How To Take Notes In College

Originally Published: 
How To Take Notes In College.
Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

When you think of “notes” in the context of high school, you might think of the kind you passed in class (you know, the old school version of communication you were forced to rely on when you couldn’t text). But college levels everything up, and that includes lectures. You’re going to need to nail down some effective note-taking methods so you can make sense of all the information that can be crammed into one college-level class.

That might sound boring, but we are talking about note-taking here. It’s never going to be super-flashy. If you need added incentive to become a better note-taker, though, consider this: Taking good notes can cut your study time drastically. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the best methods for note-taking in college.

While learning these skills is imperative in college, it also serves as a great asset when you enter the work force and for the remainder of your career. For many of us, analyzing, digesting, and understanding complex concepts, research material, and spreadsheets will become a fact of life. Knowing what works for you will help you take notes as a way to visualize and comprehend the content and minutia of what’s in front of you in a better way. So while note taking skills are great and good in college, it’s never too late to pick up tips at any point in life.

Why is taking notes in college so important?

Well, we’ve already mentioned the fact that taking effective notes helps cut down on study time, right? That’s because the quality of the notes you take directly correlates to the amount of information you’re able to recall and process. College lectures are typically longer than high school classes, making it harder for your brain to remember everything covered. Taking notes keeps you engaged (read: awake), which forces you to focus and pay attention.

Solid notes serve as an outline to aid in instant recall and help you review what you heard. This facilitates encoding, or learning the course material. Plus, taking good notes is an undervalued skill — it trains your brain to recognize (and write down) the most important details.

What are some tips for taking notes in college?

Regardless of which method of note-taking you choose (more on that in a minute), there are some pointers that can benefit all note-takers.

Be prepared

Make sure you’ve read your assignment prior to coming to class. Why? Well, because that’s kind of the whole point of college, right? Also, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s being discussed, which will produce more concise and easily understandable notes.

Highlight the key point

Typically, key points will be emphasized throughout a lecture. Work on learning to identify those points and, if nothing else, write them down. But ideally, you want to write down any overriding concepts presented during the lecture and then structure any other notes around those points. It’s impossible to write down every single word your professor says, so structuring your notes with key points helps you walk away with an understanding of the crux of the class.

Don’t take the notes you don’t need

This seems like an obvious statement, right? However, your instinctive reaction to a lecture will likely be to try to jot down as much of the information presented as possible. That’s the goal! The thing is, sometimes professors use teaching aids like PowerPoint Presentations or outlines. Make it a point to ask your professor if those things will be available after class. If they are, you can just follow along and make note of any points that you won’t find in the presentation or hand-out.

Write down questions

Don’t you hate when you have 100 questions about something but forget them by the time you get a chance to ask them? Yeah, us too. Kick that annoyance to the curb by writing questions down in your notes as you go. That way, you have a record of everything you wanted to follow up on right in front of you.

Make it multi-sensory

No, we’re not talking about scratch-and-sniff notes. Although, now that we’ve said it out loud, it sounds pretty genius. But we digress. By multi-sensory, we mean creating visual aids to aid in your understanding of lecture material. In other words, don’t be afraid to doodle and draw all over your page! Visual interest definitely has recall benefits. You might also consider bringing a recorder to class and adding an auditory component to your notes.

Review sooner rather than later

We get it — as soon as you get out of class, you want to be done. Here’s the thing, though: Quickly reviewing your notes within a few hours of the lecture makes it more likely you’ll be able to fill in any blanks. And that, dear student, makes it more likely that your notes will be effective when it comes time to cram.

What are the most effective note-taking methods?

Yes, you read that right; there are actual methods involved in taking notes. Here, we’ll outline some of the most popular.

The Cornell Method

The Cornell Method entails dividing each page into several sections, with the largest section being used for the notes you take in class. After class, you use a side column to extract and define key terms and arguments from the lecture. In the bottom section, you’ll summarize the class and catalog any remaining questions you may have.

Mind Mapping

Also known as The Mapping Method, this note-taking method relies on a two-dimensional structure instead of a list format. This sees the page organized by subject and can be especially useful for visual learners in connecting topics and ideas.

The Outlining Method

Got a super-detailed, intense professor who spits out so many words and ideas that your brain gets frazzled? You might want to opt for the traditional outline method. Simple yet effective, it highlights main topics and themes and leaves space for you to focus on related subtopics.

The Charting Method

This is basically just like it sounds — you create a chart to organize information. Your page is divided into columns labeled by category, and then each category is flushed out with details in the rows below. Charting is another appealing option for more visual learners.


This only works if you want to invest time in learning what is essentially a mini-new language but the investment in certainly worth it on the other end of it as you can scale to write up to 225 words in a minute. This was obviously more common for reporters, minute takers, and court officials before the advent of recording technology but is still a useful tool. Hey, don’t scoff at what worked in the past, it might serve you in the future. Here’s the gist of how it works:

What are the five Rs of note-taking?

If all else fails, remember the five Rs of note-taking: record (write meaningful info), reduce (summarize important facts), recite (in your own words), reflect (analyze your notes), and review (skim over notes prior to reading or studying new material).

Whatever method you choose, the most important thing is that it works for you, helps you analyze and recall the material, and is a sustainable form of note taking for your specific area of study. That is to say, what may work for an English literature major might not cut it for that organic chemistry class someone else might be in. At the end of the day, what works for you is the right method.

This article was originally published on