Taking good notes throughout the semester may mean the difference between simple study sessions or decoding sessions later on. Your time is too valuable for you to just sit in class, day after day, only going through the motions of taking notes.

Only writing down what’s on the board won’t cut it. Scribbling incoherently won’t help you either. Try these tips for taking neat class notes that will be of use to you later on for studying and review.

Stay focused in class

Sometimes, the reason we take minimal notes is because we’re just not engaged with the lesson. From the CengageBrain blog, author Ginny Gaylor explains in her post “How to pay attention in class—tips for college students” that there are some additional steps you can take to help you stay focused in class. This will, in turn, help prepare you to take good notes for studying later.

  1. Practice active listening. This is when you are not only hearing the words being said, but you are processing them and will be able to remember them.
  2. Take notes. Writing down the highlights of what is being said will not only help you be an active listener, but should you forget something, it gives you a record for later.
  3. Sit up front. You don’t have to sit in the front row, but being near the front means the professor is more likely to see you and know your name. And this kind of attention may keep you from zoning out or, worse, falling asleep.
  4. Sit in the same seat. This may help trigger your memory, but don’t sit in the same seat for different classes or you may confuse something you learned in Math with something from Spanish!
  5. Participate in class. If you ask a question in class, you want it to be a good one, which means you have to pay attention. Voila!

Take effective notes

Once you’re focused, step two is taking notes that will actually be of good use to you later on. No scribbles,

  1. Get organized. Get a notebook for each class and don’t stash them somewhere you’ll forget them. If you’re a laptop note taker, make a separate folder on your desktop for each class. Put a date, chapter, and title on every page of notes. This will save you time when you’re skimming back through what you’ve written.
  2. Give yourself space. When using a regular old notebook, try skipping lines in your notes and to give yourself room to add additional information later on.
  3. Choose your writing strategy. You may find that it can be helpful to write your notes in your own words, rather than exactly what your instructor says. You can also try sticking to short summarized sentences — NOT scribble and nonsense though.
  4. Take note of what you miss. Think you missed something important? Maybe you zoned out or couldn’t hear, but don’t worry. Just jot down what you did hear and then make a note to ask a classmate or the instructor what you might have missed.
  5. Build a glossary. Make your own system for identifying elements you need to look up later. Highlight words that you need to look up or research more.

Follow these steps and you’ll be set for lower-stress study sessions when midterms and finals come around.

What challenges do you face when keeping your notes organized and effective? Share your thoughts below.