How to Take Good College Notes

Taking good notes is key to succeeding in college. College note taking is very different from taking notes in high school because, unlike relying mostly on textbook teaching, college professors tend to "freestyle" a lot of their information, especially during lectures. So what do you write, and what do you disregard? How can you improve your grade by taking good notes?


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    Learn how your college professor teaches. For example, if your college professor tends to use PowerPoint presentations but doesn't follow them word for word, it might be easier to use an Outline Note system instead of maybe copying the PowerPoint verbatim, or using Cornell Notes.
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    Consider using a specialized note-taking program. These can be invaluable organizational tools for educational success. They improve note-taking efficiency and come with features that any other word processor won't have. For example, look at Knowledge NoteBook.
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    Use the Outline Note taking system if your professor follows a PowerPoint very closely, or bases most of the teachings around a PowerPoint. The Outline Note taking system is very simple, but certain tiny details aren't as easy to find. To do this style of note taking, you basically copy down whatever is on the PowerPoint verbatim in a system that looks like an outline (one point then sub-points below it, then further sub-points, etc) and add in anything else that the professor happens to say.
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    Use the Cornell Note taking system to just focus on main points. This system isn't good for those who like to copy down every little thing. This is more if you like to get the main things out of a lecture, or if your professor tends to go on and on. To do this style of note taking, take your notebook paper and draw a line horizontally at the top of your paper, and then draw a line vertically along the margin of the paper or a little wider if you write big. Start by titling your notes with the title of the lecture. Then write main points on the left side of the vertical line and elaborate more on the right side. Studies done by Cornell University have shown that this is the most effective strategy for taking notes.
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    You may have to use different styles of notes for different classes. Such as using the outline system for a history class, and the Cornell style for a psychology class.
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    Learn your note styles in and out so that you can quickly reference to where certain things are in your notes.
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    Review your notes before and after classes. This is proven to improve memory and raise grades.


  • Using abbreviations is recommended for those who tend to write out notes. It makes it faster to get in all the information.
  • Backing up notes by electronically writing them as well later on can improve your memory of the notes you take, and can also be helpful if something happens to hand written notes.
  • Highlighting and underlining is recommended for main points or things that will be important for exams or essays.
  • If you are using a laptop computer, it is easier to use the Outline note taking system, but Cornell system is possible with a premade layout.
  • If professors provide copies of their PowerPoints, it is good to download these ahead of class, read over the information, and take notes in the "notes" section of the PowerPoint. This will vary with different people. Some people might find it easier to start fresh instead of use the PowerPoint outline.


  • Note taking will vary for different people. Some people have greater memories than others and tend to take fewer notes, but this is also not an excuse to take less notes.
  • DO NOT just copy down verbatim what is on a PowerPoint without adding in elaborations made by the teacher. You can't pass a class with a high grade if you rely on PowerPoint's instead of the teacher. With a laptop it should be easier to take more detailed notes, so this isn't an excuse to slack off on notes.

Things You'll Need

  • Laptop for electronically written notes.
  • Always have a pen that has a lot of ink or a pencil and pencil sharpener ready. You can miss a lot of information having to dig through your bag to find a new pen or pencil.
  • Some college students who write their notes out prefer to have spirals dedicated for each class. Some college students prefer to use loose leaf college-ruled notebook paper in a binder for their note taking.
  • College-ruled notebook paper, NOT wide-ruled!

Article Info

Categories: College and University Study Techniques