Improve Your Note Taking

Improving Math Skills

Note Taking In Math.

When studying for math, we often use exercises, worksheets and sample problems to work through in order to prepare for an upcoming test, exam or review. However, as in most other subjects, note taking and journaling is also very effective and very important to help with the understanding of specific math concepts. Whether you dictate your notes and have them available for audio, or write your notes to review them visually, the strategies and tips here will help you better prepare for math tests and exams. Effective notes will help you to remember important concepts taught in class and they will guide you through various math problems.

Taking Notes

I prefer to use the two column approach in my notes and I also prefer to use pencil. To use the two column approach, your actual notes will be on one side and the examples or theorems/forumulas will be on the other. There is usually more than one method of solving a problem, use your notes to document this. Be sure to include any examples that you believe will help you later. Math is often about making connections as so many concepts are interrelated, be sure to record the connections you make. Areas where you have concerns or believe to be your greatest weakness are also the areas you should emphasize. To emphasize, you may wish to use a highligher and attach a few stickies. Personally, I prefer to date my notes as well, sometimes I include the text pages for handy reference.


I've already mentioned that it is helpful to keep audio notes, however, it is difficult to record examples of exercises in audio.
Audio is better when you are reviewing postulates, procedures and formulas. The more you hear the explanations, the greater the chance you will retain the information. However, you may also wish to record your notes on your computer. I have used Microsoft One Note previously and found it quite effective.
There is an add-in that allows you to perform calculations and to plot graphs and it contains an extensive collection of mathematical symbols and structures to display expressions and has a pretty good equation gallery. Two others I use are La-Tex, and Math Symbols. Although I like La Tex, it isn't my first choice for taking notes. Math Symbols is great for creating exercises and it allows you to create your equations quickly (newer version has handwriting recognition) but you'll still need another application to integrate it with. A lot of my students prefer One Note because it's where they keep all of their notes. However, everyone is different and you'll need a strategy that works best for you.

Tips for Improving Your Note Taking Skills

  • Listen carefully to your instructor and jot down the key points about solving problems, proving theorems or using a procedure. Write down everything you think that will help you when you return to this concept later.
  • Don't get too wordy, keep your notes to the point and simple to understand.
  • Use logical organization, jumping around from concept to concept will only be confusing. Make sure your examples have key points in your notes.
  • Explain your reasoning. This component is key, keep it short and sweet but explain the logic behind the application or procedure.
  • Record alternate methods, as I mentioned earlier, there is usually more than one way to solve a problem, be sure to record the alternative methods.
When taking notes in math, look at your textbook. What do you like about it? What don't you like about it? Think of your notes as a set of cheat notes for you to review. Make them look like a text that you find easy to follow.

In summary, most important of all is to review your notes in a timely way. Make review part of your routine. We are all guilty of cramming before tests and exams but a little review along the way will better equip you to see greater success in math. If journaling works better for you, you may wish to check out some strategies for effective math journaling.