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How to effectively take notes During a Lecture or Studying a Text Book

By Evans, April 04, 2020


Note-taking is a crucial skill for students as most of the learning takes place in a class where you are required to take notes. Taking notes is crucial for two main reasons.

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It allows you to understand and learn the presented material thus making it easier for you to recall information that would otherwise be lost.


Taking good notes help you to keep a permanent record of key information that you can use in your own writing and for exam revision. Good notes help one to easily prepare for exams by providing summarized, main points of your entire class in such a way that one can easily read and retain a lot of information within the shortest time possible.

If your notes are unorganized, messy and unclear at first glance, it may not be useful to you. However, taking good notes is not as easy as it sounds. It is more of summarizing core concept in your own words rather than jotting down everything that the professor says. So, how do you take good notes that can help you to easily understand and learn the presented material in class and at the same time make it easier for you to revise and recall information?

This guide will help you understand the different note-taking methods and how to use them to make good study notes from a lecture or textbook.

What are the necessary note-taking skills to take good notes during a lecture or while studying/reading?

Writing good notes is more of a skill that can be mastered with time. For you to become a good note taker, you should have the following skills


Listening while taking notes will help you get the most out of lectures. It is not a good practice to write everything down to the extent that you miss what the lecture is saying. Therefore, remain active all the time listening at what the tutor is saying, think, and write only what is important.

Analytical skills

Note-taking is not simply copying everything that the tutor is lecturing or everything written in the material you are studying. You should be able to collect and internalize the information you read or presented during a lecture and pick only those important point that will you need to understand and remember.

Adequate preparation

Preparation before attending a lecture or studying help you to have the necessary background knowledge to be an effective listener and note-taker. It is a good practice to read the outline of the material you are going to read even before you attend a lecture or begin studying. This way, you will be in a position to know what is important to include in your notes and what not to include.

Effective note-taking methods or systems?

The key to taking good notes is choosing a good note-taking method that you can use for taking notes while studying or during a lecture. It is important to carefully review the course outline or consult the professor and previous students regarding the course expectation even before choosing an approach to adopt. Each course and discipline tend to have the best approach to taking notes. You should also consider the type of assessment that will be used by the professor (multiple choice, essay or short answer), what the course focuses on (conceptual understanding, facts, and details or problem-solving) and finally if you will be tested primarily from the textbook or lectures.

5 Note-taking methods you can use to Create Good Notes

1. The Outline Note-taking method

The Outline method is the best and most commonly used method used by college and high-school students to take notes. As the outcome suggests, the outline method requires to organize your notes in the form of the outline by using bullet points to represent the main topics and sub-topics. This method lets you organize your notes in a structured form thus making it easier for you to review and edit whenever necessary. This method works best when the lecture or study text follows a relatively clear structure. Begin by writing the main point on the far left and add related sub-topic in bullet points below by using indents. It is important to note that this method might not be suitable for taking notes in a course that focus on problem-solving with formulas and charts such as Math and physics.

2. The Cornell Method

The Cornell note-taking system was devised by Prof. Walter Pauk of Cornell University in the 1950s for taking, organizing and reviewing notes. This note-taking system is ideal for taking notes in class because it requires little preparation. Before you begin, divide the page where you will write the notes into 4 (Sometimes 3) sections. Two columns, having one area at the bottom of the page, and one smaller area at the top of the page as shown in the image below. The main body is divided into two columns (30% of the width for the left column while 70% for the right which is the main area is where the actual notes from the lecture go into. On the left-side column, add questions that the notes can answer when reviewing the lecture slides, keywords, or comments that can help you easily remember the key concept when reviewing thus making the exam preparation process easier. The section below is used when revising or reviewing the notes to write a brief summary of every page.

3. The Mapping method

The mapping note-taking method/system works best when the content you are learning is intense. The mapping system requires you to write and organize notes into branches making it easier for you to establish the relationships between the different concepts you are learning. Begin the note-taking process by writing the main concept or topic at the top of the map and begin dividing the subtopics on the right or left as you delve more into the notes. The mapping note-taking system is visually appealing and can be used for writing detailed information in a brief and concise form for easy reviewing, reading and retaining information.

4. The Charting Method

The charting note-taking system is ideal when taking notes that involve a lot of information in-form of statistics and facts that need one to learn by heart and recall. Organize the notes in several columns with each column having a unique category that makes the rows to be easily comparable. This note-taking method is best when revising for exams or summarizing whole lectures as it helps in grouping related content and statistics together. However, this method is not effective when taking lecture notes as it takes more time.

5. The boxing note-taking method

This is a relatively new note-taking system that is becoming more and more popular. Group each section of your study notes together and put a box around it. To use the boxing method, divide the page you want to write the notes into two columns each with a heading. Draw boxes around each similar concepts to make it easier for you to identify and group your notes for easy reading. This helps as it cuts down the time required to review and revise your notes.

How to make good notes during a lecture

Taking great lecture notes is important as it helps you to keep information in a neat and organized format for a long time. Good lecture notes also come in handy when revising or reviewing notes before taking an exam, writing an essay or answering quizzes. The key to taking good notes depends on what you do before the lecture, during and after the lecture.

