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TXGU's College Note-Taking Tips

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When you officially hit the college classroom, the professors are going to be throwing a whole lot of knowledge at you on a daily basis. So you’ll want to make sure you nail your note-taking style, because it’ll have a huge impact on your final grades. And knowing how to take great notes will also just make your college life way, way easier.

Conveniently, we’re sharing a few tips that might help inspire your note-taking imagination…

  • To take effective notes, you’ll first need to stay alert and active in class.
  • That does NOT mean you should just write down everything the professor says. Instead, you should only take down the most important and relevant points in class.
  • Keep in mind that your notes are the connection between what you read in your textbook and what the prof covers in class.
  • Research has proven that students retain more information when they write their notes out using longhand rather than typing notes on their laptop. But you should still investigate which option works best for you.

One of the most popular “official” note-taking techniques is the Cornell Note-Taking System (which also doubles as a study system). Here’s how it works:

  • Step 1 – Record
    • Prepare your notebook paper by creating two columns, with the left column taking up 1/3 of your paper and the right column taking up the rest of your writing space. Also draw a horizontal line across the bottom two inches of your paper.
    • If you’re using your laptop to type your notes, you can create a template in Microsoft Word or Excel with columns and the horizontal line. Just be sure you don’t save your notes onto your template. (Protip: Use the “Save As” feature.)
    • During the lecture, use the larger column to take notes on the info—with brief sentences, abbreviations, and symbols.
    • Number, indent, or bullet key ideas presented and indicate new topics with headings or by leaving space between topics.
  • Step 2 – Questions
    • As soon as possible after class, formulate questions or cue words based on the notes in the right-hand column. Write the questions in the left-hand column.
    • Your questions should help clarify meanings, establish relationships, and focus on specific definitions and “big ideas.”
  • Step 3 – Recite
    • Cover the notes in the right-hand column with a sheet of paper or by folding your paper over along the line separating the columns.
    • Use the questions or cue words you developed in Step 2 and recite (aloud and in your own words) the answers to the questions or the meanings/facts/ideas indicated by the cue words.
    • Check your answers so you get immediate feedback.
  • Step 4 – Reflect
    • Think about what you’re learning by looking for connections with your own experience, observations of the world outside your classroom, and with other topics discussed in class.
    • Some possible reflection questions you can ask yourself: How do these ideas fit with what I’ve already learned? What’s the significance of these topics? How do I apply them? What do I agree/disagree with? What new questions do I have?
  • Step 5 – Recapitulate (a.k.a. Summarize)
    • Using your own words, write a summary at the bottom of each page of notes that reflects the main ideas. (You can also do this at the very end of your notes for the day and/or the week.)
  • Step 6 – Review
    • Spend a set amount of time daily—or several times during the week—reviewing, which leads to way more actual comprehension than last-minute cramming.

The Cornell System may be perfect for you—or you may operate best with a completely different approach. What’s most important is finding a technique that’s totally in synch with your study style (and how your brain works). And keep in mind that your college success coach, advisor, or the campus tutoring/learning labs can also offer up more assistance on strategies for note-taking. So definitely don’t be shy about asking the resident experts!