How To Take Notes

copyright flickr user tomsaint11

It seems that it would be easy to write down stuff in class. That learning how to take notes would be a waste of time. However, the opposite is true. If you learn how to take notes effectively and efficiently, you’ll save yourself hours of study time just by observing a few simple tricks. If you don't like this method, then try out the Cornell System for taking notes!

More Study Skills of Successful Students

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: One Class Period

Here's How:

  1. Choose Appropriate Paper

    The right paper can mean the difference between complete frustration in class and organized notes. To take notes effectively, choose a sheet of loose, clean, lined paper, preferably college-ruled. There are a couple reasons for this choice:

    • Choosing loose paper to take notes allows you to rearrange your notes in a binder if necessary, lend them easily to a friend, and remove and replace a page if it gets damaged.
    • Using college-ruled paper means that the spaces between the lines are smaller, allowing you to write more per page, which is advantageous when you’re studying a lot of material. It won’t seem as much, and thus, as overwhelming.
  2. Use Pencil and Skip Lines

    Nothing will make you more frustrated than taking notes and having to draw arrows from new content to a related idea your teacher was talking about 20 minutes ago. That’s why it’s important to skip lines. If your teacher brings up something new, you’ll have a place to squeeze it in. And, if you take your notes in pencil, your notes will stay neat if you make a mistake and you won’t have to rewrite everything just to make sense of the lecture.

  1. Label Your Page

    You don’t have to use a clean sheet of paper for every new note-taking session if you use appropriate labels. Start with the topic of the discussion (for study purposes later), fill in the date, class, chapters associated with the notes and teacher’s name. At the end of your notes for the day, draw a line crossing the page so you’ll have a very clear demarcation of each day’s notes. During the next lecture, use same format so your binder is consistent.

  1. Use an Organizational System

    Speaking of organization, use one in your notes. Many people use an outline (I.II.III. A.B.C. 1.2.3.) but you can use circles or stars or whatever symbols you'd like, as long as you stay consistent. If your teacher is scattered and doesn’t really lecture in that format, then just organize new ideas with numbers, so you don’t get one long paragraph of loosely-related content.

  2. Listen for Importance

    Some of the stuff your teacher says is irrelevant, but much of it needs remembering. So how do you decipher what to put down in your notes and what to disregard? Listen for importance by picking up dates, new terms or vocabulary, concepts, names, and explanations of ideas. If your teacher writes it down anywhere, he or she wants you to know it. If she talks about it for 15 minutes, she’s gonna quiz you on it. If he repeats it several times in the lecture, you’re responsible.

  3. Put Content Into Your Own Words

    Learning how to take notes begins with learning how to paraphrase and summarize. You will learn new material better if you put it into your own words. When your teacher waxes wordy about Leningrad for 25 minutes, summarize the main idea into a few sentences you’ll be able to remember. If you try to write everything down word for word, you’ll miss stuff, and confuse yourself. Listen attentively, then write.

  1. Write Legibly

    It kind of goes without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway. If your penmanship has ever been compared to chicken scratch, you better work on it. You’ll thwart your taking notes efforts if you can’t read what you’ve written! Force yourself to write clearly. I guarantee that you will not remember the exact lecture when it comes to exam time, so your notes are often going to be your only lifeline.


  1. Sit near the front of the class
  2. Use a good pen like the Pilot Dr. Grip if writing in pencil will bother you
  3. Keep a folder or binder for every class, so you're more likely to keep your notes organized.

What You Need:

  • A writing instrument, preferably a pencil
  • College-ruled lined paper
  • A binder or folder to store your notes