How to take great notes

In this post get some top tips for taking notes whether you’re learning online or offline.

Taking notes is usually fundamental when you’re learning something new. Thorough notes can give you a strong foundation of learning to build on and something useful to refer back to. Here’s a few tricks we’ve learnt for taking great notes.

1. Find the the right tools

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The first step to taking great notes is using tools that suit you: maybe you love scribbling away with a biro and a small notebook, maybe you prefer bright colours and lots of blank paper, or maybe you want to sit with your laptop or tablet and type out your notes straight into an app.

Try out different tools, and find the ones that make note-taking not just easy, but enjoyable (that way you’re far more likely to keep going).

2. Don’t just transcribe

Whether you’re sat watching a video, or in a lecture hall, it’s easy to try and scribble down everything the speaker is saying. The result is usually smudged and nonsensical. Try and filter what the speaker is saying, listen for key points, or note down things to research further. If you really do need to take down the majority of what they’re saying, try and use abbreviations and simplify sentences, that way you can check your understanding as you go along. 

3. Highlight!

Once you’ve finished writing your notes don’t abandon them – now is the time to have a proper sift through. You might highlight the most important parts, or highlight the parts to research further, or highlight key people to remember – the choice is yours. If you find yourself accidentally highlighting entire paragraphs try setting yourself a limit: if you’ve taken 5 pages of notes limit yourself to highlighting 2 lines per page, that gives you 10 key things to remember.

4. Create your own summaries

The process of turning notes into useful knowledge is a bit like distillation. You start out with raw material, you sift through it choosing the most important parts and finally you condense those parts into something usable. This last part is key, it’s here you have the chance to turn your notes into something uniquely useful to you. For instance you might summarise a set of notes in 6 notecards, writing one keyword to jog your memory about an important concept, formula or figure. But that keyword might be something that only you find amusing, or memorable, about the subject, it might even be something entirely random.


Extra tips

  • Get organised – having great notes is useless if you can’t find them. Try and organise your notes in a system you can easily use, whether on the computer or in physical folders.
  • Play to your strengths – prefer learning by listening? Record yourself reading your notes. Prefer visual learning? Get artistic and draw out concepts and illustrations. There’s no one way to take good notes, it’s about what suits you.
  • Write down any questions – even if your questions are tangential you can use these to expand your knowledge, or to test yourself later.

If you have some great advice for taking notes, let us know in the comments.

Category Learning

Comments (52)

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  • Msh jabeen

    It’s really very informative!

  • Alecia

    this is very informative and helpful

  • Mrs. D.B. Jones

    Great note taking lesson for my students!

  • samboko Fresno

    it’s great .

  • Haley De Alba

    I like to take notes on a laptop so that I don’t lose them and that way I have them forever and can find them faster.

  • natalia

    the best way for me to take notes is cornell notes work for me because they are neat but i hate doing them. I also make flashcards to help me study.

  • Dr Hammad Hasan

    Taking notes is very important part of your study.someone depend upon their notes in their exam.I was surprised when i saw this about guidance to take great notes.I think it will provide great help.

  • Alja alfred alamvvea

    Good work done.

  • Sili Zhu

    Not to take any notice by the time you’re learning whatever you’re watching the video, reading Articles or listening to teachers. but take photos of the notes on monitors, then take notes from the pictures in your device after class by using your own thoughts .surely except either the things taught doesn’t appear in the notes or you aren’t allowed to take the pictures.(for online course ,suggest to take notes by your understanding while to watch it again or to read the article again .for the following reasons:
    1. concentration mustn’t be interrupted.
    2. It makes you to reveal from the pictures
    3. Making notes with your understanding forces you to think again to strong your remembering .
    4. Training your brain and the ability of conclusion. 🙂
    Tips : please make sure you have got time for it.
    Sorry, my English isn’t good enough to explain clearly.

    • Shahzad

      Your English is good and we completely understood your points. Thank you.

      • Siobhan O'Malley

        I agree with your approach in relation to taking photos /recording the topic the speaker is dealing with. It can be difficult at times to both take notes well i.e. breaking content down into main points and to concentrate on understanding the topic the speaker is dealing with at the same time , particularly if the topic is very complex. Difficulties may arise also if the speaker has not already broken content down sufficiently for the learner to understand. Generally I think the original article is good particularly in the advice for the steps one should take after first making notes.