Take Notes

Good note-taking can play a huge role in your academic success but not everyone has the note-taking skill necessary to make use of this beneficial practice. With these tips and methods, you can improve your note-taking and your grades, while learning more with less effort.


Purpose and Content

  1. Consider your subject. What type of notes you take and how you take them will partially depend on what the subject matter is. The format of the subject matter will also play a significant role in how you take your notes. Depending on the subject and format, you will also need to focus your attention to different types of information.
    • You may be taking notes from a lecture, during an assignment, or from a text. These formats each require you to work in certain ways. A lecture, for example, is fast paced and will require you to take notes quickly and efficiently.
    • Notes on the sciences will be very different than notes on the humanities. You might be taking notes on history, which will take on more of a narrative outline than notes on chemistry, which will focus on formulas and concepts.
  2. Consider your purpose. Why you are taking your notes, your eventual goal, will also affect how you take your notes. It will play a part in determining what information you need to learn and what the most efficient way for you to learn it will be.
    • Test. If the material you are working with will eventually end up on a test, you will want to capture as much information as efficiently as possible. Focus on key terms, important events or facts, and broad concepts. Know the format of your test so that you can guess at the types of information that you need to know while studying.
    • Paper. If you’re taking notes that will be used to write a paper, you will want to focus on the types of information that you need. Take your notes to fill an outline of your paper or, if you don’t have an outline, look for themes and significant information.
  3. Benefits. Taking notes has clear benefits. It will give you a guide for remembering information later but it will also help you to process the information. In having to think about what is important and how it should be organized, you will learn it much more efficiently. Studies have shown that students who work from broad notes do better on tests than those who rely on taking down everything verbatim.[1]


  1. Basics. Taking notes is more than just writing down what the lecturer says, word-for-word. You will need to position yourself to facilitate your note taking. Sit where you know you can hear and see and be sure to have enough table space to write things down. Sitting away from your friends might help, if you are prone to distraction, or you can sit with your friends if you benefit from collaborating on notes.
  2. Outline. As the lecturer talks, outline what they are saying. Mark in your notes when they start a new topic, then note each sub category as it is addressed. Fill in information and details as you have time. Sample outlines can easily be found on the internet, so that you can get a sense of the format.
    • Each lecture should have its own page or series of pages. This will help keep you organized. Make sure to date and title the pages so that you can find them more easily later on.
  3. Terms and concepts. Write down any terms or concepts which are new or unfamiliar to you. These should be written down separately from the rest of your notes, either on the adjoining page or in a separate notebook.
    • For notes on the sciences, it may be easier to accompany notes on concepts with small illustrations. Copy images used in the lecture or draw what you imagine from your understanding of the information.
    • Terms are probably best written down dictionary-style, with the word followed by the definition. Ensuring they are not spread randomly through your notes will make it easier to study them later on.
  4. Use shorthand. A key to taking useful lecture notes is to use or develop a system of shorthand. This is where you write down a few letters or symbols which signify much longer words. Reducing the number of characters you write will help you write faster so that you can keep up with the lecturer and have more time to just listen and absorb.
    • For example, writing & instead of and or w/ instead of with. You can also use abbreviations, either ones you make up for familiar terms or official abbreviations.


  1. Science labs. For taking notes on science labs, you may want to begin by outlining the experiment. Be sure each lab has its own page. The most important thing is to take notes in real time, so you do not miss any information or remember it incorrectly later. If possible, draw illustrations and graphs to visually represent information that does not come across well with words.
  2. Math. The main key to math notes is to outline the steps. Write down, in detail, what you should do at each step and why you should do it. Make note of when things didn’t work and illustrate with equations whenever possible. When you have found the final solution and correct methods, outline these for future reference.
  3. Art. For art assignments, you may wish to take visual notes of your creation process. This will help you think through your work, rather than wasting time or supplies on ideas that will go nowhere. It will also help you see gaps in your ideas and presentation, as well as lead you to think critically about what you like and why it appeals to you.
    • Do sketches of possible layouts and compositions. Mark the best aspects of each and eliminate what doesn't work. Take note of compositions of other works you enjoy or that fit with what you are working on. Make note of what it is about those compositions that make the original work so effective.
    • Make lists of themes or topics you wish to depict. If your piece is going have a larger message to it, take notes about what exactly you want it to say and how you intend to get your message across. If the art is commercial in nature, test out copy and branding in your notes before incorporating it into final design.


  1. Define terms. As with other subjects, you should keep a running (but separated) list of terms with which you are unfamiliar. Define them and, if desired, list pages on which they appear or are particularly relevant. This will help you go back to the text later for clarification if you become confused.
  2. List concepts. On another page, you may wish to give brief outlines of important concepts. This will help you by keeping track of ideas which play a significant role in the text you are reading. It can also help you to simplify complex ideas.
    • Give a detailed explanation for all concepts. List how they arose, important people attached to them, and events in which they played a significant role. If the ideas changed over time, list this and briefly outline how.
  3. Fill in outline. Begin with a general idea of what you’re trying to learn. Use a copy of your lecture outline or an outline of the paper you intend to write. When you see information in the text that is relevant to a topic in your outline, write it down and take note of the page number.
    • Taking note of the page numbers from which you pull information is very important, especially when writing papers. This will keep you from having to dig back through the text later in order to properly cite your information.
  4. Color coding. Color coding your text is probably the easiest way to take notes, though it requires almost no writing. This method will help you to clearly visualize and organize the information. It can easily be adapted into an outline as well, for use in writing papers.
    • If reading on the computer, you can use highlighting tools to color block sections of information. Assign one color to each of the topics in your outline and then, when you find relevant information in the text, mark it with that color.
    • If you’re reading from a physical book, you can certainly mark text with a highlighter. It may be easier, however, to use color-coded tabs. These colorful stickers can help you to navigate the pages and find exactly what you’re looking for.


  • When studying a list of terms, you will memorize them more easily if you take them in small batches. Study only four or five terms from your notes at a time until you have absolutely mastered them. Only then should you move on to the next set.
  • Remember, don't write everything down. Think about what's important and what you'll need to know later.
  • Use the new vocabulary you are learning, both in your speech and elsewhere in your notes. This will help solidify it in your mind.
  • Highlight the word if you need to so you don't get off track on your test or essay.
  • Don't write with sloppy or illegible writing. This will make your notes hard to read and possibly useless later on.
  • listen to the teacher carefully and only write the important parts.
  • Usually three colors work best:Yellow for names and places,Pink for dates, and Green for very important information
  • You can use any colors you like, but use somewhat different colors to tell the difference. Be sure to keep each color's jobs the same. Always use one color for dates, and always use one color for names/places co you always know what is what. You can assign whatever jobs you want to each color but make sure the colors go on something that appears often. That's why names, dates, places, and important information is always good to color code.

Things You'll Need

  • Notebook or Index cards
  • Pencil or pen
  • White out
  • Colored tabs or post-it notes

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Sources and Citations