Note Taking

The Basics | Note Taking Questions | Staying Awake | Class Participation

The Basics

The idea with notes is that:                   

  1. You pay attention (and learn) while in class. (Just the act of writing it in the first place will help you to remember and learn it. Note taking enhances listening.)
  2. More importantly, you can review what was taught later on.

In order to do this you need to:

  • Sit at the front of the class. You'll pay attention better.
  • Write legibly!
  • Stay awake.
  • Participate in class.
  • Read the assignment before class, so you don't end up frantically noting information that you didn't know was in the reading.
  • Give yourself lots of space on the paper. Write on a standard-sized notebook, skip lines, and leave blank space, write on the right-hand two-thirds of the paper. You can write in further information later from things you remember and from your reading. In addition, it will be easier for you to read it when you review. (For example, was this paragraph easier to read than the ones before?)
  • Highlight or star those items which need to be memorized.
  • Learn how to differentiate the essentials. Don't write down unnecessary ramblings, musings, stories and so on and so forth ...
  • Keep organized.
  • Do actually review. Don't just say you will. Notes are much more effective this way.
  • Use highlighters and different colored pens to mark up your notes and write in the blank spaces.

"Use different colors in your notes" -Miranda DeJarnette

Some Note Taking Questions

  • Should I recopy my notes? If it helps you. Some people religiously recopy their notes. While doing so, they simplify and organize the information, check if they missed anything, etc. Other people map their notes, a specific recopying technique.
  • How should I organize my notes? Chronologically: Note the date every class and keep the dates in order. Separately: Use individual notebooks (or sections of notebooks) for each class. Biology and Philosophy notes don't mix. Actively: Just as your room quickly gets to be a mess if you just ignore it, so will your notes. Keep your notes organized. Systematically: Pick a system to consistently use. For example, a system might be outline form, or using bullet points. You might want to always fold your page in half, taking notes on one half, and saving the other half to write in things you missed, or notes from the reading. Mapping your notes is another technique that you might try.

"Reorganize your notes" -Bill Freeman, former LAC tutor

  • Can my learning style help me with notes? Definitely. Note taking caters to different learning styles in different ways. Find out what your style is and use it to your advantage while taking notes.
  • What about Doodling? Harness your doodling powers to help you more effectively learn the material in class. Strong visual learners may benefit significantly from drawing their notes, for example, in a notes mapping form, instead of writing them in paragraph or outline form. Drawing notes may also help you to more effectively sift through information for the most important points. This doesn't mean don't ever use words--just use the words together with your pictures. Just remember, though: It doesn't have to be a Michelangelo. It just has to help you remember the material. If you're getting too caught up in your artwork and missing points from the lecture, then you're missing the point of doodling in your notes.

Creative Doodling: Note-Taking for fun and profit

"Do your notes in any way you like. If it helps you to do them in alternative green and purple biro, do them like that; if you like weaving patterns or funny shapes with them, go ahead; and if it helps and amuses you to do them in a kind of secret code that you can understand easily, that's fine too. The more you can make taking notes a natural and pleasurable exercise, the more vigorously they will assist your study."

-excerpted from Brain Train

  • What abbreviation system should I use? Your own. Learn what works best for you. Make up abbreviations for longer words you seem to use ALL THE TIME. The most important thing is to remember what the abbreviations stand for. Make a key on the inside cover of your notebook if you have a hard time remembering. Make a practice of going through your notes later on in the day and adding to your abbreviation key, as you find new abbreviations that you have used.
  • Should I take notes from my reading? Definitely--if it helps you! Taking notes from reading can be especially helpful if you are easily distracted while reading, and if your professor frequently takes test questions from the reading. Taking reading notes can help you organize the material in your own brain, and can help you make sense of complex ideas and relationships.

How to Stay Awake in Class

  • Take deep breaths, providing your body with more oxygen
  • pinch the skin between your thumb and pointer finger--HARD
  • smile
  • eat
  • ask if you can open a window; it is harder to stay awake in a warm classroom
  • remove one shoe only, which creates a temperature difference
  • (make sure your odor eaters are working)
  • follow your professor's argument intently, even if it's confusing
  • take copious notes constantly
  • write questions to yourself in your notes about the material
  • TALK (you don't fall asleep talking usually, do you?)
  • occasionally ask questions, if only to break the monotony of the professor's voice
  • sit up straight, don't get too comfortable
  • doodle
  • change pens (use one with brighter ink)
  • sit in the front of the class
  • contribute to discussions
  • and try to stay well-rested

Class Participation

Are you always hearing that you need to participate more in class? That it would improve your grade? What exactly does class participation mean? And what can you do to improve yours? We have some answers:

  • What does "Class Participation" mean?
    • Class participation means talking (reasonably) intelligently about the subject matter.
    • Asking Questions: Remember, there are no "stupid" questions. If you don't understand, ASK. The likelihood is you're not the only one who doesn't understand. Also, asking questions is one of the easiest ways to build up your courage to talk in class.
    • Answering Questions: Don't think you have to have THE "right" answer. In a lot of college courses, there are many "right" answers. And even if you're not going in the right direction, the professor will probably appreciate your effort.
    • Responding to others' comments: Do you not agree with what someone else just said? Raise your hand and tell the class why. Your reasoning and initiative will probably impress your professor.
  • How can I improve my class participation?
    • Go to class.
    • Sit up front. It helps you keep awake, it can encourage a positive attitude and confidence, and it shows that you are sincerely interested in the material being presented.
    • Read BEFORE Class. You might understand what's going on better.
    • Take notes. This keeps you on track with what the professor (or someone else) is saying.
    • Smile. Make eye contact. Your professor will notice.