Effective note-taking is an essential skill for study and forms the basis for essay writing. Let’s say you’re in a lecture and as the teacher speaks you make your notes.  You write as fast as you can and you try to write down every word they say.  At the end of the lecture you’re exhausted and you can’t really remember much of what was said because you were taking dictation rather than really listening to what the lecturer was saying.

How can you improve your note-taking abilities?  At this time of year with exams approaching and final assignments due, every lecture counts.  Luckily, there are methods you can use to help yourself produce effective notes and understand the lecture at the same time.

Prior Reading

Look at the lesson plan a week before the lecture is due to happen. If there is any recommended reading make sure that you read it in advance of the lecture.  This way you won’t have to waste time making notes on items you could have already covered.  Also, the lecture will make more sense.

Exam preparation

If the lecturer tells you that a particular point is important for the exam, pay attention.  Experienced lecturers will sometimes flag up key points that the examiners tend to pick on year on year.  Make sure you highlight these points in your notes (maybe with a big asterisk in the margin or using a highlighter pen).


Some lecturers make the mistake of putting a lot of material on a PowerPoint slide and then speaking while the class is trying to copy the material on the slide.  You can’t listen to one person and read different material at the same time.  Focus on one stream of information (the audio or the visual) and ignore the other.  If you try to do two things at once you can’t win!

Revision notes – Chronology

It’s useful to keep your notes in date order, so always write the date at the top of the page.  If the writing is in any way unclear or difficult to read, copy up your notes neatly later on the same day.  As you copy the notes out you can highlight sections or underline details that are important, which will make for easier revision later.

Library and Museum visits

Sometimes, even at university level, class time will be used to introduce the students to a lab, an archive or a library (for example, a history class at Masters level might be taken to archives like the National Archives at Kew, the British Library or to a museum).  It may be tempting to skip these classes.  You may feel that your time would be better spent in your room reading.  But don’t miss these sessions.  The lecturer must feel that this material is vital to you for your studies.  You will have the opportunity to ask them about anything that isn’t clear and take notes on how to use these resources.

Hopefully this will help you tackle your note-taking, but if you still finding it a chore, you can get help by buying revision sheets.  Any other problems with taking notes?  Let us know by leaving a comment below.