Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

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Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

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If you can’t remember what you had for lunch two weeks ago, what makes you think you’re going to remember the most important points from your staff meeting, presentation or seminar? Taking notes gives you the opportunity to highlight key points and details that might otherwise slip your mind, and you never know when these fragments of knowledge will come in handy!

Tim Ferriss once quipped that he “takes notes like some people take drugs,” and even detailed his note-taking process on his blog. Taking notes not only helps you retain more information (I call the process “backing myself up”), but it’s also the key to boosting your productivity (as proven by Tim), both at work and at home. Here’s how:

1. It relieves stress.

When your mind’s swarming with loose ends to tie, writing them down helps you reduce your cluttered thoughts, which reduces stress. It’s also a great way to set aside your overwhelm so that you can focus on the task at hand.

2. It helps keep your schedule in tact.

I’ve found that taking notes throughout my workday is the best way to stay focused on my to-do list. So many requests come to us from so many directions–emails, phone calls, text messages–that it becomes hard not to get sucked into the busy-but-not-productive whirlwind this creates. Before you know it, the day’s over and only a fraction of your to-do list is finished because you were too busy focusing on tasks that felt urgent, but really weren’t. I find that taking notes as new requests come in help me incorporate them into my future schedule without derailing my plans for that day.

3. It is easy to convert your notes into a to-do list.

This is especially true during meetings and classes. Say you have a brainstorming session with co-workers or questions about a lecture you’re watching, so you write down what you need to follow up on afterward. The notes from your brainstorming session can be turned into a to-do list to make sure you accomplish what you need to after the meeting’s over, while your lecture notes give you a checklist to follow when filling in holes on what you’re learning.

4. You create quality reference materials.

If you want to become the best in your field, taking notes is your ticket to making it happen. As you build your career and keep track of what you’re learning, you’ll have easy access to your very own refresher courses.

5. You can share your notes with co-workers and friends.

Quality notes not only help you build a strong arsenal of knowledge, but they can help make a difference in the lives of those you care about. If a new co-worker needs to get caught up on a project they’re working with you on, they can refer to your notes to catch up without feeling overwhelmed. If a friend misses class due to a family emergency, your notes can help them get back on track. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

6. It improves the quality of everything you do.

Whether you’re putting together a report for work or tweaking a recipe for your next social gathering, taking notes helps you improve every project, every hobby, and every event you participate in. It’s a detail-oriented way to process your learning experience, which eventually leads to expert status at work or satisfied guests at home.

7. Taking notes makes you look good.

It shows you care and that you’re fully present during the learning process. Taking notes is a subtle action that reveals much about a person’s character: patience, determination, and attention to detail. It also shows you’re efficient and don’t allow what’s important to fall through the cracks.

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

by Nayab Imran
April 7, 2019
in Student Guide
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Teachers try to incorporate the importance of taking notes in students when they enter Middle school but only manage to make them dependent on hand given notes which they then copy paste in their assignments. The skill and art of note taking has been lost as the only method the students use to learn involves basic memorizing of notes and not actually how to creatively use their minds and make the notes their own. Also write 7 points on how to take notes.

Each day we go out in the world to learn new skills and gain knowledge and yet hundreds of students in our country are incapable of making their own notes or even have the slightest idea as to why this skill is extremely important in our everyday life.

Note taking is basically the practice of recording information from various sources. By taking notes the writer records the essence of the information freeing their mind from the responsibilities of remembering each and every detail. However, do not get confused between ‘note-taking’ and ‘note-making’. Note taking is an important process that allows a person to have a written permanent record of all the information of the lecture that may be missing from the guide books. While on the other hand, note-making is a much more focused and active task in which a person collects all the information while making sense of it himself and then putting it in order in his own words.

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Table of Contents

Why is Note Taking Important?

Note taking is an integral part of a student’s life. Following are the benefits of note taking:

When you take notes while attending a lecture, you concentrate more on the lecturer’s words and understand more as well thus making your notes sensible enough to be understood later on.

It also teaches you how to prioritize. Just keep in mind that not each and every word should be noted down. This again is a skill you need to master so as to discern what is important enough to be noted down and how it is related to what you have already written.

