Reading and writing

Effective note taking

Taking notes when reading a text or listening in class is an important part of the learning process. The act of taking notes will help you to process what you are reading or being told, improve your attention span, and stimulate your ability to recall. At a later date the notes should help you in writing an assignment, or revising for exams.

How to write good notes
There is no right or wrong way of taking notes. Different note-taking techniques will suit different individuals. It is a good idea to spend some time experimenting with the ideas in this guide to see what suits you best.

General note-taking tips

  • Be prepared! Before a class, or before reading an article think about what you already know. You only need to write notes to remind you about new concepts.
  • Do not re-write any information that you already have on a hand-out. If there is room write any additional notes directly onto the hand-out.
  • Keep notes short.
  • Be consistent. Use your own form of shorthand, but make sure you can remember what it means!
  • Never use a sentence where you can use a phrase. Never use a phrase where you can use a word.

Taking notes in lessons

Taking too many notes in a lesson can distract you from what is being said. Try reduce the number of notes you need to take by reviewing what you know before a lesson. At the start of the lesson check if there is going to be a hand-out, or if notes will be available online.

Passive vs. active note-taking

Examples of taking passive notes include: writing down information word-for-word; reading a text and underlining or highlighting sections; cutting and pasting from online documents. Passive note-taking does little to improve your understanding. Instead you need to make your note-taking more active: this means processing the information and then taking down notes in your own words, using your preferred note-taking techniques.

Note-taking techniques

There are various established note-taking methods that you can use that may help to make your notes more useful in the long run. Some of the most popular are the Cornell Method, and Mind-mapping. The following website provides a good overview of some useful methods:

File your notes away sensibly

Shortly after making your initial notes, it is a good idea to go back and rework your notes, making sure that they are clear, and defining words or points that you are unsure about.  File your notes away carefully, so they will be easy to find again.  The best way to achieve lasting memory is to review your notes regularly.

Further reading

Study Skills