A Guide to Note-Taking in Class

Adapted from Note Taking Systems. Cal Poly, 2020

Taking notes of what happens in class is necessary for two main reasons. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, we take notes to help us remember the main points of the class. We use these notes to go back to when we are reviewing or studying. Secondly, we take notes to help us learn as we listen. This works because a good note-taker is focusing on fully understanding the concepts as he or she structures them on paper.

How to Prepare to Take-Notes

You need to be ready for class to take good notes. Ensure that you have completed your assigned readings, assignments, and have reviewed your notes from the previous class. Now you are in the best position to understand the lecture, anticipate what information might be important, connect the class material with the course as a whole, and formulate questions you may want to ask.

What to Write in Your Notes

Don’t try to write down every word the teacher speaks and writes. You will be so busy recording the lecture that you will not be able to learn. Instead, listen and actively make an effort to understand the class material as it is presented. As you listen, organize and contextualize the important ideas, concepts, and facts. By focusing on writing down just what is most important you will have the time to be engaged in class, and complete a good set of notes that you can refer to when you are reviewing and studying.

How to Organize Your Notes

There are five common methods for organizing your notes:

Find the method that works for you, combine and modify them to suit your needs. Remember that your notes are for you and you alone, so organize them in a way that works for you.

After the Lecture

Revise your notes within a day or two, and review them again before your next class. Discuss with other students what points they found interesting and important. Keep your notes in mind as you complete your readings. Rephrase them as your understanding evolves. Seek out help from your instructor or tutor about anything you still don’t understand.

Keep practicing! The skill of taking notes in class takes time to master. However, once learned you will get the most out of all of your classes and your grades will reflect it!


The Cornell Method

This method was first popularized by Dr. Walter Pauk at Cornell University. The Cornell Method is a simple and efficient system that has been successfully used for many years.

Divide your paper as in the example below. During the lecture write the main points of the lecture in the notes column. After the lecture pull out single words or phrases that will help you remember the information in your notes. These could be main ideas, concepts, terms, places, or dates. You can also write study questions here. Use the recall column to test yourself. Look at only the notes in your recall column and ask yourself questions. After the lecture you also write a summary of your notes in the summary box. Writing a summary helps you review and critically think about the lecture.

Example

Name: Student X

Course: Tourism

Date: 20 Oct.

Topic: Developing Tourism in BC

Recall

Developing infrastructure
  • BC parks
  • Popular destinations
  • Why do they need regulations
  • Destination cities
  • Why is planning needed?
  • Diversification of employment

What are the 3 ways to promoting tourism?

Notes

Developing Infrastructure

BC Parks are popular destinations. However, they must be regulated to ensure the protection of nature and wildlife. Destination cites need careful planning to accommodate the influx of people during the tourist season. Also, in these cities diversification of employment becomes important.

Promoting Tourism

Tourism can be promoted through PR campaigns. The most common ways to promote tourism are:

  • Advertising,
  • Word of mouth,
  • Social media.

Summary

Infrastructure needs to be developed and maintained to attract tourists. BC Parks and Destination cities are the two main destinations. BC parks need maintenance and regulations. Destination cites need careful planning to prepare for the tourist season. PR campaigns are essential to promote tourism.


The Mapping Method

With the mapping method you create a graphic representation of the lecture. Every Topic, fact or idea is related to each other visually.

Example:

Alternative Energy Systems

3 main types

Wind
  • Adv: Full load hours
  • DisAdv: Location specific
Solar
  • Adv: Most cost effective
  • Most potential for future
Other
  • Hydro, Geothermal, Tidal, Bio.
  • Emerging tech

The Outlining Method

The Outlining Method is perhaps the most common way to organize notes. With the Outlining Method you organize your notes with indentations. The level of importance is indicated by the distance from the left margin.

Example:

Tourism in BC

  • Developing infrastructure
    • BC parks
      • Popular destinations
      • Must be regulated to ensure protection of nature and wildlife
    • Destination cities
      • Planning for population influx during tourist season.
      • Diversification of employment becomes important.
  • Promoting Tourism
    • PR campaigns
      • Advertising
      • Word of mouth
      • Social media

The Charting Method

The Charting Method uses a table to organize your notes. It is useful for lessons that cover a lot of facts.

The organization of the chart makes for easy review. However, If the topics are not obvious, the system can be hard to use in a lecture.

Example

Alternative Energy Systems

Energy system

Current Usage

Advantages

Disadvantages

Wind

21% of current energy demands

Full load hours

 

Benefits economy of rural areas

Location specific

 

Noise and aesthetic pollution

Solar

7% of current energy demands

Most cost effective

 

Low maintenance costs

Storage is expensive

 

A lot of space is required

Other: Geothermal, Tidal, Bio

Future: Emerging tech

Future potential

Location specific

High costs


The Sentence Method

The Sentence Method involves using sentences to summaries and organize your thoughts.

You write each topic and the supporting details in sentences using your own words. Each new topic begins on a new line with a number in the margin.

The advantage of using the Sentence Method is that a full sentence is often clearer to understand than a few linking words. This method also promotes you to be fully engaged in class and to critically think about what to write and how to write it concisely.

Example:

Developing Tourism in BC

  1. Infrastructure needs to be developed and maintained to attract tourists. BC Parks are popular destinations. However, they must be regulated to ensure the protection of nature and wildlife. Popular cites called ‘Destination cites’ need careful planning to accommodate the influx of people during the tourist season. Also, in these cities diversification of employment becomes important.
  2. Tourism can be promoted through PR campaigns. The most common was to promote tourism are: advertising, word of mouth, and social media.