Taking Good Notes

Learning to take notes correctly is a simple but necessary step to becoming a successful student.  Not only do taking good notes allow you to study for tests more effectively, the act of taking notes actually helps you to learn the material in class, as you write it down.  Taking good notes will also help you pay attention in class and mentally engage in the material, even if you are not directly involved in the class lecture.

Organization Equates Efficiency

The main philosophy of good note taking is organization.  Well-organized notes have a twofold purpose.  First, by putting clear, concise thoughts down on the page, you are also putting clear concise thoughts into your brain.  If you have ever sat through a class and taken tons and tons of notes, only to wonder as soon as the bell rang what the lecture was actually about, then you know the value of well-organized notes. 

Second, when it comes time to consult the notes for homework or to study from them for a test, the organization will save you a lot of valuable time.  You will save time by not having to hunt everywhere for that one equation or a certain historical date.  Also, the information will be easily accessible and clearly presented when a large amount of material must be studied.

Add Structure to Your Notes

So how does one go about taking such effective notes?  It is not that hard.  First, start with the date of the class at the top of each page.  This will make it easier when you are going back through your notes looking for a specific class or lecture.  It is also helpful to title the notes with the subject of the lecture.  If the teacher does not give you a topic at the beginning of class, wait until then end of class and then title the notes yourself. 

If your teacher provides an outline of the lecture at the beginning of class, you should copy this down as a kind of “table of contents” for that day’s class.  Begin each section of the notes with the title of the section from the outline.  If your teacher doesn’t announce when he or she is moving to the next section, it may take a little while to get used to figuring out when he or she changes topic.  If you are looking out for it, though, you will get the hang of noticing when the subject changes to the next item.

What if your teacher does not give you an outline at the beginning of class? This makes it a little bit harder, but it will only help you pay attention more closely.  You will have to divide up the notes yourself. When the teacher starts to change topics, start a new section.  Later, you can go back and title each section.

What to Write Down

So now that you know where to put everything, what do you actually write down? This is the trickiest part.  You don’t want to write down everything that comes out of the teacher’s mouth, nor do you want to miss anything important. The first rule: if the teacher tells to write something down, write it down! Even if you think you will remember it, he or she is probably asking you to write it down for a reason.  You may be asked for it in a test or quiz so make sure you have it written down accurately on your page. 

The second rule: if the teacher repeats what he or she is saying, write it down.  Your teacher is trying to emphasize something, which is why he or she is repeating it.  Something that is emphasized is definitely important and should definitely be in your notes.  Anything else you write down is up to you.  Generally, try to write down any hard facts (such as names or dates), unless the teacher says they are not important. 

If the teacher is making a point or an argument, telling an anecdote (story), deriving an equation, or explaining an idea, wait until the teacher has finished and then right down just the main idea.  The hard part is making sure that you don’t miss anything that comes next, while you are writing down something on what the teacher just said.  You will get better with practice at writing down “just the important stuff” as the teacher is actually saying it.

What about what the teacher writes on the board?  Most of the stuff written on the board should be copied into your notes.  The teacher puts it up so that you can see and write it down.  When you are copying diagrams, though, be patient.  Wait for the teacher to finish drawing everything before you start drawing. Having an objective idea of what you are aiming for when you are sketching makes your sketches much neater!  Also, sometimes the teacher will modify his diagram without drawing a new one.  Attempting to modify your diagram in the same way can make your notes unreadable.  Therefore, sometimes it is necessary to draw two diagrams, even if the teacher doesn’t.

Recopy Notes for Reinforcement

Now that you have great, concise, organized notes, what do you do with them?  Take them again!  One of the best ways of studying is to recopy your notes. This reinforces them in your head and leaves you with a clear set of notes to study from.  The best times to do this are the day of the class, when you are doing your homework after school, or before a test, when you are studying.  You can do it either by typing them into a computer or hand copying them.

You will be surprised how much you learn just by writing something twice.  This is also a chance to reorganize anything that may have gotten sloppy, so that you will have almost a homemade textbook to study from when the test comes.  With patience, practice, and organization, taking good notes is a simple process that makes studying much easier.


  1. Title and date each class’s notes
  2. Use an outline to organize your notes
  3. Make sure to write down what the teacher emphasizes, repeats, or tells you to write down
  4. Try to summarize the less pertinent information to avoid too much useless information
  5. Copy down what the teacher writes on the board, but be patient with diagrams
  6. Recopy or type your notes after class or before a test to help you study and to create a neat, well organized study guide

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