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Note-Taking Tips & Strategies

Effective note-taking is a fundamental skill that is critical to success in both high school and college. It allows students to capture and organize key information presented in class, providing a valuable resource for review and test preparation. Unfortunately, many students struggle with note-taking, often resulting in incomplete or disorganized notes that fail to adequately capture the material presented in class. The tutors of Educate. Radiate. Elevate know this and understand the importance of quality notes. Keep reading to learn more about note-taking tips for students!

Common Note-Taking Pitfalls

Despite its importance, note-taking can be a challenging task for many students. There are many mistakes that students make while taking notes. By understanding these common pitfalls, students can take steps to avoid them and develop more effective note-taking habits. Common missteps that students encounter when taking notes include:

Lack of Focus

Students often struggle to stay focused during class, leading to incomplete or inaccurate notes. This can be due to distractions, lack of interest in the subject matter, or difficulty understanding the material. Many students simply copy down the information presented in class without engaging critically with the material. This can result in notes that are incomplete, disorganized, or fail to capture the key points of the lesson.

Ineffective Note-Taking Strategies

Students often rely on ineffective or inefficient note-taking strategies, such as verbatim note-taking. That is, some students simply copy down what exactly is on the teacher’s slideshow, word-for-word. This can make it difficult to keep up with note-taking in real-time, to review notes later, and to remember key information. 

Poor Handwriting

Illegible handwriting can make it difficult to review notes later. This can be a hard habit to break if not addressed quickly. It can also be hard to slow down and write notes in a more legible manner when there are a lot of notes to take. It’s a tough balancing act to maintain.

Effective Note-Taking Methods

To take effective notes, students need to develop a set of strategies that allow them to engage critically with the material and capture the key points of the lesson. By incorporating these strategies into their note-taking practices, students can take more effective notes and capture the key points of the lesson in a way that is organized and meaningful. Here are a few note-taking tips.

Cornell Note-Taking System

The Cornell Note-Taking System, as the name suggests, comes from Cornell University. It involves dividing notes into three sections: (1) a narrow column on the left for questions, comments, and key terms; (2) a wide column on the right for general notes; and (3) a summary section at the bottom of the page. This allows students to capture the main ideas of the lesson while also creating a framework for review and self-testing.


Mind Mapping System

Mind mapping involves using a visual diagram to capture the relationships between ideas presented in class. Mind maps can be useful for arranging complex information, organizing thoughts, and identifying key themes and relationships. The links and hierarchy visualized in a mind map can be especially great for visual learners, as well.


Color Coding

This strategy involves using different colors to highlight different types of information. For example, let’s say a student is taking notes for a history class. They might use red ink to take notes about people, blue ink to take notes about places, or green ink to take notes about events. This can help students organize information and identify key points of class more easily. Plus, studies show that our brain better remembers things in color.


Using Headings and Subheadings

Organize notes by using headings and subheadings to identify key themes and ideas. This will make it easier for students to review notes and identify important information when studying for quizzes and tests. This can help solve the problem of students locating notes on a specific topic or unit.

Summarizing and Paraphrasing

This strategy involves condensing the information presented in class into concise summaries or paraphrases. Students should do this at the end of class so they can review what they learned in class right away while it is still fresh in their minds. This can help students identify key ideas and remember important details more easily, allowing them to grasp the focus of the lesson.

Using Technology

Students should consider using technology to organize and review their notes. It should be noted that handwritten notes have been demonstrated to stick around in memory more effectively than typed notes. But that does not mean that computers do not have their own advantages! For example, cloud storage means that if students type their notes on one device, they can pull them up on another device later. Technology can also allow students to record audio of a lesson, which can be referred back to later to better understand and review handwritten notes. 

Review and Use Notes

Taking effective notes and organizing them is important, but it’s only the first step. To truly benefit from their note-taking efforts, students also need to review and use their notes effectively. By following these tips, students can review and use their notes effectively, reinforcing the material and maximizing their chances for academic success. Here are some tips for reviewing and using notes:

Create Study Guides

As mentioned in the previous section, creating study guides can be a useful way to review the material and identify areas where students need to focus their studying. Students can use notes to create comprehensive study guides that summarize the key points of each lesson. While teachers may assign students pre-made study guides, a student making their own can help them become even more familiar with the material.

Assess Yourself

One of the most effective ways to reinforce information and ensure students have truly learned the material is to use their notes to test themselves. Students can turn them into flashcards, quizzes, or other study aids that allow students to test their knowledge and identify areas where they need to focus their studying. Websites like Knowt make this simple!

Collaborate with Classmates

Working with classmates can be a useful way to review and reinforce the material. Students should consider forming study groups or participating in online discussion forums to share notes, review concepts, and test each other’s knowledge. They can also exchange any notes they took, study guides they created, or tips for understanding challenging concepts.

In Conclusion

These note-taking tips can help a student attain academic success. They can be particularly important for students who are struggling in school. By avoiding common note-taking pitfalls, employing effective note-taking strategies, organizing their notes, and reviewing and using them effectively, students can get the most out of their note-taking efforts and maximize their academic potential.

And if you would like to support an organization that works to instill good note-taking habits, as well as other academic and life skills into its students, consider donating to the nonprofit Educate. Radiate. Elevate. The tutors of E.R.E. are highly trained and work to lift up underserved students. Their efforts are aimed to help the students who have been ignored by the modern education system yet need the most assistance. With your help, we can help close equity gaps in education and provide no-cost, high-quality tutoring to those who need it the most.

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"Hi, I'm Lindsey.
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Lindsey Wander
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