Get Organized

Organize a notebook for each course—loose-leaf binders work well because they allow you to add handouts, review sheets, returned quizzes and homework, and other items to your notes. 

Date your notes and number your pages for future reference.

Attend all lectures.  Borrowing and copying notes is not a substitute for attending class.  If it is necessary to miss class, make sure you borrow and copy several students’ notes.  This will help you think about, compare, and decide what is important.


Learn to listen for the clues from your professor about what is important.  Listen for increases in volume or dramatic pauses.  Repetition is a signal that an important point is being made.  Transitional words, such as “finally,” “therefore,” and “furthermore,” may indicate that an important point is about to be made. 

Pay as close attention to the end of the lecture as the beginning.  Professors do not always pace themselves, and they may cram half of the content into the last five or ten minutes of class.

Actively participate in class.  If you missed a point or misunderstood something, ask the professor to repeat it.

Note-Taking Tools

Summarize the information that your professor or your classmates present.  People generally speak 130 words per minute; the average person writes 35 words per minute.  Summarization is necessary to take complete notes. 

Try eliminating complete sentences.  Write only the words and phrases that convey meaning.  Most of the time, one can capture the meaning of a professor’s statement by writing down the key words. 

By using abbreviations, a note-taker can communicate meaning while saving the time it would normally take to write out the word.

Common Abbreviations

e.g.For example
i.e.That is Therefore

Note-Taking Formats

You should also develop your own abbreviations and symbols for words, phrases, and concepts used frequently in the subjects you are studying.

Outline Format
This is the most common form of note taking.  It consists of a series of indentations.  The less important the idea, the further it should be indented. 

Cornell Method
This method works well if you plan on studying from your notes.  The Cornell method asks the note-taker to divide their notes into two sections: a section for the notes themselves, and a section for later recalling the main points.  During class one would take notes on the designated side of the paper; then after class, the note taker would go home and read through their notes, writing the important points in the recall section to use for later review/study.

Mind Mapping
This method works well if the note-taker is a visual learner.  It calls for the student to make small charts of what the professor discusses.  Often one can connect two points by merely writing down key words and drawing an arrow between them.  There is no set way to make these charts, but once a student becomes comfortable with their own mind maps, note taking will become easier and more efficient.

When To Take Notes

In your classes
Whether you’re in a lecture or discussion class, effective note taking helps you relate to the material presented and provides you with a written record for future study. 

While reading
Taking notes while reading helps focus the mind on the task at hand, and it promotes active learning, helping you understand and integrate the material you are reading. 

Studying for a test
By taking notes on the material you are studying, or even by rewriting your notes, you can retain more of the course material, enabling you to perform better on tests and quizzes. 

Writing a research paper
Taking notes during both the research and writing process will not only aid you in the writing process, but it may also help you focus your topic and write a more concise paper.

Note-Taking Consultation

Students may schedule individual appointments with the Learning Specialist in the CTL to discuss effective note-taking skills.  During these sessions, students can talk about specific problems they have had with note-taking.  Together with the CTL Learning Specialist, they can explore learning styles and find the best way for the student to take effective notes.  The Learning Specialist can also help the student develop strategies to retain more information from lectures and discussions and to focus more during class.  Please feel free to contact Cindy Utama, CTL Learning Specialist, at phone 920-832-7206 or email

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