College Note-Taking Skills: Improvement Ideas

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Updated: March 25, 2024, Reading time: 15 minutes

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Taking down notes is a skill that will help you not only survive but also excel in college. However, only a few college students know how to take notes efficiently and adequately. This is unfortunate since there is no holy grail or secret technique when it comes to taking notes.

The good news about making college notes is that the skill can be learned very easily and rapidly. When it comes to studying notes, knowing what and how to take down notes is half the battle. To help you soldier on during your college years, here are a few things you might want to know.

College Note-Taking Skills
College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

3 Strategies for Better Note-taking

1. Know what NOT to do

One fatal mistake college students make is that they treat their study notes as a transcript rather than a guide. A study (Piolat et al., 2005) shows that taking notes is as mentally demanding as playing chess. The more you treat the lecture as a transcript, the more you are focusing on writing down instead of understanding the class.

By making a transcript instead of making the right study notes, you are essentially wasting your precious time. A transcript means that you are listening and reading the same lecture twice. The lecture then becomes less of a learning experience and more of a writing exercise, which is bad for your grades.

On the other hand, a study note means that you are recording essential information and then understanding it better. This is a more efficient use of your time. Less time to read and comprehend means more time to study.

This extra studying time can strengthen your retention of concepts and better analysis and comprehension. You should not confuse making a transcript with making study notes.

College Note-Taking Skills

Another mistake that college students make is cramming all the words and details on one page. It is best if there is some space not only between words, sentences, and paragraphs but also between ideas and analysis.

The mind recognizes the words or concepts easier if they are clear. Adding spaces gives both your eyes and brain a little break, which will help stop or at least postpone mental and visual burnout.

Studying while your eyes or brain is tired is not exactly a great way to get grades. Keep yourself motivated by preventing your notes from being a messy and cramped guide.

2. Distinguish what to write down… the right way.

Knowing what words or concepts to write down becomes easier with the right practice. The worst thing that can happen, though, is that you have practiced making study notes the wrong way (please see the previous section above).

You should apply some note-taking habits if you want to make much better notes. Here are a few:

Catch the verbal and visual signposts by the lecturer.

This is by far the most basic. If the lecturer said “take note” or other phrases in the same vein, the chances are big that it will show up on your examinations. These signposts can also take place by actions, like more intense and frequent hand movements, or by writing the concepts on the board.

Signposts can also be on the tone and volume of the speaker. The rule of thumb is that if there are verbal and nonverbal emphases, then those are signposts that you should jot down.

Write down the questions and answers.

This is another simple step that most college students just skip entirely. By writing down the questions and the answers, you get two things: an easier workload for your memory and a clearer and more permanent record.

Questions and answers are essential since there is a good chance that said questions and answers will be present in the examinations.

Prioritize writing the content that is more likely to be necessary.

The three mentioned habits can help you make a better study note. However, each lecturer is different, and some techniques are more effective than others. You should practice the three good note-taking habits mentioned above as often as possible so that making the right study notes will be second nature to you.

3. Learn how to organize and write notes

The form of your study notes also has a significant impact on your studies. Organizing your notes will not only make it easier on your mental memory workload. A logical and systematic study note will also strengthen the storage and retrieval of college notes. Here are a few note-taking systems that can help.

For those who want a more organized and structured template, this will work best. There should be three divisions in the sheet. There is a Cue column, a Note-taking column, and a column for a Summary. You will fill up the Note-taking column first with details.

In the Cue column, you ask questions about the notes you have taken. The Summary Column is where you make a summary where you can get the main idea at a glance.

This helps you organize your notes by using key points while allowing you to have more room to jot down examples and details of the lessons.

For subjects with a lot of concepts and ideas that have many similarities and differences, making a table will help. By using a table, you can organize the concepts faster and more easily. This will give you a broader view of the concepts and may make the subject much easier to understand.

This is also known as a flowchart. Visual representation makes good content for your notes as this has steps and other concept mappings, which is very useful to understand your material quickly.

It is the simplest way to take notes. It is also instrumental when it comes to distributing which information from a lesson is necessary by covering details right away.

