Taking and Using Class Notes

Why should I take notes in class?

  • Note taking is an active process that will help you concentrate during the class session and will aid you retain what you are learning.
  • The lecture will contain information that you can't find in your textbook or elsewhere. This may be your only chance to learn the information.
  • Your professor emphasizes what is important during the class session and your professor is the one who evaluates your performance on assignments and exams.
  • Organized notes help you discover the important ideas. The underlying structure and purpose of the lecture will become clearer through the process of notetaking.
  • The listener can't get everything down the professor states; therefore the material must be condensed and rephrased, a process which promotes understanding.
  • Your notes provide you with a written record for review.

What is involved in becoming an effective notetaker?

Getting Ready: What to Do Before Class

  • Complete all outside assignments before the lecture. The more familiar you are with the material, the better you can observe and record the lecture.
  • Look over previous notes before class to provide the context for the next lecture. Quiz yourself over these lecture notes and any notes you took while reading the assignment.
  • Check the course outline for the topics or key ideas that will be presented. Convert this information into questions you will seek out answers for during the lecture. This practice promotes active listening.
  • Sit front and center so that you can see the board and so that people in front of you will not distract you.
  • Examine your attitudes. Don't let your feelings and opinions about a professor or a subject get in your way! Regardless of whether you like the professor or the subject, the fact of the matter is that you need to do well. Doing well and developing competence and confidence in yourself counts. Come to class with an open mind and be ready to listen, even to information about which you disagree.
  • Come to class prepared with the proper tools. Have plenty of paper, pencils, pens, calculators or whatever items are necessary depending upon the subject.
  • Practice taking notes while watching the news on TV. You'll develop your notetaking skills and be a better-informed citizen!

During Class: Best Practices

  • Listen carefully to the introduction if one is given. Jot down the outline so that your mind will be listening for the upcoming material.
  • Watch and listen carefully to the professor. Pay attention to voice inflections and body language. If the professor states a point loudly or using gestures while speaking, these are clues that the information is important ; therefore, you should take the information down.
  • Be brief. Summarize in your own words. The point is to understand the information, not to regurgitate the professor's every word.
  • Look for main ideas by listening for signal words. Signal words indicate something important will follow. Examples include: "And what's important is...", "For example,...", "Another thing to consider....", etc.
  • Get down ideas, concepts and principles as well as facts.
  • Take down anything that is on the blackboard or overhead unless the professor says otherwise. (Even so, at least take sketchy notes at this point).
  • Write legibly. Otherwise you will waste too much time trying to decipher your notes later.
  • Use abbreviations to make taking notes faster, Develop a standard set. Ex. for example, Imp. for important, etc. But, don't over-abbreviate. Just use this technique for common words.
  • Use symbols (arrows, question marks, stars) to highlight important information.
  •  Skip spaces and lines so that your notes aren't jumbled.
  • On every sheet record the date and course number. If your notes spill out, they'll be easy to reorganize.
  • Take down assignments and due dates along with authors the professor recommends.
  • Learn a notetaking method such as the Cornell Note Taking System.

After Class: Active Revision and Immediate Review

  • Immediately or as soon as possible after class, review and revise your notes. Fill in information that needs clarification. Mark sections that aren't quite clear and make an appointment with the professor to be certain that you aren't missing any vital information.
  • Place any lecture and reading notes that cover the same material in the same area of your binder.
  • Review all your lecture notes up to that point in the semester at least once per week. Research shows that we forget 50% of what we hear immediately: two months later, another 25% is gone. However, relearning is rapid if regular review is used.
  • Look at other students' notes for models of good note taking.
  • Compare notes with a classmate to catch what the other missed.
  • Write a short, paragraph summary over the day's material. This process forces you to really think about what you've heard and may raise questions that you still need answered.

Other Practical Tips:

  • Use 8 1/2 by 11 paper and only write on the front. This way you can see the pattern of a lecture by spreading out the pages.
  • Keep your notes in a three ring binder. Use a three hole punch and add the syllabus, handouts, assignments or other materials to your binder.
  • Keep only notes for one course in one binder. Buy additional binders for other courses.

***Portions adapted from: Walter Pauk. Cornell University.

For more help with these, or any other study strategies, make an appointment with an ASC Peer Academic Coach, or with Jane Lalim, Associate Director of the Academic Support Center, by calling x7227 or email jlalim@gustavus.edu.