NT101: Introduction to Note-Taking

By now, we have all realized that college is nothing like high school. Your professors will not be chasing you to take proper notes or to take notes at all for that matter. It can be really complicated to exactly reflect your professor’s lecture on paper, so here are a few tips to help you stay organized.

All professors are different, so you will be dealing with many different teaching styles that range from PowerPoint-led to your professor just talking about the material. To take the best notes, nail down what works best for that class’s specific style. If the lecture is PowerPoint-led, check if your professor uploads their PowerPoint lectures to eCampus.

If they do: do not worry about copying down word by word from the PowerPoint; INSTEAD, focus on the words that are coming out of your professor’s mouth. As they teach the lesson, they tend to add extra information that is fair game during assignments, quizzes and exams.

If they do not: take photos of the slides, so you can refer to them and copy them down at your own pace. This is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to take notes regardless of the teaching style because many professors do not like to be interrupted to return to slides they have already covered. Just like the previous point, this will allow you to focus on the professor’s lecture and not the PowerPoint itself. 

Professors usually announce important information you should definitely consider writing down through the terms: “the following,” “most importantly,” “in conclusion,” “in addition,” “on the other hand,” “this means,” or “instead.” The following list of items are the top categories that will follow the announcing words:

  • Dates
  • Names (objects, people, places)
  • Theories/Frameworks
  • Definitions/Vocabulary
  • Arguments & Debates
  • Your own questions! 

Once you have figured out your professor’s teaching method, it’s time to figure out your note-taking style. There are infinitely many ways to take notes. It can be as colorful or colorless as you like. It can be all in one column or two columns (like textbooks). It can have drawings and diagrams or not. It will be personalized to what suits you. There are many types of note-taking styles you can follow to stay organized.

  1. Outlining Method: this method is for students who best follow information when bullet-pointed.

  2. Mind-Mapping Method: this method is for students who are visual learners and like quick overviews of their studies. 

  1. Charting Method: this method is for students who like to categorize and chart their information for easier following.

  1. Cornell Notes: this is a method I was introduced to during my AP English classes. A lot of people enjoyed this method because it divides the page into three categories: notes, cues and summary. 

 

  1. Color Coding System: color-coding your highlights makes it easier for you to understand and organize the information that is being provided by the text. Plus, it makes note-taking much easier. One of the first things you will have to do is create a key for your highlighters. Having a set color for each part of your notes allows you to have a better understanding of your own notes and is great for directing you through them afterward.

Examples:

  • Green = Terms

  • Orange = Topic

  • Blue = Subtopic

  • Purple = Title

  • Yellow = Dates/Names

  • Pink = Important Info.

Having said that, do not feel pressured to stick to only one style–I surely don’t! Regardless of the method you choose, make sure to follow the next note-taking components to stay organized and have a much easier time when reviewing your notes.

Headers

Just like in textbooks and powerpoints, you want to make sure to make your titles and headers and very evident. You can do this by writing in a slightly bigger letter size, writing in a different color, or both. The most important tip to follow is to make sure you leave space in between your different sections so you know when one starts and the other ends. 

Abbreviations

Your notes and yours and yours only; most of the time no one will see them, so you can write however you want. This will especially come in handy during the second half of the semester, as it is when professors start realizing they are running out of time and have to cram the semester-worth of content in the last few lectures. Since you do not want to miss anything important, abbreviate common words, as such:

  • Ex. = Example

  • Imp. = Important

  • Info. = Information

  • w/ = With

  • w/o = Without

  • Pg. = Page

  • Govt. = Government

  • b/c = Because

I know it can be easily overwhelming as you will encounter so many different teaching styles, but don't worry, once you start writing, you will get the hang of it.

Best of luck!

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Edited by Sydney Keener