Study Skills/Taking Notes

Note taking is vital when Reading Textbooks and Listening To Lectures. Note taking serves a number of purposes. The least important reason is to have material for review. The real reason for note taking is to get the material to stick in your brain. By taking notes, you are actively engaging your brain in the process. And it helps keep you awake.

  1. Get the keys - Make notes of key words, phrases and concepts.
  2. Summarize - Make summaries of the keys.
  3. Restate - Use your own words when writing down the keys. This causes you to think about them.
  4. Review - Always review. Review always. Always. Review. Get it? Now read that again.

These instructions are derived from the Cornell study method. You can find more information about the Cornell Notes format here.


  • Don't try to substitute a tape recorder or prepared lecture notes for note taking. Remember that making a record of the lecture is the least important reason for taking notes.
  • Don't try to copy the lecture word for word. Instead try to summarize the major points. This causes you to listen actively.
  • Talk to yourself in your notes. Note what is interesting, what is boring, what makes sense, and what doesn't.
  • Summarize what you have learned. Some people highlight the most important sentence on each page. (Highlighting nearly every sentence on a page is a clear sign that you don't understand it.) Others keep scratch paper, and jot down a summary of every chapter - a few sentences noting the topic of that chapter and the three most important things about that topic.
  • Draw diagrams in your notes, label them, and color them, if you want. Diagrams related to the lecture are what is useful. Unrelated diagrams are merely doodles.
  • Visually organize points into groups. Use outlines, brackets, lists, arrows, stars, boxes, circles, and others.
  • Use color pens or highlighters to mark the different parts of concepts, such as key term, definition, examples, person, place or time, etc.

Annotation systemEdit

If you are annotating a text, for example, a scientific article, try creating an annotating scheme. One system is to:

  • circle words or ideas I do not understand or have never seen
  • put a bracket around things I wish to highlight
  • underline things I especially wish to highlight
  • put an angle bracket next to things I disagree with
  • put an arrow next to things I find remarkable or interesting (scientific articles)

Play around with this. Let the system evolve to suit your needs. See if colors are of any use; I personally prefer not to switch pens so I stick to blue (to contrast against the black text)

Read moreEdit