How to Take Good Notes
Whether you’re in high school, college or university, note-taking is a valuable skill. As a student, it’s your responsibility to record and understand what the instructor is saying, especially in a lecture setting, where handouts or PowerPoint slides may not be provided at all. Good note-taking can make the difference between simply memorizing material and truly understanding what you’re learning, which is why it’s likely your grades will get a boost out of it, too.
When you’re trying to keep up with a lecture, only jot down key points. You can typically tell which parts of the class are important for you to remember and which parts are just side notes or bonus material. Don’t get hung up on writing down every single point the instructor makes. Not only is doing so not that valuable, but you’ll never be able to get it all! Pay attention to key names, dates and concepts, and focus on summarizing the important information you learn in class.
If you’re still having trouble getting the information down, use shortcuts. As long as you can understand what you’re writing, there’s no need to capitalize everything or use proper punctuation. Using short forms of words (e.g. instead of for example, bc instead of because, etc.) is a great strategy. If you miss something, keep going, but mark that section so you know to refer back to it and fill in the blanks later. (Some instructors also allow students to record their lectures as a bonus aid—but ask first.)
When you’re in class, it’s useful to make references between the lesson and the relevant textbook passages or provided material. You’ll be able to form a more cohesive link between what the instructor is saying and your homework or readings, and therefore you’ll understand the material better. Jotting down things like “see page A” or “refer to diagram on slide B” will help you make sense of what you wrote down when you’re studying later.
That being said, don’t copy. If a lecturer provides a handout, constantly references the textbook or publishes PowerPoint slides online, there’s no use in jotting down that information word for word: you already have the source to refer to later. If you focus only on registering what’s already in your books, you might miss points that are not provided for you, but that the instructor still expects you to know.
Finally, review and summarize—at the end of the week (or, if you can bear it, after each class), go back over your notes. Highlight key ideas and look up things you didn’t understand the first time around. As well, consider making a summary of each note (3-5 sentences at most) to help you grasp the main points of that particular class. You can refer to those summaries when you’re studying for tests or exams.