Notes are also a permanent record of what one has read and/or listened to in all of their classes. This helps one revise in the future for examinations.

Importance of Taking Notes

Note taking keeps a person alert. It keeps one’s mind and body active, involved and helps one avoid feelings of drowsiness and distraction.

A person who develops the habit of note taking will find it the most appreciated and rewarding when it comes to essay writing, reports or any other comparative analysis of some prevailing facts. These people go on to become the most successful in their lives without any confusion and frustrations at missing out or forgetting important data and information.

A person who is good at note taking also gains exceptional organizing skills, as prioritizing content and organizing them all is the key to success.

While writing an essay, note taking is considered an extremely important activity as an essay can never come into existence without relevant and logical material. And to gather relevant materials one has to:

Think clearly about a subject or topic before the process of note taking can begin.

Ask yourself questions about the topic while taking notes. Where? When? What? Who? Why? And How? Answer these questions by yourself as well.

Organize & Arrange Your Material

Edit the final notes and omit any material that may seem too trivial.

Remember, good notes should be accurate, clear and concise.

7 Main Benefits Of Taking Notes

There are seven main benefits of taking notes and students can really improve their academic performance by taking these notes:

1. Stress Free Mind

When you write the notes, your cluttered thoughts would be reduced and in this way you remain free of stress. You can focus on the work at hand by doing this. On the other hand the students who don’t take their notes often suffer from pre exam tension and other academic anxieties.

2. Intact Schedule Is Maintained

When you take notes, you also stay focused on your to do list. This is a world of distractions, you will get so many emails, phone calls, text messages and video calls and in this way you get stuck into the non productive activities. With the habit of taking notes, you can adjust your future schedule without any derailing of any plan on that particular day.

3. Notes & To Do Lists Are Convertible

If you are in a meeting or attending a class, you might often encounter brainstorming with colleagues and a lot of questions strike your mind about the ongoing lecture. You need to jot down what is needed to be followed afterwards. From your brainstorming session you can easily make to do list and can discuss the important aspects of the meeting or lecture. This is particularly helpful for the people to show their active participation in meeting or lecture.

4. High Quality Reference Material

If you are trying to get perfection and excellence in your field, you can make it happen by taking notes as this is a key to success. With the help of notes, you can keep a track of what you have learned and this will be a kind of refresher course when you reread it.

5. Sharing Notes With Colleagues And Co-workers

When you keep quality notes, you build a strong fort of knowledge. It can also make a difference in the lives of your friends; they can also take help from your notes. For example, if your colleague needs your help in any of his project, you can refer some helpful notes and can guide him about how they helped you in the accomplishment of task. In the same way if your friend has missed a class due to illness or any emergency, your notes can help them in getting back on track. For everyone involved, it is a win-win situation.

6. Improvement Of Work Quality

When you have a habit of taking notes, you can have a ready made recipe for your next social meeting or lecture. In every project and hobby, these notes offer great help and you can work flawlessly at any time. Taking notes is a detailed oriented way to process the learning experience and as a result you can get an expert status.

7. Taking Notes Is A Smart Way

Taking notes shows that you care a lot about the things, about your learning and this gives a good impact of your personality. It is a subtle action revealing a lot about your personal character, your determination and patience etc. Hence, you get a smart image if you have a habit of taking notes.

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Even students with great memories get a boost from notetaking

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Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

  • M.A., English Literature, California State University – Sacramento
  • B.A., English, California State University – Sacramento

Taking notes is a great way to help students identify the importance of concepts covered in class. Even if you have a great memory, you simply won’t be able to remember everything the teacher says. A permanent written record that you can refer to later can prove indispensable when it’s time to write an essay or take a test on the materials discussed in class.

Literature lectures offer important background information about the works you’re studying, including literary terms, details about the author’s style, thematic relationships between works and important quotations. The content from literature lectures has a way of appearing on quizzes and essay assignments in ways students least expect them to, which is why note taking is so helpful.

Even if the lecture material doesn’t reappear in a testing situation, you may be asked to draw from the knowledge you gained from the lecture for a future class discussion. With that in mind, here are a few tips about how to effectively take notes in your literature class.

