Taking Class Notes

What's Really Important?

Student taking notes
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Good class notes are essential to good study skills. If you study bad notes, it's pretty clear that you won't perform very well on tests. But what are good notes? ​​Good notes capture the most important facts and enable you to understand how every fact fits into a larger puzzle.

Many students fall into the trap of attempting to write down every word the teacher speaks. This is unnecessary, but even worse, it's confusing. The key to good notes is identifying the most important things to write down.

Develop a Frame or Theme for Your Class Notes

You will usually find that each lecture has an overall theme or common thread. If you read back over previous class notes, you will see that each day's lecture will usually address a specific chapter or topic. Why is this important?

Your notes will make more sense to you if you identify a common thread and create a frame of reference in your head before the lecture begins.

When you understand the overall theme or message of the day, you will be able to identify important facts and understand why they matter. When you start with a frame in your head, you can see where each fact, or piece of a puzzle, fit within the frame.

Finding the Theme for Class Notes

There are a few ways to identify a theme for a framework.

First of all, if the teacher has assigned a specific chapter or passage for the next class, you can be pretty certain that the next lecture will focus on that reading. Even if the information is different from the chapter you read (and teachers often add important facts to the reading) the theme or topic will often be the same.

Teachers are different, however. Some teachers will assign readings on one topic and lecture on something completely different. When this happens, you must find the relationship between the reading and the lecture. Chances are, that relationship will represent a theme. Homework Tip: Where do themes end up? On tests, in the form of essay questions! 

Another good way to identify a theme for the day is to ask the teacher. Before each lecture begins, simply ask if the teacher can provide a theme, title, or framework for the day's class.

Your teacher will probably be very glad you asked and may even start providing a theme or framework for each day before the lecture begins.

Class Notes With Pictures

You may find that it helps to draw pictures while you take notes.

No, this doesn't mean you should doodle while the teacher is talking! Instead, you may find that you can understand a theme or overall picture of a class lecture when you turn words into diagrams or charts.

For example, if your biology teacher talks about osmosis, be sure to draw a quick and simple picture of the process. You can even ask the teacher to draw an example on the board and then copy the illustration. Don't ever hesitate to ask the teacher for visual aids! Teachers know all about visual learning.