Taking Notes in College

Note-taking strategies that will help you remember and understand your college notes.

While some among us are thought to have a photographic memory, allowing them to recount everything they read, most people aren’t so lucky. In college, much of the information is given via lecture, which means the student is responsible for remembering everything the professor says. Obviously students can’t process all of this information in their brains alone so note-taking becomes an important part of college classes.

High School Note-Taking vs. College Note-Taking

Good note-taking enables you to be able to recall information at a later date, particularly for exams. Good note-taking habits also include reviewing notes regularly, reciting key concepts from class and connecting the lecture to the reading material.

In high school, the teacher may have handed out notes, so all you needed to do was highlight a few items and scribble in the margins. By contrast, professors rarely provide notes to students, instead giving information only via lecture.

While some students hand-write their notes, others prefer to type them. While some professors encourage computer use in class, many find them distracting. Don’t be surprised if you’re required to use a pen and paper to take notes in most classes.

Note-Taking Strategies

Because much of college education is done via lecture, taking notes is very important. Combined with active listening and reviewing your notes within 24 hours after taking them, your notes can help you learn and retain large chunks of information.

A popular method for taking notes is known as the Cornell Method of Note Taking. Many students use this method or adapt it to their own personal style for effective notes:

During class:

  • Use only one side of lined paper and draw a vertical line down the left side and a horizontal line a few inches from the bottom.
  • Take legible notes in the central part of the paper. Rather than attempting to transcribe every word, focus on main ideas, themes and concepts as well as details, examples and formulae.
  • To help you later, use consistent and standard abbreviations.
  • Skip lines when going from one concept to another.
  • Leave blanks when you miss words and fill them in at a later date.
  • Put question marks in the left margin to indicate further research either on your own or during office hours.

After class:

  • Review your notes within 24 hours after the lecture to help remember the material.
  • Fill in the blanks and answer questions.
  • Use the bottom space to summarize your notes.

Taking Notes in College: Tips and Tactics

  • Do not rely on others for notes. While this may seem like a quick and easy fix, your friends’ notes might not be as complete or focused as you would like.
  • Most of the actual learning takes place in putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard. Note-copying is a mindless and inactive task.
  • If you need help staying organized with your notes, note-taking software may help. Note-taking courses are also available for students new to the task.


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