Note-taking is a valuable skill in learning.
While taking notes may be simple to do, taking good notes can be difficult to master.
It can be overwhelming and frustrating for many, especially when you start to fall behind or can’t remember anything from the lecture. Many students often have a hard time knowing how to take notes. Some are unable to write fast enough and fear not having enough time.
But how do you make sure that you take in what’s said?
These great note taking tips below will ensure your writing process and recall is as efficient as possible.
Want to Improve Yourself Each Day?
Sign up to Goodwall!
- Connect with improvement-focused people from 150+ countries
- Build valuable skills and experience
- Ask questions and get support when you need it
Download the app now to get started for FREE!
1. Know Your Learning Style
Most students fail to understand their learning styles and limitations. But taking that extra time to know yourself is vital. Chances are you throw new note-taking techniques into the mix and hope it sticks.
For some students, taking notes in class means writing word for word. It’s a bad habit because let’s face it, streams of words are boring. It gets worse when you write down pages of facts that you don’t understand.
Writing everything out takes up space on your page, slows you down, and forces you to concentrate on tiny details (don’t worry, we will suggest how to get out of this!). Worse yet, it doesn’t help your memory either! Write out what is necessary and not much else.
2. Know Your Weaknesses
Some people aren’t academic, yet have great intellectual capacity to learn. As a result, they find note-taking a challenge. If you’re a daydreamer, you’re going to want something that you can revisit afterward when you’re able to focus better.
Or you’re a slow writer, and you need a way to speed up your note-taking. Whatever your weaknesses, accepting them exist and finding ways of using your strengths to make the most of them goes a long way.
3. Understand Your Tutor’s Style
Be aware of what you’re dealing with when it comes to your school’s tutors. Have they discussed their expectations for note-taking? Do they prefer that you type up your notes, or do they want hard copies? What about e-mailing them before class starts?
Pay close attention to these small (sometimes unspoken) details. That way, you can avoid putting your foot in your mouth. You’ll find yourself earning a different kind of lecture.
4. Analyze Your Notes
A classic mistake most note-takers make is not being able to understand their notes. Most of the time, that’s down to not having the right tactic, which we solve here. But a good exercise is to look through your old notes and see what you understand and what you don’t.
You may find your best notes are those that tell you what to do, rather than the facts themselves. For example, the note “Find out dates for WW1 and WW2” beats “World War One ended 21 years before World War Two started”.
That’s because the first note allows you to re-research the topic. The second one misses out on vital information. Thus it doesn’t encourage you to conduct your learning.
5. Use a Fidget Toy
Most people with focus issues struggle to take notes because of multitasking. You have to take notes and listen to the speaker at the same time.
In recent years, more awareness exists of neurodivergent students (Autistic, ADHD, Dyslexic). With this, many have embraced fidgeting in stimulating the mind to help with focusing on the task at hand.
6. Record All Audio (Or Video)
One of the oldest methods, you can’t go wrong with recording audio from the class. And, with today’s smartphone tech, it’s easier than ever to convert these lectures.
If you’re learning in your second language, you can use translation tools. This can help you make higher-quality notes.
7. Put It in Order with Mind Mapping
Use an outline or mind-mapping exercise. You can start to feel what is important and how it connects to other material. It mimics how our own minds process information. At the same time, the notes start to flow naturally.
If you find it easy to lose important information, then organize your notes in ways that make sense to you. Headings are always a good idea so that you can see at a glance what’s important.
8. Write What You Understand
Suppose you are using a note-taking technique that requires you to write text and draw arrows. You can write notes on top of it. It’s time to move on! Some students struggle to remember all the details in a text and need a general idea to get started.
And, suppose you’ve got someone starting to take this approach. You can also integrate this into your practice.
For example, ‘Write down 5 things you know about the topic’ or something similar. It doesn’t have to be anything special – write down what you understand as best as you can.
9. Ask Questions
By putting your ideas into the paper, you may realize that a particular fact is something you don’t need to study. Or, by seeing how someone else explains, it might help you connect the dots.
If you’re in doubt, ask a question. It might seem like a piece of advice only applies to your tutors, but there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy asking questions during class either. Depending on the class and the tutors, it’s often accepted and even encouraged to ask questions that you might find yourself getting lost in your notetaking.
Either way, asking questions allows you to consolidate your knowledge and find out what you do or don’t understand.
