A thorough, thoughtfully organized set of lecture notes can be one of students’ best study tools! However, many students find it difficult to create the type of notes that will prove the most effective for them come study time. They may not write enough down—or, they may be attempting to write so much down that they inadvertently miss important points that you, the instructor, are making.

In our Fall 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked college students: “What are the qualities of a good note-taker?” Among their answers, we noted many themes. Review what they had to say below, and share their advice with your students!

Top note-taking skills—as recommended by college students

Put the right tools in your backpack.
It should go without saying, but in order to take good notes, you’ll need to bring your note-taking tools to class! Whether you prefer to write your notes long-hand, or you use a tablet or laptop, check to be sure you have everything you need before heading to class. To take this a step further, have your “laptop charger, extra pens/paper,” and other backup tools at the ready.

While you’re stuffing your bag for school, don’t forget to bring highlighters. As one student wrote, “Different highlighters or colored pens can help one to better understand their own notes.”

Practice active listening.
The “attentive, active listener” who “remains alert in class” will get the most benefit from that class session. Give your “undivided attention to the speaker,” and don’t allow yourself to become “distracted by phones or electronics.” One of our responding students put it this way: “Good note-takers use good listening skills to pick out the important information that will help them when they go back to review.”

Write neatly!
Though you have to write quickly, remember to write legibly. (How can you review what you can’t read?) “Clear handwriting” will produce the “neat,” “legible” notes that you can use later as a study tool.

Organize your thoughts carefully.
Keep organized notes, and your studies will benefit! As one student recommended, “Make sure the notes are organized in a way that you will find them easy to read as well.”

What are good organizational strategies? One student listed the basic elements of a successfully organized set of notes as: “Heading sections and organization. Dates and titles. The who, what, where and when.” Other students recommended the Cornell method: “This means not only taking notes from the lecture but actually going back and coming up with questions, highlighting key words, and addressing things you don’t understand.”

If your instructor presents a lecture outline at the start of class, or if he or she provides the slides from the lecture, you can use those as an organizational framework as well. Whichever system you choose to use, follow it consistently.

Stay concise.
Many students wrote about the importance of being thorough and paying attention to detail. Of course, you don’t want to end class with a nearly blank sheet of paper! However, you also don’t want to be so caught up in the act of taking notes that you lose track of what the instructor is saying.

Instead: “Get the important points down without writing/typing every word.” Write in “short but concise phrases” that contain “important points that the professor emphasizes.”

Want to ensure that you’re capturing everything of importance? Several students suggested that you “record the lecture for review”; however, you may need to obtain the instructor’s permission before doing so. If you’re able to do this, then take time after class to “fill in your notes with information you might have missed during the lecture.”

As one student wrote, “A good note taker can quickly summarize important points for easy retrieval later.” If you’re able to put your instructor’s thoughts into your own words, that also indicates that you’re developing an understanding of the material.

Be efficient.
Spend your note-taking time wisely! “Use abbreviation to increase your note-taking speed and comprehension later.” You might also “draw pictures and diagrams” that illustrate the concepts the instructor addressed.


In your opinion, what are the most essential note-taking skills? Add them to the list by submitting a comment below.