When you’re a student, you may feel as though you’re constantly taking notes: during lectures, during study sessions, when you’re researching in the library. . .  any time you want to capture or recall information, you may find yourself jotting things down into a notebook or typing on your computer.

Indeed, note-taking is an incredibly important study skill, and if students know how to read and take notes with a critical eye, their study time will be that much more effective. In his book Plugged In: Succeeding as an Online Learner, Dr. Joel A. English describes steps involved in critical note-taking. Once students adopt more of these skills, they’ll see how taking notes can not only help them remember what they’ve read, but also facilitate the process of thinking deeply and more critically as they proceed through the material. They may also find that their diligent and thoughtful note-taking habits become the key to their success on examinations, papers, and other assignments.

Tips for critical note taking


  • While you read, make notes and observations about who the author is, what the author is communicating, and the audience to whom the author is addressing his or her material. If you own the book (or you’ve printed out an article), mark it up! It will become your personal study aid. If you don’t own the book, be sure to make thorough and thoughtful notes in a reading journal.


  • Different kinds of marks (or markers) can help you indicate the types of information you want to call out and remember. English recommends adopting a consistent system, such as the following:
      • Highlight or underline the words and sentences that represent the central or key points of the piece
      • Circle the words or phrases that indicate the author’s perspective, position, bias, or motivation for writing.
      • Place brackets around those ideas that point to the author’s intended audience or the specific language the author used in an effort to persuade that particular audience to adopt his or her position.


  • As you proceed through the material, write down your thoughts and reactions. (You can do this in the margins or in your reading journal.) In addition to helping yourself remember important details and process your own thoughts on the author’s points,  you will also call attention to the themes and ideas you want to revisit or review for your exams or other assignments. (English, 147-148; 151)


Reference: English, Joel A. 2014. Plugged In: Succeeding as an Online Learner.  Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.



What are your note-taking tips? How do you believe notes can help lead students to success in a course? Share your suggestions and strategies in the comments.