Note Taking Skills

Be an Active Listener!

There are many aspects to taking good notes. It is important to remember that you can be an active listener in the lecture by focusing on four things:

Check out our Study Skills seminar happening in the Fall.

1. Where your attention is
2. How actively are you listening
3. What are you observing
4. How/what are you recording


Listening must be active in order to allow you to get the most out of lectures.

A. Before the lecture:

  • Look over the appropriate parts of the textbook in order to know what to expect from the lecture
  • Intend to listen and learn - your attitude plays an important role in the lecture
  • Sit where you will pay attention the best - least distractions, hear and see well
  • Quickly review your notes from the previous lecture
  • Regularly look over the course outline to remind yourself of where the class is and where it is heading

B. During the lecture

  • Pay attention to outlines and opening statements – these tell a lot about the direction of the lecture
  • Study the lecturer – take some time to know how he/she talks and especially how he/she emphasizes important points
  • Be aware of the organization of the lecture – if the lecturer is not organized you may need to organize the information yourself
  • Try to associate previous knowledge with the new information coming from the lecture – from reading or general knowledge
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions, either during or after the lecture
  • Be aware when your attention lapses and do things to counteract this – move a bit, roll your neck, repeat the lecturer’s words in your head


A. Selecting

  • Write down only key information – use abbreviations, short forms, and incomplete sentences
  • Get to class early
  • Pay attention to the notes that the lecturer writes down – these are likely to be important
  • Pay attention to the lecturer’s use of emphasis and repetition

B. Organizing: it is to your benefit to be organized

  • Make headings, dates, and page numbers clear on every page
  • Write on one side of the paper
  • Make use of the margins – for titles, key words, and thoughts
  • Using a loose-leaf binder allows you to add handouts and other sheets when you need them
  • Identify key thoughts, headings, and subheadings by using circles, underlining, indenting – you want things to stand out and be easy to find
  • Make good use of numbers and letters in identifying headings and subheadings – be consistent in your use of numbering and lettering
  • Make your diagrams and other figures big and be sure to label them well – you want these to be meaningful and not a puzzle to be figured out later
  • Design alternate note-taking structures – how to compare opposites, listing characteristics, flowcharts, etc.


Review and edit notes within 24 hours of the class – we tend to forget almost 80% of any new information within this time period.

Some thoughts on Reviewing and Editing

  • Do this on a regular basis for each class, especially the more difficult ones
  • Spend 15-20 minutes reviewing and editing
  • Have an objective for rereading:
  • Note any issues that need clarification – write them on the blank page opposite to the notes
  • Add personal thoughts and reflections to the notes
  • Review at least the key words every two weeks to refresh your memory on the content of the course
  • Talk with other students in the course – their perspective may help you understand the lectures in a new way

A WORD OF CAUTION: AVOID RECOPYING YOUR NOTES!! It is time consuming and you do not learn a lot because you are not actively selecting.