Before Class

To prepare for your next class, read the assigned reading material. It’s usually a good idea to read the material at least a few days before the assignment is due. If possible, you’ll want to read the selection several times and make sure you understand what you’re reading. If you have any questions, your textbook may offer a list of suggested readings to help with your understanding. A visit to your library may also offer additional reference resources to answer your questions and further prepare you for class. Your notes from previous class periods may also help to answer your questions.

Also, be sure to take a look at the questions that follow selections in your textbook. The questions help you to re-evaluate the text, and they may help you to understand how the material relates to other works you’ve read in the course.

During the Literature Class

Be prepared to take notes when you attend your class, and be on time. Bring plenty of paper and pens with you. Write down the relevant date, time, and topic details on your notepaper before the teacher is ready to start. If homework is due, hand it in before the class starts, and then be ready to take notes.

Listen carefully to what the teacher says. Particularly note any discussion about future homework assignments and/or tests. The teacher may also give you an outline of what he or she will be discussing for that day. Remember that you don’t have to get down every word that your teacher says. Get enough written down so that you can understand what was said. If there’s something that you don’t understand, be sure to mark those sections so you can come back to them later.

Since you’ve read the reading material before class, you should recognize new material: details about the text, the author, the time period, or the genre that wasn’t covered in your textbook. You’ll want to get as much of this material down as possible because the teacher probably considers it to be important to your understanding of the texts.

Even if the lecture seems disorganized get down as many notes as possible through the lecture. Where there are gaps, or parts of the lecture you don’t understand, clarify your understanding of the material by asking questions in class or during the teacher’s office hours. You can also ask a classmate for help or find outside reading materials that explain the issue. Sometimes, when you hear the material in a different way, you may understand the concept much more clearly than the first time you heard it. Also, remember, every student learns in a different way. Sometimes, it’s better to get a broader perspective–from various sources, both in and out of class.

If you know you have a hard time paying attention, try some preventative measures. Some students find that chewing on gum or a pen helps them to pay attention. Of course, if you’re not allowed to chew gum in the class, then that option is out. You can also ask for permission to record the lecture.

Reviewing Your Notes

You have several options for reviewing or revising your notes. Some students type the notes up, and print them up for easy reference, while others just look them over after class and transfer important detail to other tracking devices. Whichever mode of review you prefer, the important thing is that you look over your notes while the lecture is still fresh in your mind. If you have questions, you need to get them answered before you forget what was confusing or hard-to-understand.

Collect your notes in one place. Usually, a three-ring binder is the best place because you can keep your notes with your course outline, class handouts, returned homework assignments and returned tests.

Use a highlighter or some system of making the text stand out. You’ll want to make sure that you don’t miss the details the teacher gives you about assignments and tests. If you highlight important items, make sure that you don’t highlight everything or else everything seems important.

Be sure to make note of examples. If the teacher is talking about a quest and then talks about “Tom Jones,” you’ll want to make note of it, particularly if you know that you’ll be reading that book shortly. You may not always understand the context of the discussion if you haven’t yet read the work, but it’s still important to note that the work is connected with the quest theme.

Don’t just review your notes the day before your final exam. Take a look at them periodically throughout the course. You may see patterns that you never noticed before. You may better understand the structure and progression of the course: where the teacher is going and what he or she expects you to have learned by the time the class is over. Often the teacher will put the material on a test just to make sure that students are listening or taking notes. Some teachers will discuss the complete outline of a test, telling students exactly what will appear, but students still fail because they’re not paying attention.

Wrapping Up

Before long, you’ll get used to taking notes. It really is a skill, but it also depends on the teacher. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether a teacher’s statements are important or just an offhand remark. If all else fails, and you’re confused or uncertain about whether you’re understanding what is expected of you in the course, ask the teacher. The teacher is the person giving you a grade (in most situations).

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

Taking effective notes in class is an important task that students often struggle with. Yet, good notes are essential for academic excellence. Moreover, when you take notes during a lecture, you concentrate better and get the main points. All the same, some students find note-taking complex and intimidating. With these simple tips, you can take better notes in school and fast-track your academic excellence.

Be Organized

It’s natural for people to want to take good notes when they’re learning. The key is to figure out how to organize yourself so that the process goes smoothly. Here are some tips on how to do this.

