You’ve got the PowerPoint slides for your lecture, and the information in your textbook.  Do you need to take notes as well?

Despite the vast amount of information available in electronic formats, taking notes is an important learning strategy. In addition, the way that you take notes matters, and not all notetaking strategies lead to equal results.  By considering your note taking strategies carefully, you will be able to create a set of notes that will help retain the most important concepts from lectures and tests, and that will assist you in your exam preparation.

Two Purposes for Taking Notes

People take notes for two main reasons:

1. To keep a record of the information they heard. This is also called the external storage function of note taking.

2. To facilitate learning material they are currently studying.

The availability of information on the internet may reduce the importance of the external storage function of note taking. When the information is available online, it may seem logical to stop taking notes. However, by neglecting to take notes, you lose the benefits of note taking as a learning tool.

How Note Taking Supports Learning

Taking notes during class supports your learning in several important ways:

  1. Taking notes helps you to focus your attention and avoid distractions.
  2. As you take notes in class, you will be engaging your mind in identifying and organizing the main ideas. Rather than passively listening, you will be doing the work of active learning while in class, making the most of your time.
  3. Creating good notes means that you will have a record for later review. Reviewing a set of condensed and well-organized notes is more efficient than re-reading longer texts and articles.

Getting Started With Effective Note Taking

Although the in class portion is the most obvious aspect of note taking, there is more to the process. What goes on before class, during class, and after class are all important elements of successful notes. It’s helpful to look at note taking by dividing it into three areas.

  • Observing (setting the stage) (What should youwrite?)
  • Collecting/Recording (How should you record things?)
  • Organizing/Reviewing (When and how should you edit and use them?)

Note Taking and Observation

Let’s begin by looking at the Observing aspect. Normally when you hear the word observation you think of your eyes and what you can see. In class you are observing with more than just the eyes. You engage all of your five senses with the Process of Perception. If you want to be sure not to miss anything in class it is important that all five of your senses are at a heightened state of readiness/awareness. A frog sitting on a lily pad waiting for a fly needs to be in a constant state of readiness or risk missing a meal. A baseball player in the field must also be ready at any moment for the ball to come his way or risks making an error. Similarly you must be constantly alert for material in class or risk missing something important. Your awareness must be constantly focused on what is taking place before you. Otherwise, even though you are right there watching and listening, something could get by you and not get recorded in your notes. This potential lack of attention is called Inattentional Blindness. It is characterized by an occurrence known as Scotoma, an awareness blind spot – missing the obvious or what’s right before you due to a relaxed attention. There are ways to prevent Inattentional Blindness. The following steps can help you better prepare for note taking in class by setting the stage. [1]

Nine Considerations for Effective Awareness

  • Assemble Appropriate Materials (be sure that you have everything you need for class – textbook, notebook, pens, pencils, calculator, additional resources)
  • Complete Outside Assignments (become familiar with the material by making sure that you have read the text beforehand or done any pertinent assignments)
  • Review Notes From Previous Classes (a warm up – avoid going into class cold – review what happened previously to get ready for what is coming next)
  • Prepare Questions that establish goals for the class (goals reflect priorities – priorities drive actions – decide beforehand what you are hoping to learn from the class session)
  • Arrive early & get a good seat (where you sit matters – there are benefits to sitting front and center)
  • Look for Clues (watch the instructor; listen for repetition; take notice of what is on the board/screen; pay attention to introductory phrases)
  • Eliminate Distractions (distractions are everywhere and sometimes you may even start looking and and hoping for them when you are disinterested and bored)
  • Stay Focused (try to remain concentrated on the instructor’s presentation everything taking place in class)

Be Here Now

A good way to stay focused is to adhere to the concept of Be Here Now. To Be Here Now means to be where you are ,when you are there, and to do what you are doing when you are doing it. This may sound like confusing double talk, but it is actually referring to the wandering mind. Your mind loves to wander and often you follow it away from wherever your body may be at a particular moment. Your body may be in Math class but your mind might be at the beach at Cramer’s Park or Magen’s Bay. It’s not something that you can always prevent, but you can recognize it when it happens and bring your mind back to where your body is. This strategy can help you become more effective in class and it can also help you with just about every other task in life. Whenever your mind and body are together you perform better.[2]


Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously published in University 101: Study, Strategize and Succeed by Kwantlen Polytechnic University, licensed as CC BY-SA.

Adaptations: Added “Be Here Now” Section


  1. Adapted from Ellis, Dave, (2006), Becoming a Master Student, Cengage Learning
  2. Adapted from Ellis, Dave, (2006), Becoming a Master Student, Cengage Learning


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Foundations For Success Copyright © 2020 by David Capriola is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book