College Note-Taking Skills: Improvement Ideas for 2022

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.

College Note-Taking Skills

The good news about making college notes is that the skill can be learned very easily and rapidly. When it comes to study 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.

3 Strategies for Better Note-taking

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 them better. This is a more efficient use of your time. Lesser 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 by making study notes.

College Note-Taking Skills

One more mistake that college students do is they cram 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 brains 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.

Distinguish what to take down

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 make apply some notes 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 would be present in the examinations.

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

  • Definitions must be written verbatim.
  • Lists and items that are enumerated should be written down.
  • Concepts that are repeated should be recorded as well.
  • Proper nouns are most likely facts that are important, but not all of them.
  • Examples are better paraphrased to take lesser space.
  • Words that you have not heard of before.
  • Analysis and applications are also better paraphrased, except if the analysis and applications are definitions which should then be recorded verbatim.
  • Explanations are also better written down verbatim, except if the explanation can be deduced from your notes. If the explanation is understandable by just reading the notes, then a paraphrase would work fine.

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.

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.

College Note-Taking Skills

Cornell Notes

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. On 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.

College Note-Taking Skills

The Table System

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 easier and faster. This will give you a broader view of the concepts and may make the subject much easier to understand.

Concept Chart

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.

Sentence Technique

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.

College Note-Taking Skills

Charting Technique

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 in 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 that will help you understand better all your lessons and prepare you for examinations. Brief and useful notes can save you not just your time but also your energy and uncertainty that 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 in this matter 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 developer and computer programmer, 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 doing note-taking, 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.

  • Note-taking simplifies your review because you can have something that you can go through after every lecture. When taking notes, leave a space on every page or every relevant class section where you can write a summary of your own words about the lessons that have been discussed. In this way, it will be easier for you to understand the lesson.
  • Reviewing is one of the critical factors of note-taking! It helps you to remember and underline the lectures of your professors quickly, organize all the lessons, and linked them together and allows you to add things so you will not forget the lessons quickly.
  • Note-taking trains you to think carefully while you write. Well, it does not mean that you have to jot down every word that your professor utters, but it helps you to think about what particulars are most likely that you can use on your assignments, examination, essay, or on your project.
  • You can listen for stated hints from your professor that specify important details during class. Also, focus directly on points that illustrate or link with your reading.
  • Note-taking helps you know how to ask the right questions. When you listen and write, you also jot-down questions that you can ask your professor. In this way, you are aware of any possible gaps in how you understand the lectures, just ensure that you focus on those parts when you need to study your notes, and search for information that you need to help build-up what you have studied.
  • Note-taking makes things easier for you as you already have some awareness and understanding of the material or lessons. You have your quick source to review your lesson before you come to class. Plus, it also teaches you how to manage your notes that best indicates how you think, listen, and process information.
  • Note-taking helps you to be organized because you learned to take and sort important points, projects, and to-do lists. It is also crucial that you put the date and number on every new lesson and page. You can also add a heading or a topic on the top of every page so you can find the information that you need quickly.

Identifying the Key Points in Note-Taking

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

  • Listen for cues such as words or phrases; some samples are “To sum up…” or “The five main points are…”
  • You can write down those repeated words or concepts.
  • Introductory remarks have summaries of key points’ overviews.
  • The last remarks give a summary of several significant points of the lessons.
  • Non-verbal signs such as gestures, pointing, or vocal stress on specific words can specify necessary points.

More Note-Taking Tips

College Note-Taking Skills

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

  • Taking notes is not a transcript of each word uttered but a summary of necessary information and questions.
  • You should eliminate any distractions that will take away your attention. Remember to only focus your attention on the note-taking and the source material.
  • Note-taking is hard, but to improve your mistake, you have to acknowledge them first then get help and clarification later. The point here is to stay calm.
  • If you cannot understand your notes, then it is useless, so make sure to ask your professors or the presenter any questions to clarify the idea.
  • You can use application for note-taking in your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Note-taking apps make it easier to take notes quickly, plus you can add images, locations, checklists, and links.
  • It is easy to comprehend ideas in a visual context.
  • Write down a summary of what the main points were after every class. Useful summaries should have the main points, subject material, questions, and list of tasks to finish.
  • After taking notes, you can continue the discussion with your classmate or someone that you are close with about what you have learned. If you have a meaningful conversation about the lessons, then it would likely remain in your memory.
  • Take time to review your notes later so you can remember what you learned.You can also share what you learned with someone else, and maybe your review partner can share some valuable questions that you can study and put in your notes.
  • Self-testing your notes is also an excellent method to create a study guide that will prepare you for your examinations.
  • When taking notes, just use one side of the paper for wider readability.
  • You can use loose-leaf notebooks or a 3-ring binder so you can easily organize and arrange your notes for your review. It is also easy to attach other materials such as handouts and study guides.
  • Bring highlighters to highlight those important concepts that your professor makes comments about; this will help you remember that these are something you need to review.

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 size storage and speed. Let’s find out more differences between handwritten note-taking and digital note-taking.

Handwritten Note-Taking

  • It is simpler to make illustrations and diagrams.
  • Visual learners are more likely to use this method.
  • It gives more focus, especially to those who get easily distracted by digital devices.
  • Conceptual information should comprehend and retain in your memory quickly.

Digital Note-Taking

  • This is quicker and easier to have a higher volume of notes.
  • Editing and reorganizing are much easier for later reviewing.
  • You can quickly back-up the saved information, share, and search it.
  • Factual information should comprehend and retain in your memory quickly.

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 also 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 yourself because there are instances that 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!

Final Words

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 do note-taking 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!

Related Content:

The Best Study Note Taking Methods

College Tips, Hacks and Advice

Effective Learning Techniques for College