Note Taking Strategies

Below are some strategies for note taking - we hope it helps!

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will learn to organize, record, and review information both from their textbooks and presented in class
  • Students will learn three methods of taking organized notes
  • Students will learn skills that compliment note-taking and enhance time efficiency

The notes you take in class are your primary tool for learning class material yet most College students take notes on a daily basis but fail to utilize them until a week before a scheduled exam. In order to be an effective learner you must learn note-taking techniques that enhance the material presented to you both in your text and in class. Effective note taking is an essential component to improving your study habits and enhancing your ability to remember thus truly learning course material.

Note taking is not a one step process. It encompasses a three-step process that includes organization, recording, and reviewing of information.


  • Use a three ring binder and binder paper rather than a spiral notebook. This allows you to put your syllabus in the front, add all handouts by date, and add additional notes as needed. It also allows you to remove sections of notes and place them side by side to create a "big picture" view of a main point, chapter, or section.
  • Use one binder per class so that notes stay organized and do not get blended with other class notes.
  • Use only one side of the paper when taking notes. This will allow you to take the notes out and place side by side for easier review.
  • Always read the chapter assigned before attending the lecture. This allows for better recall and familiarity of material so that you recognize important points and main ideas and record appropriately.
  • Get to class early so that you can quickly review your notes from the previous lecture to better connect the new information about to be presented
  • Bring questions from the reading to class so as you take notes you may have your questions answered and/or then you can ask the professor for answers or clarification


  • Either create your own abbreviation system or use standard ones. If you create your own make sure you are consistent in its use and that the symbols and abbreviations only have one meaning. Make sure you create a legend so that you remember what each abbreviation means.
  • Be an active listener so you hear your professors cues as they...
  • highlight important main points when they slow down and/or changes pitch of voice to emphasize an important point
  • give examples, numbers or list points
  • emphasize information by stating it then writing it on the board
  • state "this is important"
  • use phrases that show relationships, summarizes, concludes, connects, compares and contrasts
  • Record general main ideas and details rather than verbatim notes. Notes serve to record information for recall and should show the main points of the lecture in an organized manner so that the relationship between points and details are distinguishable.

Use a dual or multicolumn note taking method for

  • easier revision
  • better organization
  • an efficient format that allows you to easily pull out the main ideas of the lecture


Review of Notes

  • Review your notes as soon after the lecture as possible for optimum memory for filling in and revision
  • Review your notes daily for maximum recall of material.
  • Schedule weekly review sessions that encompasses looking at both lecture and textbook notes and reciting information by synthesizing materials
  • When using the dual or multicolumn system, cover the main body and recite the answers to the questions in the cue or recall column. Use your own words when reciting then uncover the main body and ensure you covered all points and details. This process shifts the recall of information in your short term memory to true learning and stores it in your long term memory.


System One

The Cornell Note Taking System is the most nationally recognized method used by College students as a systematic way to take lecture notes. It is a simple method that breaks the note page into three sections to allow for organized recording and review. You can use it while reading your text or taking lecture notes

Format: Draw a horizontal line two inches from the bottom of your paper. This section is called the summary area. Draw a two and a half inch vertical line from the left side of the paper down to the drawn horizontal line. This area is called the cue or recall column. The large area on the page is called the main notes area.

Take notes in the main note area in paragraph form. Skip lines between concepts. All main ideas, details, graphs, lists, systems should be recorded in this area. This main body will be condensed into cue words and questions later in a homework or review session.

After class write one to two questions per main idea from the body of notes in the cue column. This process condenses your notes into a study guide that allows for practice and review of material using only cue words and questions (much like an exam).

After learning the material well, paraphrase each page or main point into a one to two sentence summary and write in the summary area. Summarizing in your own words increases recall ability and memory and begins preparing you for exams.

System Two

A second system of note taking which proves effective is the Outline method. It can be used alone or in conjunction with a multicolumn system like the Cornell note taking system

Format: Write general information to the left of the paper. Indent more specific information under the general information. Further indent details and examples under the more specific information

The advantage to the outline method is that it is organized if done correctly, it shows immediate relationships it reduces the need for editing, and simplifies review by turning main points into questions with the answers readily available.

System Three

A third system is called the Chart Method best used for courses that demand memorization of dates, places, people, events, importance and how the information relates. Revision is unnecessary for notes are continuous and create an overview of the entire course.

Format: Create columns then list appropriate information under each category. Can summarize relationships after each lecture as deemed necessary




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Contact Us

Collin Pugh, Coordinator for the Tutorial & Academic Skills Center

TASC Center: De La Salle 110
Phone: (925) 631-4869
Hours: by appointment