Some students prefer to read the material first and then take notes in class; others would rather attend class and take notes, then customize their reading to the material and topics that the instructor has covered in the lecture. Regardless, good notetaking skills should complement reading strategies to provide you the best set of resources for study and review. For many students, the notetaking methods that they used during high school are not sufficient for the rigors of college-level courses. With more material and more responsibility placed upon the student to organize and process information presented through lectures, discussions, and reading assignments, it is vital that you use a comprehensive notetaking method in your studies.
Some students may claim that they don’t need to take notes, or that they learn best by listening, or that they can just borrow notes from a studious classmate if they need to review. These students miss one of the most important arguments for notetaking; the fact that recording and organizing notes is a multimodal form of study and review. In addition, most review methods rely upon a student’s ability to take notes and then reorganize the information in a meaningful manner that condenses information from multiple chapters or sources. Creating review or summary sheets for exams becomes easier with strong notes, and using a highlighter to mark notes during in-class reviews or study sessions becomes more meaningful when good notes are used. With strong notetaking skills, you maintain a record of your learning as well as the instructor’s in-class expectation of your learning, which demonstrates ownership and responsibility for your academic career.
Taking notes requires a writing utensil, paper, and a type of organization system for what the student intends to write. Some students prefer to take notes in a list format, while others prefer a paragraph or multi-sentence format. Many students vary their notetaking styles based upon the lecture styles of the individual instructor. Different subject areas often require that you apply a different notetaking strategy. Notes for a math class will appear different compared to notes for a psychology or communications class. For classes where notes focus on a process, such as problem-solving or programming, it is important for notes to not only demonstrate the process, but to explain the process in detailed steps.
Notes, either from a reading or a lecture, can be organized by topic headings or main ideas. Condensing the ideas and concepts into short phrases or an informal outline is one popular method for taking notes. Some students prefer to take notes in a question and answer format, using key ideas and concepts in short paragraph form rather than a list of topics. In courses with a heavy emphasis on mathematics, notes may consist of example problems and derivations of specific theories. Some instructors may distribute slides or outlines before the lecture; while it may be tempting to forgo notes in this case, you can still benefit by using the instructor material to guide your reading before class or your own notetaking after class.
If you struggle with notetaking or aren’t sure how to modify your reading strategies for university courses, you can make an appointment at the Academic Support Center to learn about different academic methods and strategies.