  • Plan by thinking about what information will be most important for understanding what’s happening. This allows you to prioritize which points require more detail.
  • Ensure you have all the necessary resources to take decent notes. These include notebooks, highlighters, rulers, and any other stationery you feel could help you assemble your notes.
  • Have a different notebook for each subject. It will save you time when you need to refer to past lessons.
  • Establish a conducive learning space in your dorm or home. Finding a study desk in a distraction-free zone will help you settle down and focus when you need to write more notes away from class.

Pay Attention to Your Instructor

Do you ever find yourself daydreaming in class? You’re not alone. Researchers have found that most people will zone out for about one minute of every hour they spend at work or school. Most learners don’t realize how important it is to pay attention in class. Listening to your teacher can help you understand the topic better and write quality notes.

Besides, your teacher may give some hints or clues on acing the next essay assignment, and you could miss out if you don’t pay enough attention. So, listen carefully to essay instructions and ask questions to ensure you get the questions right.

If you still find it challenging to write essays, you can work with an essay writer on EssayWritingService and improve your grades. The ability to concentrate is just as important as good manners and empathy when it comes to being successful in life.

Keep a List of Questions for the End of Class

It’s important to ask questions in class because not only do they give you more insight into the lesson, but it also tells your teachers that you’re listening and paying attention. But the best part about asking questions is that it helps us learn. When taking notes, you might have a problem understanding some of the things that the teacher says.

While some instructors have no problem answering questions anytime, it is best to write your questions and ask them at the end of the class. This way, you save time and allow the lesson to proceed as planned. In addition, writing down your questions ensures you do not forget about them. Finally, having a question you need to ask is an excellent way to ensure you feel engaged with your teacher and the lesson.

Use Your Notes to Study and Review Lessons

One way to gauge how effective your notes are is by using them during your study or revision sessions. You might be surprised at how many flaws you will find. If you cannot understand whatever you wrote, then it is time to reevaluate your note-taking and make changes. Otherwise, you will just be wasting your time and would rather listen to the teacher.

Once you derive value from your writing, you will always be ready to take good notes during lessons. You will also realize what form of notes you find easiest to comprehend. The issue is that students often don’t know how to use their notes as a study tool, which leads them back to cramming the night before the exam. By using your notes effectively, you can save yourself all of that last-minute anxiety!

Review Your Notes as Soon as Possible

After a lecture, it is advisable to go back and review your notes. The most obvious benefit is that you’ll be able to remember what took place during the lecture. This will allow you to understand better what was discussed in class the next day or even months down the line. You also won’t forget any key points and will discover existing gaps so that you can ask questions in the next lesson.

As you go through your notes, remember to highlight the key points, as you will need to reread the content when you do your assignments or prepare for exams. You can also write down any additional information and examples you find helpful when they’re still fresh in your mind.

What Should You Include in Your Notes?

Knowing what to jot down is vital if you want to take quality notes. It is impractical to write down everything you hear from your lecturer. Instead, here are some pointers on what to include:

  • the date and the topic to help make referral easier;
  • clear definitions to get the meaning right from the beginning;
  • the lecturer’s opinions on the topic, as you won’t find them in a book;
  • any statistics and numbers;
  • the points the teacher writes on the board;
  • any formulas, symbols, or theorems, as you will need to internalize them.


Taking good notes is a crucial skill for students in school. Although the process can be time-consuming, the benefits are worth it. By taking detailed and organized notes, you will better understand lecture materials; this leads to an easier time during tests and attaining the grades you have always envisioned.

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Do you write down every single word your teacher says in class? Do you only take notes when your teacher writes something on the board?

When it comes to good note-taking habits in college, there is a happy medium that can pay dividends with a higher GPA ! Here’s how to take better notes in class and ace your next exam.

Why Is Note Taking Important?

It helps you learn. Studies on learning have shown that actively engaging with the topic by listening and then summarizing what you hear helps you understand and remember the information later.

It helps you keep a record. You were physically in math class last Tuesday but that doesn’t necessarily mean you remember what happened (and what might appear on a quiz). Notes are a record of what you learned in class—and what you need to review.

