Effective Note-Taking in Class


Good lecture notes:

  • Capture main points, helpful details and examples
  • Structured strategically to allow for post-lecture annotation as well as later review
  • Include pictures and diagrams to illustrate concepts visually
  • Include your own questions, observations and other critical thoughts

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To Transcribe or Encode?

  • Transcribing: copying the lecture content word for word.
    • *This might be good when…?
  • Encoding: listening, thinking and writing so as to understand the content.
    • * This might be good when…?
  • Research studies show that typed notes are more likely to be transcribed, not encoded.  Transcribing is associated with less effective learning, so transcribed notes MUST be encoded after the lecture.
    • Think about annotating your notes after your lecture to get the most from them!

An effective note-taking flow: When to take Notes

  • Before Lecture – From your readings
  • During Lecture – Information covered by your teacher and fellow classmates
  • After Lecture – Annotate and summarize what you just learned

Digital vs Handwritten Notes

But how do you choose the best method of note taking for you? Compare these options to see what is the best fit for you!

Digital Handwritten
Faster than hand-writing Easier to create diagrams and illustrations
Notes can be synced, copied, backed up, searched Easier to annotate in the moment
Access to multiple online distractions Can help with memorization

If Digital is for you, try these programs or apps for digital notes:

  • Word
  • Evernote
  • Onenote
  • Noteability
  • Powerpoint
  • Penultimate
  • Scanbot
  • Livescribe Pen

If Handwritten is for you, try these methods for handwritten notes:

Use document or paper to:

  • Write or type important points or passages.
  • Generate bulleted lists.
  • Create structured outlines with numerals and letters. Summarize sections in your own words.

Cornell Style: Take notes on the right two-thirds of the page. List key words in the left column. Summarize the entire page in the space at the bottom.


Download PDF: Effective Note-Taking in Class

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