10. Keep A Small Notebook for New Ideas
While we’re talking about note-taking in class here, the notes you take out of class are equally important. A small notebook can help with your confidence because as soon as an idea pops into your head, you can write it down and keep moving forward.
It’s very much practice that makes perfect. The more notes you take outside of the classroom, the quicker you’ll get inside the classroom. And, you can write down all your best note taking strategies in here to remind you as well!
11. Digitize Your Old Notes
Nowadays, there are many apps and digital notebooks that help you put everything on the cloud. Having everything accessible online helps with remote access, and you can have access to your notes as often as you want.
Using a digital pen, you can dictate meeting notes and get them transcribed into understandable text. That’s particularly useful when working in a second language. The transcription results are usually excellent, giving lots of ideas for your future revision.
This tactic will also help if you’re not a good writer or when writing by hand seems too slow. They can be on the pricey side for some, but notebooks such as Rocketbook allow you to use physical note-taking with digital note-taking.
12. Use Different Colors for Note Taking
Using colored pencils can help with this, but if you want a quick solution, you can use different colored pens. If you’re taking notes in a group, this is particularly helpful.
But make sure you don’t end up writing down notes in different colors or using two shades of the same color! If you notice yourself doing this or think you may be, go back and re-map your notes so that they look better as you go along.
13. Use a Computer for Poor handwriting
If your handwriting is illegible even to yourself, then using a laptop to take notes is a great way to type out at speed. Many learners who benefit from a hands-on approach, particularly those with short attention spans, prefer to touch-type. It allows them to keep engaged with the tutor while satisfying the need to fidget by keeping their hands busy.
14. Learn Shorthand
Shorthand is becoming antiquated amongst younger generations who prefer to choose typing. But if you find you learn more using a pen and paper than a keyboard, shorthand could be the answer you’ve been looking for all this time.
When you’re learning in the classroom, shorthand speeds up writing and works wonders for those with poor handwriting. If your handwriting is illegible or you find it hard to type, then these skills can help.
15. Use a Clicker Timer
If you struggle to concentrate on your notes, try using a clicker timer. These digital timers are usually used in classrooms to keep students’ attention and online. The clicker sets to the length of time you need to take your notes.
It’s advisable to follow the instructions that come with the timer not to forget how long you have left. Some people find these helpful in their studies because they’re simply a way to keep track of the time and give them an overview and keep them engaged in their work.
For some learners, especially those with ADHD, an audible reminder is enough to ensure they’re not distracted. It will depend on the person whether or not it helps them stay focused or not.
16. Get a Study Buddy
Ask a friend to go to the class with you to take notes for you. It is also useful if your memory tends to fade quickly, as it allows you to ask for a study buddy for prompts on days when it’s just not cutting it for you! You can then go through them once you’re home and reinforce what you’ve learned from your unique perspective.
17. Use a Lesson-Planner to Stay Focused
Don’t be afraid to ask your tutor for a copy of the lesson plan. For some, it can help to know what’s involved in the lesson beforehand. That way, you can work to timings and better understand which parts of the class you need to save your focus for, while others can engage in productive note-taking.
18. Ask to Sit Somewhere Else
You may not have thought of this, but could it be that you are hard of hearing? Or maybe you’re a lip-reader and need to move closer to the tutor. It can affect your quality of notes as you struggle to write down what’s said and are left more confused. It’s a change that could transform your note-taking!
19. Wear Earphones
You may benefit from listening to music (if your tutor allows it!) or an audiobook as you’re taking notes. That can help your brain relax, especially if you have difficulty focusing, and also helps to block out any background noise which could be distracting.
It’s also important to remember that if a tutor uses PowerPoint or another presentation software, it’s very easy for the sound to distract. It cannot be easy to concentrate on what’s said and the screen at the same time.
20. Be Different
We’ve touched upon this throughout the article, but if you know yourself inside out and your strengths lie elsewhere, don’t be afraid to take notes in a way that suits you.
Find history boring? Use your freestyle rap skills to write your notes as a rap. Not only will you retain facts better, but you’re also using analogies and relatable skills, building an invaluable skillset while embracing your personality.
Take Note of Note Taking Tips!
Staying organized with these note taking tips is a key aspect of learning – whether in school or at home. There are so many ways you can do this. We’ve suggested several methods above that can help you in your quest to stay organized, but one thing is for certain – once you get into the habit of systematic note keeping, everything will fall into place.