It will help you study. Review your notes regularly to get the most out of them. You can use them to make up sample test questions or even turn them into digital flashcards.

It’s a skill that will pay off in college. Are you used to your high school teachers handing out outlines or e-mailing copies of their PowerPoint presentations? That’s NOT going to be the case in college. Learn the art of note taking now to give yourself a leg up later.

How to Take Great Notes in College

Notes aren’t helpful if they’re cluttered with unnecessary details or missing important information. Here are our expert tips for perfecting your note-taking strategies.

1. Get organized.

Keep all your notes for a class in one place.

2. Laptop or notebook?

Your school may have rules about laptops and devices in class. Even if typing your notes is an option, consider this: There is some solid research out there that taking notes by hand is more useful for learning and remembering the information.

3. Put a label on it.

Some students jog their memories by labeling every page at the top with the date, class/teacher (if class notes), title/author (if from reading), or even significant happenings of the day.

4. Number your pages—even if writing by hand!

Besides keeping you organized, page numbers goes a long way to finding things fast when you’re in a study crunch.

5. Use space meaningfully.

Keep your page organized so you know where to find what you’re looking for. Of course, if you’re typing your notes you can always go back and clean them up later.

6. Use abbreviations or your own kind of shorthand to write quickly.

Try “w/o” for without or “e.g.” for examples . If typing, get familiar with keyboard shortcuts .

7. Keep notes short and sweet.

Jot down key terms and write in short sentences or phrases.

8. Keep track of direct quotes, personal thoughts, and questions you want answered.

For example, you could underline anything that’s unclear and that you want to ask your teacher about later.

9. Use symbols.

Try using an arrow to indicate important things such as teacher’s clues in a lecture about what is important to study, definitions, and key ideas. Hint: If your teacher says “This is important” make sure you write it down!

10. Turn off the autopilot.

Be sure to include in your notes the ideas that tie details together. In other words, you should always make clear WHY you are writing something down.

11. Take five.

Rather than rushing out just as the bell rings, take a moment at the end of class to sum up the important themes of the class while the information is still fresh in your mind.

12. Look at the big picture.

The details (like names and dates) are easy to copy down, but overarching concepts that tie all those details together are more challenging and more likely to be the key to correct answers come test time. Listen for words that logically connect ideas.

WORDs That Show Logical Relationships

To Elaborate Specific Examples Cause & Effect How or Why Compare / Contrast
and, also, moreover, furthermore, additionally, in addition for example, for instance, to illustrate since, because, therefore, so, then, as a result, on account of this, for that purpose in order to, for the purpose of, so that, firstly, secondly likewise similarly, in the same manner

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Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

We all know that distractions are the enemy of productivity, especially when trying to keep our heads down and study.

But apart from reducing the amount of interruptions are there any other advantages of ditching the laptop and embracing handwritten notes?

Lots of you on Instagram have been sharing your love of the paper-like experience while studying with the reMarkable paper tablet already:

Many of us enjoy the feeling of pen on paper when studying but does it have any advantages to learning? As it turns out, paper doesn’t only just feel good, research shows writing by hand in some ways are superior when it comes to learning, creativity and productivity.

1. Increase your focus

It might feel like a no-brainer to ditch some of your digital devices, along with all their pings, blings and other attention grabbing qualities to make it easier to focus your mind on studying. After all, calm and quiet spaces mean a calm and quiet mind, right?

But did you know that hand writing your notes, rather than typing, can also intrinsically increase your focus while studying?

Research suggests that students who hand write their notes seem to think more intensely about the material as they write it due to increased focus.

So, not only are we able to diminish pesky distractions by switching to hand written notes but also increase our focus on the information we’re supposed to be taking in.

2. Understand and process more information

One thing is being able to concentrate more but research also suggests that we can take this one step further and actually increase our capacity to understand and process information on a deeper level.

One study looking at students learning Algebra found that those taking handwritten notes experienced a higher degree of transfer of information than those typing.

Supporting research suggests that typing notes leads to a more shallow processing of information, almost like your brain is in sleep mode! Whereas handwriting is more efficient at processing information overall.

3. Improve your memory

If we don’t remember the insight, did we even learn anything at all?

