As your instructor speaks, you need to figure out what’s important and what isn’t in a very short timeframe. Studies have shown that students who take notes do significantly better on exams, even if they don’t review.

It takes practice writing useful notes in class, but there are a few steps you can follow to take notes well.

How to Organize

  • Read the course syllabus for the day so you know generally what the lecture will be about
  • Write the course name, the day’s topic and the date and number your pages
  • Listen for the main idea, topic or rule
  • Listen for supporting information, such as examples or explanations to give a clearer understanding of the topic
  • Check the lecture against the course readings. Is your instructor reviewing the textbook or are the ideas completely new to you? If the lecture is largely based on the textbook or other readings, try to read ahead so you’ll be able to add to the notes you’ve already written. If the information in class is not covered in the readings, you’ll want to take fuller notes.
  • Develop a way of organizing your notes. One suggestion is to include the main topic; take brief notes related to ideas, statements and conclusions on that topic; and fill in any details that support the topic, such as examples and explanations.
  • Don’t write notes about something you already know unless new information is included.
  • Re-read your notes at the end of the class and fill in any additional information that you recall. The sooner the better, as your memory will fade in less than 24 hours.
  • Design shorthand. This means using shortened words or symbols for common words. For example, using ‘~4′ could mean ‘around 4′ or ‘*’ could mean ‘ing’.
  • Attach handouts to your lecture notes. This will give context or meaning to what you’ve written.

Symbols for note-taking

& and
= equals/is equal to/is the same as
≠ is not equal to/is not the same as
∴ therefore, thus, so, because
+ and, more, plus
> more than, greater than
< less than
— less, minus
→ gives, causes, leads to, results in,
is given by, is produced by, results from
! surprising fact

And you can always ask for clarification from your instructor if you miss a concept or don’t understand something you wrote down.

Last updated December 17, 2015