The best writing system when taking lecture notes is the Cornell writing method discussed earlier. For this section, I will explain how to take good notes during a lecture using the Cornell note-taking system (Note, you can choose any other note-taking system that is suitable for you depending on what your lecture is all about)

Before the lecture…

It is important to be prepared before the lecture as it will enable you to have good background knowledge on what is going to be discussed and make you an effective listener which is important for you to take good notes. Begin by checking out the course outline to find the specifics of the lecture and do any pre-reading required. You are also required to check lecture slides and review notes from previous lectures before going to the lecture room.

One other important thing is to set up the notebook, document or the devices you will use for note-taking. You can use a notebook or a note-taking app when taking notes from a textbook. Prepare your notebook in Cornell format by dividing the page into for section. The title page on top, a large section for taking notes on the right side of the page, and a cue/question section on the right and finally the summary part for writing your summary.

Go to the lecture room on time and seat in the most suitable position (I recommend near the front) where you can hear and see clearly so that you can take good notes.

During the Lecture…

Once the lecturer has arrived you can employ the following strategies to help you take notes effectively.

Concentrate and pay attention throughout the lecture

Ensure that you arrive in the lecture room well prepared to listen, learn and think critically. Pay attention throughout the lecture by actively listening to the lecture notes, contributing to and analyzing the information you receive so as to understand everything that is being taught.

Write only the important Concept

Do not try to write down everything that the lecturer says. Instead, be selective and choose only the relevant information. This can be achieved by listening carefully, recognizing the key concept before jotting down only the relevant information.

So, what is important and what is not?

It is crucial to only take down the main points, elaborations, and examples instead of jotting down everything that is said. To do so, listen for;

Remarks that the lecturer provides during the introduction.This is useful for you to get the key themes and ideas that will be discussed during the lecture.

Verbal signposts: These cues will tell you when the lecturer is about to say something important. You can know these signposts by listening to important phrases like

The main point…..

There are three advantages…..

Some of the main aspects……..

To summarize………

Repetition:Key points tend to be repeated throughout the lecture

Final remarks: The final remarks of any lecture tend to have a summary of the whole topic with the key ideas and main topics of the lecture.

Non-verbal cues: Also check for none verbal cues such as body language, visuals, names, note, and note references

After the lecture

To absorb most of the information that you have learned during a lecture. It is important that you review and re-engage actively with them several times.

The good thing with Cornell note-taking system is that it provides you with a room to summarize the notes (Below the main points section) and ask a few questions on the middle right section. Make the most of your notebook by reviewing the notes while the lecture is still fresh on your mind. This will help you to remember what is said, identify gaps and build up your understanding.

The following tips will help you effectively review your notes:

Read through the notes to make sure they are clear and legible. Clean the notes while reading through by fixing spelling errors, underline important points and expand on abbreviations.

Provide the missing information or words and add another important point that you may have left out during the lecture.

Use color, symbols and underlining to structure, emphasize or highlight major points.

Explain and clarify diagrams, abbreviations, and diagrams by writing a simple version of their meanings.

Write a summary of the notes below the main notes in the summary section if you are using the Cornell note taking system.

How to effectively take notes from the textbook while reading

When taking notes from the textbook the best technique you can use is either the Cornell note-taking technique or the outline note-taking method. Cornell note-taking method is useful for studying and taking notes from a textbook.

The following 6 techniques will help you take notes from a textbook in the right way.

Skim the subtopics of the textbook chapter you want to read

The first step to effectively taking textbook notes is to peruse the chapter title, section titles, and headings in the chapter you want to read. You should also check diagrams, captions, and text that is highlighted, capitalized, bolded or even highlighted. This is important as it will help you to get the main idea being discussed in the chapter.

Prepare the notebook or writing material using the Cornell notes format

You can use a notebook or a note-taking app when taking notes from a textbook. Prepare your notebook in Cornell format by dividing the page into for section. The title page on top, a large section for taking notes on the right side of the page, and a cue/question section on the right and finally the summary part for writing your summary.

Write down the textbook chapters and sections in the Main section of the page

Begin by writing the main chapter title, the date, and the page no of the notes on top.

On the notes section, write the section titles leaving enough spaces in between. You will use these spaces to write notes that you will read and collect from the sections you are reading.

Begin reading each section

Begin reading the entire section and take down the key information. Remember, do not copy everything you read. Take into account the key information such as the definitions, important events, dates, and people. Whenever possible try to use a bulleted form to ensure that the notes you take are only the key relevant information. The bulleted form will also help you to easily read and grasp the information when reviewing or revising the notes.

Also include diagrams, shapes, and graphs within the notes to help you remember the information.

Write questions on the Cue section of the Cornell page

Once you are done writing the notes from a section, go to the cue section and write down a few questions that can be answered by the notes you have written. It is important to add the questions while making the study notes so that they can help you when reviewing and studying the notes later.

Read the notes again and highlight key information

Read the notes and highlight the areas that you feel are important. You can also add notes that you might have missed while writing the notes.

Make Chapter or Section summary

Once you are through with writing the notes, write a summary of each page of your notes. Also, remember to write a summary of the entire chapter using our own words in order to test if you have understood the whole chapter.

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