Do you feel like you’re endlessly taking notes?

Note taking is a skill you will use throughout your University life, from taking notes during lectures and presentations to making notes from a written text.

Here are our top ten tips to being an efficient note taker.

(1) Prepare yourself

What is the purpose of the reading or lecture? Prepare by finding out what you need to know:

  • If it is a lecture series, re-read your notes on the previous lecture.
  • Read something general about the topic before the lecture.
  • Read notes/slides etc. in advance if they are available on Blackboard.
  • Think about the title – what do you expect to hear or read about? (Key words, people, facts, topics, theories etc.). You can create a Mindmap.
  • Read only to get the answers to what you need. This will help reduce ‘unnecessary’ reading.


(2) Don’t try to write everything down

It may seem obvious but note taking should be a way of summarising information into key points for you to refer to later. Try as you might, you won’t be able to note down an entire lecture without falling behind.


(3) Be an active listener

It is easy to drift off and lose the thread of a lecture or book chapter. To help focus your attention, listen or look out for key phrases which might signpost key information. Examples could be

  • ‘There are two main schools of thought…’
  • ‘The principle cause of this…’
  • ‘The most important factor…’
  • ‘We’ll consider these five main points…’
  • ‘In conclusion…’

In your head challenge and evaluate what the lecturer has said. It will help you to keep your focus. Ask yourself:

  • ‘Do I agree with that?’
  • ‘Does that tally with what I’ve read?’
  • ‘Is that true in every case?’
  • ‘What makes that happen?’


(4) Find the best note taking method for you

There are different schools of thought on the best note taking technique. Try some different methods and find out what works for you.

Read about five effective note taking methods here –

By working through the Skills4Study note making module you will learn about taking linear, nuclear and pattern notes.

Visit YouTube and look at some of the practical examples other students have used.


(5) Use abbreviations and symbols

Make use of abbreviations and symbols. Develop a system that’s meaningful for you. This will speed up your note taking and help you to avoid writing everything you hear or read.

(6) Use Colour

You can improve your active listening and reading techniques by making use of different coloured inks when there are particular points of interest. For example, you can highlight main headings, different themes and approaches, specialist terminology, important questions and bibliographic details by using different colours.


(7) Ask questions

Lectures at University aren’t meant to be a one way street. Part of active listening is participation. Your learning can be greatly enhanced through asking questions whenever you are given the opportunity during lectures. If necessary write down a question and ask it later or at the end of the lecture.


(8) Avoid plagiarism

Poor notetaking from written texts can inadvertently lead to plagiarism. Do not take notes too soon from new material. Read a section, then let the meaning sink in first, before you put pen to paper. This will help you to avoid copying and reduce the risk of plagiarism. Try to rewrite what you’ve read in your own words.

If you are writing direct quotations ensure they are clearly highlighted in some way. You could use square brackets or highlight quotes in a different colour. Make sure you note down the book/ journal details, including the page number, you’ll need these for your bibliography.


(9) Review and organise your notes

What you remember from the first time you take notes will quickly fade if you do not review them later. After a few days, re-read what you have written, perhaps adding some other ideas from your learning.

Keep all your notes in a suitable folder (such as a ring-binder) and in a logical sequence so that you can easily access them at a later date. Alternatively there are plenty of ways technology can help you organize your notes…


(10) Make use of technology

Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep, Apple Notes, Simplenote. There’s a wide range of software titles to help you make, organize and archive your notes. Visit our productivity software page to find out more


Need more help?

Click on the “Student Support” link in the top right hand corner of Blackboard and access the Academic Learning Development resources.

Take a look at the note taking module on the Skills4Study Free Online Study Support