Sometimes studying can feel like a memory game more than anything else. So why not give ourselves the best chance at remembering what we need to for that final paper or exam? We found tons of research pointing to an increase in information retention when hand writing notes instead of typing them.

This link means that students are able to perform better through recalling information when needed. Some studies go so far as to question the use of typing in schools and that there should be more pen-to-paper studying to help increase memory and learning.

4. …and Embrace the doodle!

Alongside the above research, there’s also a lot to be said for being able to doodle when note taking and in periods of studying. One study found that those who doodle remember 29% more of the information presented to them than those who don’t.

The best part? You don’t have to be an artist to doodle your way through that lecture, just get scribbling!

5. Boost your creativity and inspiration

“Creativity allows people to be affective” — Bill Gates

No matter what subject, creativity and inspiration will certainly fuel your learning (and even enjoyment!) while studying.

Writing by hand actually influences your cognitive processes in a way that slows you down — in a good way — and helps forge creativity and new ideas. One study we found even suggests that writing by hand is more strongly linked to emotion processing compared to typing. This could lead to a more mindful and creative mindframe while studying too!

So, should you completely ditch your laptop while studying?

Well, obviously not. There are lots of things that you would need your computer to get done. The science is still debating either side and some studies do suggest that taking notes on a laptop can help with certain aspects like keeping up with fast paced lectures for example.

What we do know for sure though is that there is a lot to be said for embracing more handwritten note taking time in your study regime and everyone’s learning style is different. Be sure to give it a try this next semester and see if you can feel any of the benefits.


Associate Director, The Victoria Institute, Victoria University

Disclosure statement

Claire Brown received funding from the Higher Education, Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) to implement and research the Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) program in Australia. That funding has now ended.


Victoria University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

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If it feels like you forget new information almost as quickly as you hear it, even if you write it down, that’s because we tend to lose almost 40% of new information within the first 24 hours of first reading or hearing it. If we take notes effectively, however, we can retain and retrieve almost 100% of the information we receive.

Learning how to retain information

The most effective note-taking skills involve active rather than passive learning. Active learning places the responsibility for learning on the learner. Research has found that, for learning to be effective, students need to be doing things with the material they are engaging with (reading, writing, discussing, solving problems).

They must also be thinking about the thinking (metacognition) involved in engaging with the material. This means that, while students are learning the content, they should also be thinking about how they are learning it. What is causing confusion? How does your thinking change about this topic as you are learning? What has worked well for you in learning this topic that you should do next time? What hasn’t worked so well so you don’t make that learning mistake again?

Studies have found note taking is most effective when notes are organised and transformed in some way or when a teacher gives examples of good notes. An effective note-taking strategy requires effort. Half the battle with students is helping them understand the reasons for needing to take and interact regularly with their notes.

Students often tell teachers they have excellent memories and don’t need to take notes because they can easily recall information. Research says this is not the case.

The goal of effective note taking is to help recall what has been learned and retain that information over time. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1895 conducted some of the first experiments on memory and recall, and spaced learning. He developed the forgetting curve, which shows how information is lost quickly over time if there is no strategy or effort to retain it.

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit Figure 1: Rate of Forgetting with Study/Repetition. Chi-Ming Ho, 2009 , Author provided

The rate of forgetting is minimised if students interact (re-read/discuss/write/engage) with their notes within 24 hours. A second repetition for a shorter period of time within a day brings recall back up to 100%. A third repetition within a week for an even shorter time brings recall back to 100%.

What are the most effective ways to take notes?

I teach the Cornell Note-Taking System, which was developed in the 1950s as part of a university preparation program (AVID). Effective note taking is interactive and involves using the original notes many times over to build memory of the content, rather than seeing note taking as just a one-off copying activity. The important features of this system are captured in the images below.

