Note taking

Contributors: UWC Staff

Note taking while reading

Key ideas:

  • Good note taking skills start before the class begins. It is important to read all the required assignments ahead of time. Lectures are designed to supplement the reading assignments, not replace them.
  • Bring questions and important ideas with you to class. When you participate in the class discussion and ask the professor questions, you are more likely to remember the material.

Methods for note taking while reading

1. Write notes in the margins

As you read through the text, write summative phrases or important characters in the margins of the text. If you are borrowing or renting a book, use sticky notes. You can use reflective questions to guide writing these phrases, such as “What was the main idea?”

2. Highlight key phrases in the text

After you read a paragraph or a section, selectively highlight key terms and phrases. If you are borrowing or renting a book, use removable colored tape. Highlighting without clarifying the purpose of the highlight (such as writing notes in the margin) has proven to be dramatically less effective.

3. Write notes on a separate paper

Use one of the lecture note taking methods listed in the next section of this resource. As you read through the text, take notes on the important characters, key events, and main ideas.

Note taking during a class lecture

Key ideas:

  • Write down the main ideas in phrases that you will remember. Do not be concerned with writing down every word or sentence of the lecture.
  • If the professor is using a PowerPoint during the lecture, ask if they would be willing to share a printed or electronic copy with the students in the class. Professors may also post PowerPoint presentations on WebCampus before class; if this is the case, print out the note taking version and bring it with you.

Note taking methods

1. Outlining system

Organize the main points of the lecture with supporting ideas indented under each generalized main idea. The major, most general topics are the farthest to the left while the supporting details are indented. Roman numerals, number, or dashes are not required but may be helpful depending on your own personal organization style.

2. Cornell system

Draw a line down the left side of your paper, creating two columns. Paraphrase important points from the lecture in the larger column on the right (“note-taking column”). After the completion of the lecture, write key words in the left column (“cue column”). It may be helpful to think of the notes in question format, and the key words in the cue column are the answers. At the bottom of the paper, write a few sentences in the “summary area” that explain the main topics. This method is designed to help you use critical thinking skills to process your notes and increase your likelihood of remembering the material.

3. Charting system

Before the lecture begins, label several columns at the top of your paper; choose the appropriate labels based on the subject. During the lecture, write important information under each heading. This method can help you focus on and record the key facts of the lecture.

4. Mapping system

This system is designed for the visual student and uses a creative organization style. Write the main idea in the center of the paper and draw lines to supportive topics. You may add numbers or colors to link common ideas.

Reviewing your notes

Review your notes at least once per week throughout the semester. Students remember a significantly higher amount of information during a mid-term or final exam if they have regularly reviewed their notes compared with students who did not regularly review their notes.

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