TEN SUGGESTIONS FOR GOOD NOTE-TAKING
1. Label your notes at the top of the page with your professor's name, the course, the
date, and the title of the lecture. Think of your notes as chapters in a book, each
with its own title. Later, when you study your notes, the titles will immediately help focus
your mind on the subject of the lecture.
2. Make your notes legible. Notes taken in ink on one side of the paper can be read
more easily and for a longer period of time than pencil notes.
3. Be an aggressive note-taker. Regard note-taking as hard work. Sit as close as
you can to your professors so that you will be able to hear them without straining. While
you are taking notes, maintain an alert physical attitude. Then your mind will usually stay
4. Start taking notes when the professor starts talking. Don't sit back during a
lecture and wait for something to strike you. Remember that your professors are likely to
examine you on any of the material they present in their lectures. Writing down the title
of the day's lecture and taking a note or two on the introductory remarks will usually get
you well started so that you won't miss important points later.
5. Ignore all distractions that might interfere with your concentration. Don't think
about what your professors are wearing, the other students in class, the good weather outside,
or anything else but the business at hand. Instead, concentrate on getting as many notes
as possible during the class period.
6. Isolate the specialized vocabulary for each course as early as possible and learn
it so that you and the professor will be talking the same language. In order to talk
about a subject your professor will use the language of that subject, though not always
taking the time to define each term that is unfamiliar to you. Circle difficult words, draw
a line from them out to the margin, and label them there with a V for vocabulary. This is
a quick note to yourself that you must find out more about these words. Until you do, the
lecture won't make complete sense.
7. Learn to differentiate fact from opinion in lectures. Get the facts straight
and learn them; keep them separate from the professor's opinions. Label your professor's
opinions as such if you wish. It is also a good idea to insert your own opinions, questions,
ideas, and reflections into your notes as they occur to you. Separate your ideas from the
material presented by your professor by placing them in square brackets, thus: [ ].
When your notes are sprinkled liberally with your own reactions in square brackets, they
are more interesting to study later. Such reactions also make it easier for you to come
up with topics for papers and to answer those exam questions that demand original thought.
8. Develop your own set of symbols to identify or emphasize various items in your notes.
It has already been suggested that a circled "V" in the margin can identify an
unfamiliar term and that square brackets can be used to set off your own ideas. In addition,
a circled "A" in the margin can identify an assignment slipped in without warning
at the end of a lecture. A circled "B" in the margin can identify books mentioned
in the lecture. A circled "P" in the margin can identify a possible paper topic
that you thought of during a lecture. Questions in your own mind can be jotted down, labeled
in the margin with a "Q", and asked at the end of class. Cross-references to passages
in the textbook can be indicated in your lecture notes as "see Text, p. 231."
Finally, emphasize main ideas in your notes by underlining them, and write a star next to
material that is likely to be on an exam.
9. Always take notes on discussion. Good discussion leaders come into class with
a list of points that they want to make. Rather than presenting them in the form of a lecture,
they draw the information from the class by asking questions. It is your responsibility
in a discussion, just as it is in a lecture, to try to discover what points are being made
and to record them so that you will not forget them. If you cannot outline the discussion,
at least skip a line each time the subject is changed.
10. Get in the habit of always attending lectures. You will be less tempted to cut
classes if you think of each class as a chapter in a book you are reading. If you cut a
class, you miss a chapter and that interferes with comprehension.