The Catholic University of America

Note-Taking:

General Note-Taking Tips

Taking good notes is a process. Follow these suggestions and you will discover that your note-taking and study skills will improve over time.

  1. Prepare for a lecture class by reading the assignments prior to class.
  2. Review notes from the previous class.
  3. Make sure to listen with an open mind and concentrate on the lecture.
  4. Record main ideas and sufficient details and examples to help you recall the information.
  5. Use handouts (i.e. outlines, PowerPoint) to guide you in recording main ideas.
  6. Try to use a format in taking notes, i.e. outline, concept map.
  7. Leave blank spaces in your notes so that you can add missing details during the editing phase.
  8. Use a highlighter when reviewing notes.
  9. Correct and revise notes within 24 hours after taking them. Otherwise, you might lose 50-80% of the information.
  10. Review notes on a continuous systematic basis. In this way, you can avoid cramming before an exam.Review notes on a continuous systematic basis. In this way, you can avoid cramming before an exam.

(List used with permission from the Academic Resource Center at Georgetown University)

 

You will find that using one method of note taking is more effective in one class than in another. For example, taking notes for a physics course will not be the same as taking notes for a history course.

Sciences and Math: 

While reading:

  • Go through the chapter before reading
  • In a class that focuses on formulae, look through the chapter and write down all of the main formulae given.
  • Write how to use each formula step by step, taking notes on what everything stands for and when exactly to use the given formula.
  • In a class like physics or calculus, you need to focus primarily on the concepts and formulae.
  • In a biology or chemistry class, details are much more important, and notes should be just as detail oriented.

While in class:

  • If an instructor has a PowerPoint that includes charts or formulae from the book, don't try to copy it all down. Write where to find it in the book and then take notes on what the instructor has to say about it that did not already find in the book.
  • Be sure the read the material and take notes before the lecture. That way, you will know what to pay extra attention to during the lecture.
  • When an instructor works through a problem, write down each step that he or she puts on the board, followed by the verbal explanation given.
  • Be careful when using symbols; an abbreviation in a physics course could have a completely different meaning in a math course.
  • Ask for clarification. Chances are, you aren't the only person with that question.
  • Do not try to copy down every word that appears on a PowerPoint; you might miss out on important information the instructor presents with the slides.
  • Resist distractions; try sitting towards the front and away from doors or windows.
  • In class or in the text, if there is a lot of information to take notes on, try the Cornell note-taking system.

 

Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences:

While reading:

  • Go through the chapter before reading
  • Look for all headings, titles, numbered items, charts, graphs, etc.
  • Don't take notes on anything that's common sense; only write down the most important pieces of information
  • As you read through each section, write a brief summary of the topic of the section.
  • Write down any words you don't know or any topics that you need your professor to clarify.
  • Highlight main points while reading to go back to. However, avoid over-highlighting; it will become too difficult to pick out important points if every other line is highlighted.

While in class:

  • Don't try to write down everything the professor is saying.
  • Write in your own words. This way, your notes will make more sense when you look at them later on.
  • Write as quickly as possible, making sure that at least you can read your handwriting.
  • Use abbreviations and symbols.
  • Focus on the way the professor presents the material, noticing where extra emphasis is placed. If he or she says it's important, you'll probably see it again on an exam.
  • If the instructor repeats something or spends a lot of time on a given topic, take more notes on that topic and less notes on a topic that the instructor mentions briefly.
  • Do not try to copy down every word that appears on a PowerPoint; you might miss out on important information the instructor presents with the slides.
  • Resist distractions; try sitting towards the front and away from doors or windows.
  • In class or in the text, if there is a lot of information to take notes on, try the Cornell note-taking system.