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit Figure 2: Sample of AVID’s Application of Cornell Notes in Language Arts. Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) , Author provided Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit Figure 3: Sample of AVID’s Application of Cornell Notes in Chemistry. Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) , Author provided

There are four stages to good note taking:

  1. Note taking
  2. Note making
  3. Note interacting
  4. Note reflecting

In note taking, students:

• Prepare a page to take notes the same way each time. An essential question at the top of the page focuses the learner on the key learning objective that they should be able to discuss upon leaving the class

• Rule the page into two columns, with the first column taking up about a third of the page. The space on the left is for questions and notes that may be added in later as students reflect on their notes. The space on the right is for the student to take notes from the lecture, textbook, laboratory experiment, video, audio, whatever the source

• Listen and take notes in their own words – paraphrase what they hear so it makes sense to them rather than write down verbatim what they hear/see

• Leave spaces and lines between main ideas for revising later and adding information

• Develop their own consistent system of abbreviations and symbols to save time as they take notes

• Write in phrases, not complete sentences

• Use bullet points and lists where possible

• Learn how to listen for important information versus trivial information

• Take cues from the lecturer or source, e.g. “This is important…”

• Use highlighters and colour to indicate key ideas, changes in concepts or links between information.

In note making, students:

• Review and revise the content of their notes

• Write questions in the left-hand side near where the answer is contained on the right-hand side

• Connect key chunks of material in the notes pages using colour or symbols

• Exchange ideas and collaborate with other students to check for understanding and test the comprehensiveness of each other’s notes.

In note interacting, students:

• Link all the learning together by writing a summary that addresses the essential question and answers the questions from the left margin. Note that a summary is different from a reflection that focuses on the student’s response to the learning task or content

• Learn from their notes by building in to their study timetable regular times for revising their notes for each subject

• Cover the information on the right-hand side and use the questions as study prompts before a test.

In note reflecting:

• Written feedback should be provided by a peer, tutor or teacher to check for the student’s understanding in the initial learning phase

• Students should address the feedback by focusing on one area of challenge they are experiencing in their learning

• Students should also reflect over an entire unit on a regular basis leading up to exams and tests.

Tried-and-True Methods and Tips From Expert Note-Takers

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Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

Horst Tappe / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

Note-taking is the practice of writing down or otherwise recording key points of information. It’s an important part of the research process. Notes taken on class lectures or discussions may serve as study aids, while notes taken during an interview may provide material for an essay, article, or book. “Taking notes doesn’t simply mean scribbling down or marking up the things that strike your fancy,” say Walter Pauk and Ross J.Q. Owens in their book, “How to Study in College.” “It means using a proven system and then effectively recording information before tying everything together.”

Cognitive Benefits of Note-Taking

Note-taking involves certain cognitive behavior; writing notes engages your brain in specific and beneficial ways that help you grasp and retain information. Note-taking can result in broader learning than simply mastering course content because it helps you to process information and make connections between ideas, allowing you to apply your new knowledge to novel contexts, according to Michael C. Friedman, in his paper, “Notes on Note-Taking: Review of Research and Insights for Students and Instructors,” which is part of the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching.

Shelley O’Hara, in her book, “Improving Your Study Skills: Study Smart, Study Less,” agrees, stating:

“Taking notes involves active listening, as well as connecting and relating information to ideas you already know. It also involves seeking answers to questions that arise from the material.”

Taking notes forces you to actively engage your brain as you identify what’s important in terms of what the speaker is saying and begin to organize that information into a comprehensible format to decipher later. That process, which is far more than simply scribbling what you hear, involves some heavy brainwork.

Most Popular Note-Taking Methods

Note-taking aids in reflection, mentally reviewing what you write. To that end, there are certain methods of note-taking that are among the most popular:

  • The Cornell method involves dividing a piece of paper into three sections: a space on the left for writing the main topics, a larger space on the right to write your notes, and a space at the bottom to summarize your notes. Review and clarify your notes as soon as possible after class. Summarize what you’ve written on the bottom of the page, and finally, study your notes.
  • Creating a mind map is a visual diagram that lets you organize your notes in a two-dimensional structure, says Focus. You create a mind map by writing the subject or headline in the center of the page, then add your notes in the form of branches that radiate outward from the center.
  • Outlining is similar to creating an outline that you might use for a research paper.
  • Charting allows you to break up information into such categories as similarities and differences; dates, events, and impact; and pros and cons, according to East Carolina University.
  • The sentence method is when you record every new thought, fact, or topic on a separate line. “All information is recorded, but it lacks [the] clarification of major and minor topics. Immediate review and editing are required to determine how information should be organized,” per East Carolina University.

