How to take notes

Note taking is a great skill to have because having good study notes is crucial for exam success. There is a lot you can do to improve your note taking skills so you don’t have to go scour the internet 2 days before the examination!

The right medium.

Do you write faster on a laptop or on paper? Do you have difficulty concentrating when sitting at the back of the room? If these matters are addressed properly they can have a positive effect on your note taking skills.

If you feel that you can’t keep up with the lecturer (and this may happen if you aren’t used to taking notes), it may help if you buy a voice recorder or just use your phone or laptop to record the lecture.

Key ideas

There is no way anyone can ever write everything the lecturer says. Jot down key ideas in big, clear writing, and then write more specific points underneath. This will help you organize your notes and make sense of it later. You can skip smaller words such as “the” or “in”- anything that’ll take up your writing time without adding any value to your notes. It will also help tremendously if you assign abbreviations to large words that are used often in the lecture.

Using these tips, you should be able to shrink a sentence such as this:

“Geosequestration is one of the many ways to control our carbon dioxide emissions”

To this:

“GS- a way to control CO2 levels”

You can shorten ideas as much as you like, just make sure your notes make sense and that you’re not taking any information away by shortening your notes.


Examples to support your main idea are extremely important. You may have difficulty understanding a topic 2 months after the lecture unless you see it being applied on paper. Where applicable, try to give an example based on what the lecturer is talking about. Quick diagrams are good where possible- for example, if you’re studying organic chemistry, molecular diagrams are a must!

Summarize and edit your notes afterwards.

While you’re in class you may not have had time to think about what you learned. A good revision tactic is to look through, and perhaps rewrite some parts of your notes.

If I have the time, I like to opt to rewrite the day’s notes on separate pieces of paper (i.e. not in the book I wrote my original notes in) and add extensive examples and diagrams (the Internet helps heaps here) as well as underlining or color-coding important information. When it comes to exam time, you have lots and lots of thorough and clearly written notes that’ll help tremendously with exam revision!