Evaluate Your Present Note-Taking System

Start By Asking Yourself:

  1. Do I use complete sentences? They are generally a waste of time as speed is key.
  2. Do I use any form at all? Are my notes clear or confusing?
  3. Do I capture main points and all subpoints?
  4. Do I streamline using abbreviations and shortcuts?

Five Important Reasons to Take Notes

  1. Notes trigger memories of lecture/reading
  2. Your notes are often a source of valuable clues for what information the instructor thinksmost important (i.e., what will show up on the next test).
  3. Notes inscribe information kinesthetically
  4. Taking notes helps you to concentrate in class
  5. Notes create a resource for test preparation
  6. Your notes often contain info that can’t be found elsewhere (i.e., in our readings)

General Guidelines for Note-Taking

As You Are First Encountering The Material

  1. Concentrate on the lecture or on the reading material.
  2. Take notes consistently.
  3. Take notes selectively. Do NOT try to write down every word.  Remember that the average professor speaks ~125-140 words per minute, but the average note-taker can only jot down ~25 words per minute.
  4. Translate ideas into your own words.
  5. Organize notes into some sort of logical form that makes sense to you.
  6. Be brief. Write down only the major points and important information.  Take notes that provide a trail of breadcrumbs back to what you were thinking.
  7. Write legibly. Notes are useless if you cannot read them later!

Don’t be concerned with spelling and grammar (save for key terms/species names).  You can fix these later as you copy over your notes.

Sometime After Your Initial Note-Taking

  1. Your note-taking is not done until you have returned to your notes later, ideally later that same day.  You should review, edit, adjust, and correct the spelling, units of measurement, etc.
  2. Copy over those “first draft” notes to create your final version.  The very act of copying them over will help aid your retention and learning.
  3. Review them!  Your notes mean nothing if they are encountered/used one once or twice.  Studies of college learners suggest that if you review your notes within 24 hours of taking them, you will retain 40% more of the information than if you wait a week.
  4. Before “ending” your work session, make a plan for the next one – build momentum when you have some.


Suggestions for Taking Notes During my Lectures

Use Your Pen

Your notes should be as specific and concrete as possible: Be precise about my key idea(s).  This will make them easier to understand, remember, and apply after my lecture concludes.

Take selective notes.  Don’t necessarily try to copy the info I am providing verbatim.  Rather, write down ideas that are most salient.  If you get stuck or desperate, jot down single cue words to help remind you of the topic/example, then go back and fill in these blanks later.

Pounce on lecture information that ties together or explains important themes.  Compare and contrast to find relationships and to create “mental filing systems” to organize information.

Use Your Ears

Develop the intention to learn as you are listening.  Make the most of your time by learning the information as you receive it; if something doesn’t make sense, stop and ask me a clarifying question.  The more information you understand from the get-go, the less you’ll have to memorize.

Listen for clues.  When I take a deep breath and take a pause, change my intonation, look up at the ceiling, put down my dry erase marker, etc. realize I’m about to emphasize something or to start a new topic.

Use Your Whole Body

Get involved in the ideas and information being presented.  Rather than thinking of yourself as “attending” (in the passive sense of “being at”) a lecture, think in terms of “participating in” the lecture (the way you would participate in a conversation).

Don’t slump!  Sit with good posture, leaning slightly forward.  Sit up front to hear better, see better, avoid distractions.  Slightly smiling will actually put you in a better mood and help you more easily engage with the material.  This will also make you a more professional audience and in turn improve the speaker’s energy.

Watch fellow students to get their strategies for good notetaking.

Use Your Brain

Take a minute before class to skim recent readings/material to anticipate what I am likely discuss.  You can get those clues from:

  1. our syllabus/website
  2. what we have presented previously in our class
  3. your notes from our last lecture
  4. a quick skim of our readings

What is the relationship between information presented in lecture and information presented in our readings, lab activities, or field experiences?

Anticipate questions I might ask about the presented material.  Give yourself a quick self-exam to help you to identify areas of strength and diagnose areas of weakness.


Additional Note-Taking Resrouces


Understanding the Cornell Note-Taking Method (courtesy of the Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning)

Cornell Note-Taking Paper Generator (courtesy Incompetech)

Lecture Note Taking Suggestions (from the College of Saint Benedict at Saint John’s University)

Effective Listening and Notetaking (from North Shore Community College in Massachusetts)

Note-Taking in Class (from Dartmouth College)

Practical Tips on Note Taking (from CollegeOnline)

Note-Taking Advice (from the University of Reading in the UK)

Taking Notes on Assigned Readings (from Texas Tech’s Arthur Fricke)


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