16 Take Better Class Notes

Your instructor might give you PowerPoint slides in addition to your textbook. Do you still need to take notes in class too?

YES! Taking notes in class is a very important learning strategy and skill. The way that you take notes matters, and not all note taking strategies are equal.

How Note taking Supports Learning

Taking notes during class supports your learning in several ways:

  1. Taking notes helps you to focus your attention and avoid distractions.
  2. As you take notes in class, you’ll be engaging your mind in identifying and organizing the main ideas. Rather than passively listening, you’ll be doing the work of active learning.
  3. Creating good notes means that you’ll have another resource for studying. Reviewing a set of well-organized notes is more efficient than re-reading longer textbook chapters or entire articles.

Effective Note taking Strategies

Rather than taking word-for-word notes, consider writing an outline of the lecture’s most important points and how they fit together. Additionally, listen for other information that your instructor emphasizes, either verbally or with gestures, and add these key concepts to your notes.

Leave a wide margin on one side of the page to write down key words and questions after the lecture. At the bottom of each page of notes, leave room to write a short summary of the information on that page. This is called the “Cornell Method” of note taking.

Try it!

Click on the pencil to view and try the Cornell Notes system. Select the icon to view the video and note taking fields in one screen.

Use Your Notes to Study

Now that you’ve created a set of notes from both class lectures and from reading your textbooks, how do you get the most benefit from them?

If you have been following the methods described in this chapter, your notes will include questions that you have answered by reading or listening. Rather than simply re-reading notes, which is less effective, you will benefit most if you use your notes as a self-study tool.

  1. Read any questions in your notes out loud. Cover the answer with a sheet of paper.
  2. Recite the answer out loud as best as you are able, or write it down on a piece of paper.
  3. Compare your answer with what you have in your notes. If you’re correct, move on to the next question. If you have difficulty with a question, review the related material in your notes again. You may wish to use a sticky note or highlighter to mark questions you need to review again.

As you take good notes, you’ll strengthen your learning skills as you become more proficient at identifying key information from class lectures and texts. By including study questions in your notes as you take them, you’ll turn your notes into a powerful tool for later review and exam preparation.

Try it!

Don’t just take notes, make notes.

  • This week, try to practice at least one note taking strategy you’ve learned from this chapter.
  • Use the questions you created to review and test yourself throughout the week.
  • How does this method compare with re-reading your notes?

Try this Note Taking Template to guide you through the process.

Extend Your Learning

Learn about other note-taking strategies by exploring NSCC’s Writing Centre Guide.


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