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Effective Note Taking

Effective Note Taking

Author: Nikki Hansen

To provide the student with useful tips on note taking.

There are two text portions and two video components in this packet. Each re-iterates the importance of good note taking, and each provides tips on effective note taking.

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Why Take Notes?

I. There are many reasons for taking lecture notes.

A. Making yourself take notes forces you to listen carefully and test your understanding of the material.

B. When you are reviewing, notes provide a gauge to what is important in the text.

C. Personal notes are usually easier to remember than the text.

D. The writing down of important points helps you to remember then even before you have studied the material formally.

II. Instructors usually give clues to what is important to take down. Some of the more common clues are:

A. Material written on the blackboard.

B. Repetition

C. Emphasis

1. Emphasis can be judged by tone of voice and gesture.

2. Emphasis can be judged by the amount of time the instructor spends on points and the number of examples he or she uses.

D. Word signals (e.g. "There are two points of view on . . . " "The third reason is . . . ")

E. Summaries given at the end of class.

F. Reviews given at the beginning of class.

Taking notes is a great way to help you identify and remember the important concepts learned in class. The information provided in class is often the material that shows up in class discussions, on tests, quizzes and exams. Even if you have a superb memory, you can't remember everything the teacher says. By having your notes handy, you'll be able to draw on them while studying for tests and quizzes or during class discussions. 

Effective Note Taking Techniques


You can learn a lot through listening. In college, it will be a prime source of information. Unfortunately, people do not instinctively listen well. Listening is a skill which must be developed.

If you apply the following suggestions, you will find yourself listening more effectively, both in class and out.

1. Determine why what the speaker is saying is important to you. If you don't have an immediate, vivid reason for listening to a speaker, you are an unmotivated listener.

2. Take responsibility for what is being said. The responsibility for interest and understanding lies with you, not with the speaker. Learning is up to the learner. If you simply want to sit passively and blame the speaker for your lack of success, then you're not a serious learner.

3. If you can't hear, arrange things so you can. Move away from sources of noise-human or mechanical. Sit where you can see the speaker easily, and where other distractions are at a minimum.

4. Listen to what the speaker is saying. Don't tune the speaker out because you don't like something about him/her or the message. Be sure you understand something before you reject it.

5. Look for the speaker's pattern of organization. In a lecture, a speaker is generally referring to notes or some other source of information. You can understand much better if you are able to recognize what the speaker's driving at and how the speaker's getting there.

6. Look for the main idea or ideas of the presentation. Facts are important only as they support the speaker's points. If you have trouble distinguishing between the important and the trivial, a friend or a tutor in the Academic Skills Center can help you.

7. Don't let your mind wander. Your thoughts move far more rapidly than the swiftest mouth, and the urge to stray is tempting. Your attention span can be increased, however, through deliberate effort. Continue to practice the habit of attention and don't be discouraged by early failures.

8. Take notes while you listen. Even if you recognize everything being said, jot it down, because you won't remember it later unless you do.

Useful Note Taking Skills

Cornell Notes