Do you write down every single word your teacher says in class? Do you only take notes when your teacher writes something on the board?

When it comes to good note-taking habits in college, there is a happy medium that can pay dividends with a higher GPA ! Here’s how to take better notes in class and ace your next exam.

Why Is Note Taking Important?

taking notes
  • It keeps you awake. Note taking forces you to pay attention and helps you focus in class (or while reading a textbook).
  • It helps you learn. Studies on learning have shown that actively engaging with the topic by listening and then summarizing what you hear helps you understand and remember the information later.

  • It helps you keep a record. You were physically in math class last Tuesday but that doesn't necessarily mean you remember what happened (and what might appear on a quiz). Notes are a record of what you learned in class—and what you need to review.

  • It will help you study. Review your notes regularly to get the most out of them. You can use them to make up sample test questions or even turn them into digital flashcards.

  • It’s a skill that will pay off in college. Are you used to your high school teachers handing out outlines or e-mailing copies of their PowerPoint presentations? That's NOT going to be the case in college. Learn the art of note taking now to give yourself a leg up later.

How to Take Great Notes in College

Notes aren’t helpful if they're cluttered with unnecessary details or missing important information. Here are our expert tips for perfecting your note-taking strategies.

1. Get organized.

Keep all your notes for a class in one place.

2. Laptop or notebook?

Your school may have rules about laptops and devices in class. Even if typing your notes is an option, consider this:  There is some solid research out there that taking notes by hand is more useful for learning and remembering the information.

3. Put a label on it.

Some students jog their memories by labeling every page at the top with the date, class/teacher (if class notes), title/author (if from reading), or even significant happenings of the day.

4. Number your pages—even if writing by hand!

Besides keeping you organized, page numbers goes a long way to finding things fast when you're in a study crunch.

5. Use space meaningfully.

Keep your page organized so you know where to find what you’re looking for. Of course, if you’re typing your notes you can always go back and clean them up later.

6. Use abbreviations or your own kind of shorthand to write quickly.

Try “w/o” for without or “e.g.” for examples . If typing, get familiar with keyboard shortcuts.

7. Keep notes short and sweet.

Jot down key terms and write in short sentences or phrases.

8. Keep track of direct quotes, personal thoughts, and questions you want answered.

For example, you could underline anything that’s unclear and that you want to ask your teacher about later.

9. Use symbols.

Try using an arrow to indicate important things such as teacher’s clues in a lecture about what is important to study, definitions, and key ideas. Hint: If your teacher says “This is important” make sure you write it down!

10. Turn off the autopilot.

Be sure to include in your notes the ideas that tie details together. In other words, you should always make clear WHY you are writing something down.

11. Take five.

Rather than rushing out just as the bell rings, take a moment at the end of class to sum up the important themes of the class while the information is still fresh in your mind.

12. Look at the big picture.

The details (like names and dates) are easy to copy down, but overarching concepts that tie all those details together are more challenging and more likely to be the key to correct answers come test time. Listen for words that logically connect ideas. 

WORDs That Show Logical Relationships

To ElaborateSpecific ExamplesCause & EffectHow or WhyCompare / Contrast
and, also, moreover, furthermore, additionally, in addition for example, for instance, to illustrate since, because, therefore, so, then, as a result, on account of this, for that purpose in order to, for the purpose of, so that, firstly, secondly likewise similarly, in the same manner

but, however, on the other hand, instead, yet, alternatively

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