How To Take Some Killer Notes in Class

As you might have noticed, taking good notes can make or break your semester. I’m not saying this to stress you out. I’ll telling you this because last year I completely ignored how important good notes were to my ability to study them later. This made finals week hard. With September having just come to an end, you still have time to get your study schedule back on track if you’ve lost your way. 

Below I’ve got some killer tips to help you write amazing notes during your lectures.

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LESSON NUMBER

ONE – grab a pen and paper

If you don’t like writing with pens, you can pick up a pencil but writing your notes by hand is a must. I get that this method won’t be for everyone, but after spending a year taking notes on a computer and then spending September taking notes by hand I can confirm that writing my notes by hand in class has changed my life. Despite studies showing that students who take notes by hand retain more information than students who type them, I stubbornly spent all of my first year typing notes during lectures. I just didn’t see how I was supposed to get all the information being thrown my way if I didn’t type it out.

This brings me to my second point quite nicely.

TWO – don’t transcribe the lecture

Just don’t do it. When I was typing my notes, I spent the first month trying to get everything the professor was saying. After all, I was paying to have this person talk at my for an hour so I treated everything they said as gold. That’s just not true.

Not everything your professor says will end up on the exam. While I may have gotten everything they said and everything on the slide in my notes, I wasn’t retaining the information because I was just transcribing everything that was being said instead of writing down the important points.

Now I know during lecture it’s hard to figure out what the important points are, but that doesn’t mean the professor doesn’t give hints. Try to watch their body language or see what parts of the slide they expand upon. Write that down, maybe with a little reference to the slide so you can go back and check later.

THREE – let yourself take it all in

Active listening is something I’m working on this year, not just in my classes but in my everyday life as well. What do I mean by active listening? Well, I mean pay attention to what’s being said in class. I know that in the rush to get information on a page it can be easy to just write things down as you hear them and then think about the lecture later, but does that ever really work?

For me, taking a few second pause between what the professor is saying and writing it down is so important. It gives me a bit of time to see if they’re about to expand in a way that’ll be helpful to my notes overall and it means I can write the notes in my own words. Sure, what the professor said might sound smart but if I can’t immediately understand what it means is it actually helpful?

FOUR – use your own voice

Like I said before, writing the notes in your own words is so important. I find that whenever I just copy exactly what the professor said I don’t actually remember what I’m trying to get at and then I have to spend some time trying to figure out my wording instead of just reviewing the information. The easiest way to solve this is just writing your notes in your own voice right away. Your notes are being taken for you, not anybody else.

FIVE – use shorthand

Do you know how many times I have to write the word ‘development’ in my International Development class? If you guessed every other word, you wouldn’t be wrong. Writing the same thing down constantly really slows down how much I’m able to write at any given time so I’ve developed a shorthand. I’ll write dev. instead of development and you can bet I never write the words ‘and’, or ‘with’ without shortening it to one letter.

The most important thing here is that you find a short hand and stick to it. Don’t write the word development like ‘dev’, ‘develop’, or ‘dvlpmt’ interchangeably in your notes. After experimenting a bit, find a shorthand and stick with it.

SIX – don’t worry about appearance (yet)
my international development notes straight from class
my international development notes straight from class

I love beautiful notes. The studyblr section of the internet is a gift and if you haven’t already checked it out, I recommend doing so immediately. But writing beautiful notes doesn’t find it’s place in the lecture. Beautiful notes come afterwards, when you’re studying.

My lecture notes are horrendous. I’m actually a little embarrassed to share what they look like because they’re not my best work. Depending on what material is being presented, my page can be nicely spaced out or be one big mess of a mind map and that’s okay. I’m not going to be using these notes to study from later on. What’s important is I got down the information in a way that made sense at the time.

In class is not the time to colour-code or highlight. Use your pen to underline or box important terms so that you can remember to put emphasis on them later. What’s most important is that you’re writing efficiently and clearly.

my art history notes before rewriting
my art history notes before rewriting

(I don’t know why these are on their side. It’s right side up when I go to edit the post…)

SEVEN – remember the exam


If you’re taking a class, chances are pretty high that you’ll have a test at the end of it all. It’s a good idea to remember the exam at the end of it all and to write your notes accordingly. I have a professor who’ll mention a few things every class that’ll either be on the test, or excluded. While these never make it into the final draft of my notes, I make sure to write these tips down. This is insider information and you should use it!
Just the other day my professor said that a good five pages of the textbook wouldn’t be on an upcoming test because they weren’t relevant. Instead of adding those pages to the final draft of my notes, I was able to spend my time focusing on something else that would be relevant to my exam.

EIGHT – write down questions as you have them


Do you ever get to the end of a lecture and realize that you had questions you forgot to ask? I know I do all the time and I’ll flip through my notes trying to remember what it was, but that never seems to help. I’ve started writing questions down into my notes as I have them and marking them off in some way to make them stand out so I know what topics I want to review or get more help with.

NINE – rewrite your notes
the same international development notes
the same international development notes

All of my tips have been leading up to one thing: rewriting your notes. I’ll be the first to admit that the task seems daunting. I just spend so much time in class writing my notes, why do I have to now spend time re-writing them?

I use rewriting notes as a form of studying. I don’t just go over what was written word for word and add some colour. Before rewriting my notes, everything’s spread out. I have my lecture notes, I have lecture slides, and I have notes from my textbook. I like to use this method of taking notes from my textbook. After collecting the different notes, I just kind of combine them in a way that I like. I’d say on average it takes me about an hour and a half to rewrite my notes. It takes so long because I like to make them pretty. I’m not very artistic, so they’re pretty simple, but I like to add little drawings that relate to the notes to make some things stand out more.

For me, I found rereading sections of my notes from class and trying to match them with the sticky notes I

a little bit prettier for art history
a little bit prettier for art history

have from the textbook helps me retain the information so I use rewriting my notes as a serious study method. Plus, when I combine everything in a logical way when I go back to look at my notes, everything makes sense (hopefully).

 

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Do you have any tips and tricks for writing better notes in class? Leave them in the comments below!

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2 Comments

    1. That’s an awesome tip! I’m so impressed that you’re a math major. I do something similar with Arabic! It’s a total mess but the more I just rewrite the alphabet and the more I rewrite words the better sense it all makes!

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