Tips to Become a Better Note Taker

By Huntington Learning Center

One of the most important study skills for high schoolers who will soon be college students is note-taking, which helps students succinctly capture what their teachers cover in class so that they can review that information more in-depth later. Good notes will help your student better process information when studying independently, thereby enhancing his or her learning. However, many teachers and college professors assume that students will learn this important skill on their own—so there’s a good chance that your teen will not receive explicit instruction on the topic in a class along the way.

Here are several tips to share with your student on how to take good notes that will support his or her learning:

Keep notes organized – Notes should be succinct and well organized. Your teen can take notes in a notebook or on index cards or use another system. Whatever method he or she prefers, the notes should contain enough information so he or she can quickly pull out the main points of the teacher’s lecture. If the teacher begins his or her lecture by stating four main areas he or she will discuss, your teen should write those down as a summary. Then, he or she can outline each of those areas with key points, additional resources that the teacher suggests reviewing later, phrases or words to study, and the like.

Record key points – When teachers lecture, they usually give verbal cues to students on important points and key ideas that they are trying to get students to understand. Your student should realize that it is less important to take down every word that a teacher says and more important to note topics that the teacher emphasizes. Students shouldn’t forget to jot down examples that support those points, too.

Pay attention to the teacher’s style. No two teachers present material exactly alike, so your teen will need to learn different note-taking strategies depending on his or her teacher’s approach. Some teachers may not write anything on the board and instead will only hint at the information they want students to pay particular attention to, while others may provide an outline of their lecture to guide students as they follow along.

Don’t stop listening. Many students may follow a teacher’s lead and jot down whatever he or she notes as the most important points, then tune out. However, your student should listen carefully as his or her teacher explains each of those points. Writing down a few additional thoughts may help your student check his or her understanding and will help him or her recall the information later.

Review and tidy notes within 24 hours. Taking notes only to set them aside until it’s time to take a test weeks later isn’t effective. A better strategy is to review those notes—along with the class textbook—within a day or two of class, which will help keep the material fresh and give your student an opportunity to clarify any abbreviations or unclear points he or she may have written down quickly. Cleaning up and/or rewriting class notes will also help your teen continually improve his or her note-taking abilities. 

As with any academic skill, it may take practice for your teen to become a skilled note taker, and he or she may create his or her own strategy and method that is different from those of classmates. Encourage your student to seek guidance from one or more teachers, too, as they may offer valuable suggestions on how to organize and best use notes. Most important is that your student finds an approach that helps him or her study—and learn—more effectively.