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8 ways to improve your note taking

8 ways to improve your note taking

4 min read
  • Study skills & exam prep
  • The science of learning

Do students know how to take good notes in class? Plenty of people make too many mistakes and remember less of the information as a result.

So, here is how to improve your note taking…

1. Write stuff down

This is probably the most obvious but also most useful piece of advice when it comes to note taking. Everyone will have a moment where they hear a piece of information, assume they will remember it and not write it down. But the notes you make during the year are typically for final tests and exams months later – you will not recall something you heard in October when your exam comes around in May. A weak note is better than a strong memory. Make sure you write things down, even if you don’t think you need to (you do).

2. Pen and paper is better than your laptop

As terrifying a prospect it may be for the modern student, research indicates that there is an advantage to taking notes with pen and paper rather than a laptop. A psychological study found that students who were required to make written notes during 5 TED talks performed better on a content memory test than their counterparts who made notes with a computer.

A common argument against the pen and paper method is that it’s not possible to write as much compared to when you are typing. However, this is where the advantage lies. Instead of trying to type the lecture verbatim, you must be more selective and choose what to write down. Paraphrasing and concept mapping in this way improves your memory. Having to summarise activates your brain’s learning process more, meaning that you are likely to recall more of your notes when you are tested.

3. Be selective

Scribbling furiously to be certain you have written down every single word that leaves your teacher’s mouth has a similar effect to using a laptop – you take in less information. Selecting the important information improves your memory of the material, as you must engage more with the information in order to prioritise. Think about the overall learning objectives of your lecture or class and discern which concepts and specific examples are most relevant to the topic – then write these down.

4. Simplify

One of the challenges in a lecture is keeping up with the speaker and not missing information. One tip for working quickly is using abbreviations and symbols that you will remember (e.g + or & for ‘and’; = for ‘equals’) to replace longer words or phrases. This will reduce the time you spend writing out long words or thinking about spelling and give you more time to write down the important content.

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5. Make it personal

Research has shown that the more emotionally powerful a memory is, the more likely it is to be stored in long term memory. Vivid memories from your childhood tend to be related to a strong feeling, positive or negative, while the mundane moments have been forgotten. If your lecturer mentions a phrase, example or case study that reminds you of something important to you (e.g. a memory, film or song) then jot this down next to it. This may link that topic with a stronger, more emotional association and make it easier to recall.

6. Get organised

Notes without clear headings, legible handwriting and basic organisation are very hard to learn from, as it is difficult to understand the information and link it to the rest of the topic. Make sure to have a clear structure to your notes. A bonus tip for staying organised with your notes is storing them in neat and accessible way, so a particular lecture’s notes are easy to find.

7. End with an action

At the end of each lecture, write at the bottom of your notes what you need to do following this class to consolidate the information you have just learned. This may be doing extra reading, creating flashcards, having a friend test you or emailing your lecturer with some follow-up questions.

8. Get More sleep

Getting more sleep improves your concentration, memory and decision-making and makes you more positive and creative. All of these benefits will result in better note taking. You will be more alert in your classes, better able to make connections within the material and better at selecting which parts of the information are most relevant. There are many ways to get more and better sleep, so that you can learn more effectively during the day and do better note taking.

9 ways to improve your note taking

Final thought

Good note taking is about more than merely writing down the information you are presented with. You need to be able to select the important information and write it down in an efficient and organised way. By using these tips you will transform your note taking to make notes that are simpler, clearer and more memorable – and do better as a result.

For even more information on how to master study skills, we have a page all about The Best Ways to Revise. Here you can find loads more tips, links and research to help you succeed.