A. Set the stage: Note-taking preparation

  1. Complete outside assignments. Read in advance about the topic to be discussed in class. Complete the reading assignments; work the assigned problems.

  2. Attend Class. To do well in a course, you must go to class faithfully and take good notes.

  3. Bring the right materials. Make sure you have text, pen, pencil, notebook, assignment pad, and any other materials you will need.

  4. Sit front and center. Students who get as close as possible to the front and center of the classroom do better on tests.

  5. Conduct a short pre-class review. Arrive early; then put your brain in gear by reviewing your notes from the previous class. Scan your reading assignment. Look at parts you have marked. Note questions you intend to ask. Your mind can take from two or three to ten minutes to truly warm up to a subject. Give yourself a head start.

B. At the lecture: Hints for taking effective notes

  1. Keep a written record. Forgetting begins almost immediately. Studies have shown that within two weeks you probably will forget 80 percent or more of what you have heard. And in four weeks you are lucky if 5 percent remains.

  2. Record notes systematically. Record notes as follows:
    1. Use full-sized 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper.
    2. Keep a separate notebook or section for each course. You will need to have notes for each course together so that you can review them easily.
    3. Date each day's notes.
    4. Take notes on one side of the page only and leave space at the top of the page and at the left-hand margin. This gives you free space to add to your notes later if desired.
    5. Write legibly. When you prepare for a test, you want to spend your time studying – not deciphering your handwriting.
    6. Record exams or quizzes that are announced as well as assignments that the instructor gives.

  3. Be alert for signals. Watch for the following signals of importance.
    1. Write down whatever your instructor puts on the board. Write the letters "OB" to indicate that the material was written on the board.
    2. Write down definitions and listings. Listings are signaled in such ways as: "The four steps in the process are . . . ;" "There were three reasons for . . . ;" and so on.
    3. Write down important statements the instructor announces with comments such as "Don't forget that . . . ;" or "Pay special attention to . . . ;" or "The basic idea here is . . . ." Mark these ideas with the letters "imp" (important) or an * in the margin.
    4. If your instructor repeats a point, write "R" for repeated in the margin.
    5. Write down examples. Examples help you understand complex and abstract discussions, ideas that your instructor may not present formally later on. Mark them with "ex" in the margin.

  4. Take notes during discussions. Many valuable ideas come up during informal discussions, ideas that your instructor may not present formally later on.

  5. Mark ideas that are unclear. Put a question mark in the margin. Later, ask your instructor or another student about this idea.

  6. Use speed writing. Speed writing consists of using a minimal number of words, eliminating unnecessary strokes, and using abbreviations and symbols.

  7. Following are some abbreviations and symbols commonly used in note taking.





    therefore ÷ divide
    < less than decrease
    > greater than increase
    + plus leads to
    + and = equals
    - equals

    Often just using the first syllable or two of a word is a useful abbreviation.


    Complete Word


    Complete Word

    Amer. American lit. literature
    ave. avenue max. maximum
    beg. beginning min. minimum
    bec. because res. research
    Eng. English sig. significant
    hist. history def. definition
    hypoth. hypothesis diff. difference
    impt. important gov. government
    intro. introduction equiv. equivalent

    Simple initials can often stand for common words.


    Complete Word


    Complete Word

    i.e. that is e.g. for example
    c about cf. compare
    fg. following vs. versus

  8. Be brief. Don't try to write down every word. Use your own words unless recording a definition or formula.

  9. Focus on content, not delivery. Disregard the personal style and characteristics of the lecturer.

  10. Take notes right up to the end of class. Instructors may have to cram into the last minutes of a class important points they want to cover. Be ready to write as rapidly as you can to get down this final rush of ideas.

C. After the lecture: Reviewing notes

  1. Read over the notes and edit them. Fill in gaps you may have. Compare your notes with those of another student. Correct spelling, if necessary.

  2. Clarify with your instructor anything that you did not understand.

  3. Analyze the lecture information. Add headings or labels where needed.

  4. Review within 24 hours. Go over your notes as soon after class as possible. A day later may be too late because forgetting sets in almost immediately.

  5. Cover up the lecture information. Quiz yourself on it reciting from memory.

  6. Keep your notes with all other material about that course.

  7. Keep your notes in chronological order. (Remember to date each page.)