A method where you can easily organize notes from lessons with a significant amount of exact details by dividing main points into covered written facts and columns.

Importance of Note-Taking

Note-taking is essential for your academic success, especially in college. If you are actively taking notes in your class, this will help you to focus and fully understand all the fundamental concepts of your lessons.

Good note-taking also enhances your comprehension, retention, and listening while helping you to remember better what you see and hear.

When it comes to post-class, the right notes are vital for studying and reviewing the class material, which will help you better understand all your lessons and prepare you for examinations.

Brief and useful notes can save you not just time but also your energy and uncertainty, which always results from having disorganized, lacking, and wordy notes. In college, the right notes are significant assets for reviewing and studying.

Advantages of Note-Taking for Your Career

Precise and meaningful note-taking is essential because it helps you recall information when reviewing your lessons. It is also true that note-taking could help you to quickly remember those lessons you learned when you write them down. So, how does note-taking help you with your career?

If you are taking a career in the business industry, then you will inevitably engage in several important meetings. Taking down notes is very important because this will help you remember all the information that was discussed in the meeting.

Good note-taking will also give you the advantage, among others, as you have all the critical information that you can deliver to your boss or manager.

College Note-Taking Skills

If you are in the healthcare industry, note-taking can improve your listening and recalling skills when communicating with patients.

While in a more information-dense field, such as software development and computer programming, you can grasp, recall, and easily comprehend essential information that will help you solve problems and look for better solutions.

You must improve your note-taking skills as this is a great advantage to improve your career as well. Writing the right notes is also an excellent way to exercise your brain to sort out significant information so that it can be of use to you for the right purpose!

Note-Taking Skills

When you are in a class, a lot of things could happen, so there are instances that you cannot get every key concept correctly – this is fine. The purpose of note-taking involves recalling your notes after every lecture to find clarity and understanding. It also helps you organize your thoughts and decide what is necessary, so when taking notes, having the right material source is very important.

College Note-Taking Skills

Here are some of the critical facts that you should learn about note-taking that will help you succeed in your college years.

Identifying the Key Points in Note-Taking

Here are some tips that you can use to determine what is necessary for taking notes.

More Note-Taking Tips

College Note-Taking Skills

Taking notes is a skill to perform well in all your school activities, from taking examinations to researching. Here are some essential note-taking tips:

Differences Between Handwritten and Digital Note-Takings

Note-taking is a technique to understand the presented information or idea conceptually and factually fully, but it can vary between students. There are individual distinctions in processing working memory that can influence the method that works best for you!

College Note-Taking Skills

Handwritten notes can help students understand and remember ideas better than digital note-taking. However, there are some advantages to digital note-taking, such as storage size and speed. Let’s find out more differences between handwritten note-taking and digital note-taking.

Handwritten Note-Taking

Digital Note-Taking

How to Develop Your Listening Skills

Always start with an enthusiastic attitude when you enter your classroom. Approaching your class with a definite character permits you to be more open-minded and authorizes you to get the most out of the given information.

Concentration helps you develop your listening skills, so always make a conscious effort to give full attention when taking notes. Do not get irritated when a student asks a question that you are not interested in – always adapt to whatever direction a lesson takes.

If there are unexpected detours in a lecture, then do not zone out because there are instances when the lecture will resume on track quickly. In this way, you will not miss crucial information that you should be taking notes.

Always learn how to listen even from those who talk nonsense, and you will surely succeed!

Summary Points

When it comes to using different formats for taking notes, there is no right way. What matters most is that you look for a method that works well for you. By applying the ideas mentioned above, you can make your college life more comfortable and your studying better.

College Note-Taking Skills

You can mix up some of the note-taking techniques together, and that is alright! The point here is to organize and do the method that works best for you. You can divide your notes and organize them in an outline format; then, you can also make a chart in another part of your notes.

You can take notes in whatever way is best for you as it is meant for yourself!

Now, you have the opportunity to utilize the knowledge that you have gained. Taking notes is only valuable when it serves a meaningful purpose later. Always remember to listen to the lecture and take down only the essential concepts.

For better retention, always review your notes within 24 hours of writing them. With proper time management, college should not feel like you are on the edge of a cliff!

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