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7 Tips for More Impactful Note-Taking

Updated By Staff Writer on April 20, 2020

Much of your time in college will consist of taking notes during lectures. Effective note-taking is a skill that will improve your critical thinking skills and increase comprehension, not to mention help you be more successful in college and in life. Follow these tips to improve your note-taking skills and get the most out of college.

Come to Class Prepared

Note-taking begins before you set foot in the classroom. You should come to class prepared, having completed any reading assignments or research. The information in the lecture will be easier to understand, you’ll be more interested in the topic, and you will be able to pick out the most important points to include in your notes.

Improve Listening Skills

Your listening skills will be reflected in the quality of your notes. Effective listening takes conscious effort. It’s easy to “zone-out” during classes. Learn to ignore distractions to stay actively engaged in listening. Below are a few tips to help you improve your listening skills during a lecture:

  • Keep an open mind. Don’t walk into class with the attitude that it’s going to be uninteresting and boring. Train yourself to be excited about learning something new.
  • Dig through the clutter. Disregard any personal biases the presenter may have.
  • Listen for new vocabulary terms and write them down. During the lecture, listen for main ideas and then details to support those main ideas. Listen carefully at the end of the lecture. Instructors often give a summary, highlighting the main points.
  • Write Down Questions. Through the duration of an in-class lecture, you will likely have questions pop into your mind. Write them down in your notes so you can see an area where you didn’t fully understand something and you need further explanation. Ask questions in class when possible. When it isn’t possible, you can later do research on your own or ask your teacher after class. Filling in these gaps will help you make more connections with the information being presented, improving your comprehension and retention.
  • Write Down Information You Can’t Get Anywhere Else Your instructor is expecting that you will come to class having completed any reading assignments, and the lecture will more than likely include supplemental information that cannot be found in your textbook. Paying close attention to the lecture and taking careful notes pays off when the supplemental information appears in an exam.

Should You Take Handwritten Notes or Typed?

Between handwritten and typed notes, is one better than the other? According to research done by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, handwritten notes may be better for memory retention, but not always. In many cases, technology gives us tools that can help us take better notes, too.

Laptops vs Notepads

We type much faster than we write by hand. Because of this, students taking notes on their laptop tend to write down everything they hear. Students taking handwritten notes are forced to listen to lectures more intently for the meaning in the lecture so they know which points are the most important to write down. Information is processed and retained better when taking handwritten notes versus typed. But a student who typed their notes will be able to look back on them in the future. You will have less to go back to if your notes were handwritten.

Mueller and Oppenheimer’s research revealed that students who took notes on their laptops performed better on tests if they had enough time to go back and study their notes. The process of taking handwritten notes requires intent listening skills and leads to better comprehension and retention of the material learned. Try both methods to see what works best for you. Another challenge with taking notes on your laptop is the distractions. Notifications from email, social media, and messaging apps easily draw attention away from the lecture. Once your attention has been drawn away from the lecture, it’s difficult to get your mind back on track. If you choose to take notes with your laptop, turn off all notifications.

Note-Taking Applications

Use a note-taking program like Evernote. Your notes are stored online through Evernote, enabling you to access your notes from any device so you never have to worry about losing your important notes. The search function allows you to weed through your stored notes to find information on a specific subject. You can keep all of your notes for all of your classes in one tidy place—perfect for a busy college student.

After the Lecture

You should review your notes within 24 hours of class for the best retention of information. Organizing your notes into an outline format will make the important information easy to find. The process of revising notes also causes you to make critical connections with the content that you may not have made before. If you typed your notes, it’s easy to reformat what you’ve learned. You can also take the time to type out your handwritten notes at this stage. Finally, identify the questions you wrote down during the lecture and do research to find the answers.

Academic and Professional Success

With a little practice, these techniques will become habits and improve your performance in your classes. The skill of taking effective notes will be important throughout your professional career as well. Investing the time and effort into learning this skill now is a piece of the puzzle in securing your successful future. At Independence University, your academic and future career success is our goal. Contact us today to learn more about our degree programs.