How To Take Notes In College

Textbook, notepad, laptop, travel mug

How you take notes can affect how much information you're able to recall. You can make reviewing course information less stressful by learning how to integrate traditional techniques for taking notes with the technological accessibility of note-taking applications.

How To Take Notes

The best way to take notes in college depends on which method of note-taking works for you. Using a style of taking notes that allows you organize information in a way you can easily understand can help you with focus and comprehension when it comes time to study.

Styles of Note-Taking

  • Outlines - A familiar way of taking notes in college is by outlining. This method allows you to create a hierarchy of points highlighting the main topics and their supporting facts.
  • Write on the lecture slides - Whether you do this by hand on a printed copy or on your device's touch-screen, writing directly on the lecturer's presentation slides allows you to annotate details and ideas that help you understand the lesson better.
  • Flowcharts - Using boxes and lines for connecting chains of events, processes or interlocking ideas is a more visual way of understanding the subject matter.
  • Mind-maps - Take the central idea of the lecture and write it in the center of your paper. From there, create branches of different topics and facts that help you connect the supporting information to the main idea.

Tips For Taking Notes

  • Write clearly - You want to be able to read your notes later. When taking notes, write quickly, but ensure that what you're writing is legible.
  • Abbreviate - Use shorthand such as w and esp when you mean with and especially. Use symbols such as equal signs or arrows in text or to denote correlations between ideas.
  • Use a color coding system - Designate certain colors to mean specific things. Yellow highlighter can be for general information while orange indicates an important topic. Color coded tabs can signify changes in topics. Using color in your notes can make it easy to locate information at a glance.

Best Note-Taking Applications

Note-taking applications merge the contextual understanding of subject matter achieved in taking notes by hand with the organization and convenience of technology.

The best note-taking applications for college students are easy to use, promote organization and make finding information within your notes just a quick search away. Most have a free basic plan, a discounted option for students or low-cost and premium plans. Others are free with software and websites you already have access to.

  • Evernote - Besides taking notes, the Evernote web and device application allows users to set reminders, save web articles and sources with the Web Clipper extension for the Chrome web browser and the ability to access notes from a phone, tablet or computer. With Evernote, you can search within your notes and create notebooks to stay organized when you have multiple subject areas. You can add a note or notebook to a list of shortcuts for faster access, or tag items to make finding them easier.
  • Microsoft OneNote - Students who are already using Microsoft Office for their schoolwork, may find Microsoft OneNote convenient. With OneNote, you can use your fingertip or stylus to handwrite notes. Later they can be converted into typed text. You can add sections to arrange your notes into different course subjects or modules. Write notes on slides, share your notes with others, clip from the web and search your notes.
  • Google Keep and Google Docs - Google Keep also has a Chrome extension that allows you to save articles you find online. You can archive notes you're not ready to delete but don't want to be visible among your current notes. There is no option for formatting or the ability to organize notes into different folders with Google Keep, but you can add images and attachments, set reminders, change text color or copy your notes to Google Docs. Google Docs does allow formatting and organization into separate folders, which is helpful for students who have a lot of notes to organize or are working together to share notes with a group.
  • Simplenote - For those who are more interested in bare bones note-taking, Simplenote uses only text. You can search, apply tags or share your notes. You can even go back to previous versions of your note after you've made changes with its version slider.
  • Airtable - You can use the study guide template to add video, image or audio attachments to go along with your notes. Keep track of what notes you've studied and mastered or mark a subject as needing further review. You can also use Airtable as a tool for study groups. With this application, you can assign sections to specific people and collaborate to create detailed notes.

Finding the best way to take notes that works for you may take some trial and error. If you take the time to explore your options, you'll find a style of taking notes that fits your needs and the best note-taking application to help you reach your academic goals.

Ashley Wallis is an Army veteran and writer with a Bachelor's in English Language and Literature from SNHU. She is currently living in the Denver area. Find her on twitter @AshDWallis.


Explore more content like this article

A woman studying for a college course in a library.

How to Study: 9 Study Tips to Boost Learning

March 27, 2020

Once you've determined what to study in college, the challenge becomes how to study effectively. Luckily, there are plenty of science-backed study habits that can help you boost your learning, improve retention and help you succeed in your degree program.

A woman reading a scholarly source.

What is a Scholarly Source?

March 26, 2020

If you’re not sure how to identify a scholarly source when conducting research, rest assured that you’re not alone. Here are some important clues and techniques to help you identify which sources are credible, academic, and above all, scholarly.

A woman learning how to get a master's degree.

How to Get a Master's Degree

March 25, 2020

Interested in starting a new career or advancing in your current field? Boosting your career potential is one of the benefits of a master's degree. See yourself succeed by exploring how to get a master's degree, from the admission process to master's degree requirements for graduation.

How to Succeed in College