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