Two-Column Method and Lists

There are, of course, other variations on the previously described note-taking methods, such as the two-column method, says Kathleen T. McWhorter, in her book, “Successful College Writing,” who explains that to use this method:

“Draw a vertical line from the top of a piece of paper to the bottom. The left-hand column should be about half as wide as the right-hand column. In the wider, right-hand column, record ideas and facts as they are presented in a lecture or discussion. In the narrower, left-hand column, note your own questions as they arise during the class.”

Making a list can also be effective, say John N. Gardner and Betsy O. Barefoot in “Step by Step to College and Career Success.” “Once you have decided on a format for taking notes, you may also want to develop your own system of abbreviations,” they suggest.

Note-Taking Tips

Among other tips offered by note-taking experts:

  • Leave a space between entries so that you can fill in any missing information.
  • Use a laptop and download information to add to your notes either during or after the lecture.
  • Understand that there is a difference between taking notes on what you read and what you hear (in a lecture). If you’re unsure what that might be, visit a teacher or professor during office hours and ask them to elaborate.

If none of these methods suit you, read the words of author Paul Theroux in his article “A World Duly Noted” published in The Wall Street Journal in 2013:

“I write down everything and never assume that I will remember something because it seemed vivid at the time.”

And once you read these words, don’t forget to jot them down in your preferred method of note-taking so that you won’t forget them.


Brandner, Raphaela. “How to Take Effective Notes Using Mind Maps.” Focus.

East Carolina University.

Friedman, Michael C. “Notes on Note-Taking: Review of Research and Insights for Students and Instructors.” Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, 2014.

Gardner, John N. and Betsy O. Barefoot. Step by Step to College and Career Success. 2 nd ed., Thomson, 2008.

McWhorter, Kathleen T. Successful College Writing. 4 th ed, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010.

O’Hara, Shelley. Improving Your Study Skills: Study Smart, Study Less. Wiley, 2005.

Pauk, Walter and Ross J.Q. Owens. How to Study in College. 11 th ed, Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2004.

Theroux, Paul. “A World Duly Noted.” The Wall Street Journal, 3 May 2013.

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

There are many different ways of taking notes in school or at the university. Some prefer to take a structured approach and use an outline method to take notes, some may prefer a visual way and draw mind maps, some may even use no structure at all. However, there is one note-taking technique that is superior to others in many cases and science has proven that it is not only more efficient but also makes it a lot easier to review notes, for example when preparing for an exam.

The technique we‘re referring to is called “Cornell Note Taking”. It is a system for taking, organizing and reviewing notes and has been devised by Prof. Walter Pauk of Cornell University in the 1950s.

It requires very little preparation which makes it ideal for note taking in class. The page will be divided into 4 — or sometimes only 3 — different sections: Two columns, one area at the bottom of the page, and one smaller area at the top of the page:

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

The idea behind this is very easy. All actual notes from the lecture go into the main note-taking column.

The smaller column on the left side is for questions about the notes that can be answered when reviewing and keywords or comments that make the whole reviewing and exam preparation process easier.

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

When reviewing the notes, a brief summary of every page should be written into the section at the bottom.

Why successful people take notes and how to make it your habit

Besides being a very efficient way of taking great notes in class, Cornell note taking is THE perfect tip for exam preparation. Here’s why:

The system itself encourages you to reflect on your notes by actively summarizing them in their own words. Often, this can already be enough to remember study notes and to successfully pass an exam.

When reviewing your notes it’s also useful to reorder objects on the page, for example, to add a solution to an answer on the side to the notes.

Curious about the app featured in this post?

GoodNotes is one of the most popular note-taking apps for handwritten notes on the iPad, and it comes with the Cornell notes template you see above. With GoodNotes you can:

  • Take handwritten notes and search them afterwards
  • Annotate your PDF or PowerPoint lecture slides or articles
  • Easily organize your notes into notebooks, folders, and keep everything synced across your iPad, Mac, and iPhone

We hope that this tip for better note taking helps you to prepare yourself more efficiently for exams or the next meeting. If Cornell Notes is not the right method for you, we recommend reading our overview of the most common note-taking methods and when to use them: