Taking class notes is a must in college courses, and finding the right system can help you remember the material and do well on exams.
Your classes in high school might have focused on a textbook or two, but in college the professor’s lectures or class discussions often make up the bulk of the important information.
No matter what your class size or structure, taking notes in class is the best way to recall the material when you need it later on in the year.
Follow these 5 tips for taking effective class notes:
1) Date and title your notes for each class.
When you first get to class, start taking your notes with the day’s date and a title that summarizes the material to be covered.
Professors will often provide their own titles for each class either on the syllabus or at the beginning of the class session, especially in lecture courses. Having a title while taking class notes will help you keep the subject in mind and focus each point so that it applies to the title.
If a title is less obvious for your class, leave space for a title and make up your own after you’re done taking class notes. Including a date and title with your notes will help jog your memory later on when you’re reviewing for the test. It will also be easier to coordinate your class notes with friends in a study group.
2) Take notes in an outline.
Outlines are a great way to organize information and distinguish the main points from the supporting details. If you’re in a lecture class, your professor probably has already taken his or her notes in an outline!
Try doing the same and taking your class notes in an outline format. Listen for how the professor is organizing the lecture and try to copy it in your notes, using the big topic sentences as headlines for smaller sections.
Using an outline to organize your class notes not only looks neat on the page, but also helps you understand the sequence of the topics covered in class, and how all the points work together.
3) Create your own abbreviations.
Taking class notes takes a lot of concentration, and making your hand write so much can be a challenge! To make it easier, come up with your own system of abbreviations before you start taking notes.
Having a system of abbreviations allows you to write more calmly and legibly in class, while taking down more information in your notes at the same time.
An abbreviation can range from something common (“w/o” for “without”) to something more complex and specific to your needs (“ImpMo” for “Impressionist Movement”). Just make sure your abbreviations are ones that make sense to you and things you’ll remember when it’s time to review your class notes.
4) Underline key concepts.
Keeping track of important words or ideas while taking class notes is key to remembering them afterward. Indicate in your notes the points that your professor emphasizes. This essential information can be a definition of a term, a historic date, or anything your professor signals as especially important during class.
It’s also helpful to underline words your professor mentions that you have never heard before when you’re taking class notes. Highlight any topics that confuse you, so you’ll remember to look them up after the class.
5) Write in your own words.
It’s easy to write down the professor’s lecture word-for-word, but when it’s time for the test you might not remember anything about what you wrote down in class!
Taking notes in your own words forces you to think about the subject, process it, and understand it before you copy it all down. You’ll remember the material for much longer because you’re using more of your brain while taking notes.
Using your own words when you’re taking class notes requires a little more time at first, but it will save you a lot of studying time when college finals come around!