note taking

How Can I Take Better Notes in College?

Updated By Staff Writer on September 3, 2020

Taking effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help you recall important information when you review them, writing things down can also help keep it in your memory and remember it more quickly. Being able to take good notes is also a way of training your brain to identify important information. And it’s vital no matter what college degree you’re pursuing.

For example, a career in the business world will likely involve a lot of meetings with important information, and you’ll need to take notes to remember everything that was discussed. In healthcare fields, being able to listen and recall is one of the most important traits to develop, especially when dealing with patients—and note-taking skills are the way to grow that talent.

If you’re going for a degree in a complex, information-dense field, like a software and mobile app design program, you need to be able to absorb, understand, and recall crucial information that will help you tackle problems and find solutions. So developing strong note-taking skills is essential—but the problem is, it isn’t a skill that’s generally taught.

You might ask, then, “How can I take better notes in college? What are the best note-taking strategies for college, when using a laptop or notepad?” To answer those questions, here are 7 important tips on the best way to take notes in college.

1. Read Your Assignment Before You Come to Class

One of the most important note taking tips for college is all about what happens before your pen hits the paper or fingers hit the laptop. Preparation is key to taking more efficient, effective notes.

Make sure you read your assignment before coming to class. Be thorough in your reading, make sure you fully understand concepts and take note of any questions you might have about the material.

Having some understanding or awareness of the material beforehand will help you process the information and take cohesive notes that you’ll be able to use later. Plus, it’s probably what your teacher expects from you anyway. You’ll be able to participate more easily in the discussion, which will further cement the information in your mind and help you do better on exams.

2. Get Organized

Learning how to take notes in college starts with organization. Separate your notes by beginning each lecture on a new page. It’s important to date each new lecture and number your pages. After class, make sure you go back to add a topic/heading to the top of each page. This will make it much easier for you to find relevant information when you’re studying. After all, you are taking notes so you’ll be able to study in the future, and you want to be able to easily search the material.

If you have other ideas on how to organize your notes, feel free to give it a try. The best way to organize notes in college is to find what works for you, so sometimes a little personalization can make all the difference.

3. Give Yourself Room

One of the best ways to take hand-written notes is to make sure you have plenty of room to keep the information legible and organized. Having plenty of space will allow you to go back and write additional thoughts as they come to you. In order to ensure you have plenty of room, consider writing on only one side of the paper. This will make it easier to read the notes and give you a chance to add more information on the back, if needed.

It’s ideal to use loose-leaf notebooks, because they’re easier to organize when you review. You’ll be able to rearrange your notes, insert additional materials (like handouts and study guides), and insert notes you borrow from study partners or classmates.

Don’t try to use up all the available space on each page. Give yourself room to go back and add information as your instructor continues to talk or write extra notes when you make connections in class.

4. Think While You Write

It’s easy to get into the zone while you’re taking notes, only to look down and realize you don’t even know what you wrote. If you try to transcribe your teacher’s lecture, you have no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together, and you inevitably fall behind and get frustrated.

For better results, make sure you think about everything the instructor is saying before you write anything down. This means not writing down every single word your instructor says. As you listen and write, think about what information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or for completing a project. Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading. And during class, listen for verbal cues from your instructor that indicate important information.

5. Ask Questions

Inevitably, you won’t understand every aspect of the information when you hear it for the first time. Asking questions is a crucial part of learning. So as you listen and write, make sure to record your questions. Did you raise your hand and ask the teacher to clarify anything? Write that down. Do you have questions you didn’t get a chance to ask? Write those down too.

This will help you stay aware of potential gaps in your understanding. You’ll be able to better focus on those parts of the material when reviewing your notes later, and know which information to look up in order to help strengthen what you’ve learned.

Also, while you’re studying or reviewing notes later, ask questions and write down questions as they come up. You can take these notes to your teacher to get the answers and clarify your notes.

6. Develop a System

Everybody has a different note organization system. Outlining? Numbered paragraphs? A mind-map? Charts and graphs? There’s no right way to organize, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Think about the way that best reflects how you listen, how you think, and how you process information.

The best way to take notes on a laptop may be different from the best way to take notes on paper, so it’s also okay to tailor your system to the mode you’re using. Some students prefer to take notes on a laptop during class, but would rather write on paper while studying.

If a method isn’t working for you, switch to a different one—even in the middle of class. The sooner you find your groove, the sooner you’ll be able to make the most of your notes and be more successful in class.

7. Review Your Notes

After the lecture, go through your notes. Consider leaving space on each page or after each important section of class for a short summary of the material you covered, written in your own words. This can help you process the information by making you think it through, ensuring you understand it.

Reviewing your notes also helps you remember the material, underscores the instructor’s lecture, lets you add things you want to make sure you don’t forget, and gives you time to organize material that is connected.

You may even want to go the extra mile and turn your notes into flashcards or teach the material to a friend or family member. Teaching is a great way to ensure you truly understand the material, and it will give you a chance to process all of the information you’ve written down in a new, fresh way.

Implementing These Note Taking Tips for College

There isn’t a single way to take notes in class or develop note-taking skills, but it’s an incredibly important ability to learn—and one that will help you not just throughout school but also throughout your career.

Check out our blog for more tips on how to get the most out of college. And if you want to earn a college degree online that could help you get a much better job sooner, request more information from Independence University here.