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How to Master Note Taking

blank note book with black pen sitting on a desk

The way that you spend your time in class often has a significant impact on your grades. Yet, it’s not always easy to find the sweet spot where you’re balancing active listening with effective note-taking. After all, going overboard with your notes can make you less engaged during class because you’re so busy writing. On the flip side, taking only a few notes can give you the freedom to participate in class, but may leave you struggling to remember the points that the instructor covered.

What should you do in class to help you learn better and improve your grades? Here are the top four tips to mastering lecture notes.

1. Leverage Your Learning Style

There is not a one-size-fits-all recipe for class notes. In fact, becoming a master note taker means using your learning style to influence how you take notes. For example, visual learners can use visual techniques such as mind maps or diagrams. Auditory learners can support their learning by only jotting down keywords while capturing audio recordings for playback. Verbal learners should focus on the language of the class material and take text-heavy notes. Kinesthetic learners can benefit from handwriting notes or even making the class material physical through by using index cards to arrange concepts.

2. Stay Organized

A critical aspect of learning happens when you’re able to zoom out to understand how a concept fits into the big picture. For example, history students can frame an incident within a historical timeline. The best way to maintain this contextual awareness is through clear note organization that lays out concept headers in an outline-type structure. Sometimes your syllabus can be used to prepare this outline before class, or your professor may even provide skeleton notes which can improve grades by an average of 26 percent. Not only does using an outline help you prioritize information, but reviewing the major section titles can help you clearly draw relationships between concepts.

3. Collaborate on Notes for Difficult Classes

Some of your classes may be harder than the rest, and one study on how class difficulty affects grades found that these courses you take can dramatically impact your grades. In one of the most difficult college classes, Organic Chemistry, students scored 1.8 letter grades lower than their overall GPA.

If you’re struggling with the material during class, today’s technology makes it easy to supplement your own notes with lecture notes that have been shared by your classmates in online portals such as OneClass. You can fill in the blanks on concepts that you didn’t understand by taking a collaborative approach to note taking with either a study group, working with a friend, or through digital resources.

4. Paper is Better Than Screens

There have been a growing number of studies about whether handwriting or typing is a more effective way to take notes. These analyses have covered disciplines of cognitive science, psychology, and educational theory. A Brookings Institute report explains that the evidence is mounting that handwritten notes are better than typed ones. One of the theories about why is that the ability to type faster than writing is actually a hindrance, allowing students to write what professors say verbatim. On the other hand, handwritten notes require small moments of reflection and information processing in order to summarize a concept. This processing time adds value to the note taking process, thus improving your learning.

When mastered, note taking can elevate your study habits, and in turn, your test scores. Though it may take time and effort, using best practices while taking notes can have dramatic effects that can follow you though your schooling and your eventual career. If you are looking to raise your scores, better understand the material, or even feel more engaged in your class, give these tips a try!

For more tips on all thing college, visit the other blogs on College Basics!