Whether you are about to enter your first year of college or returning for another year, you will be most likely be taking a ton of notes in your classes. Getting into your class routine and taking notes every day can be difficult at first, especially when you’re trying to figure out each professor’s teaching style and what you’ll actually need to remember for every exam. You may be taking online classes, be in huge lecture halls, or in labs — no matter the class structure, taking quality notes in college is key. College notetaking is quite different than how you may have taken your high school notes, so here’s how to take better notes in college and set yourself up for success.
Try Handwriting Your Notes.
For all of my classes, regardless if they are online or in-person lectures, I like to literally write out my notes. While a majority of your professors will be fine with you taking notes with a laptop, and it can be a quick and efficient note-taking technique, I find it distracting. Medical Daily reports that writing your notes by hand instead of on a laptop can help you boost memory, retain information, and understand concepts better. Plus, as a health science major, a lot of my “notes” are drawings, which is tricky to do quickly on most laptops; so, I love taking notes on paper. When it comes to taking physical notes, every single person has their own personal way of writing and organizing them, so try a few methods and see what works best for you.
Organize Your Notes With a Table of Contents.
This notetaking tip may seem a bit odd, but trust me, it’s a lifesaving academic hack that will bring your class notes to the next level. Personally, I leave the first couple pages blank in the notebook I’m using to create a table of contents. This also means that I number my pages on each notebook. Depending on the type of class, I’ll usually divide up the contents into chapters or sections. Some chapters may only be a few pages long, while others are hundreds with smaller sections in it. I’ll then write out which pages are on that chapter. This makes it really easy to find what I’m looking for once I start writing tons of notes. Let’s say I’m flipping through and looking for section on a particular health topic; the table of contents makes it easy to scan and quickly find.
Color-code Your Notes With Bright Pens & Markers.
Writing notes in a variety of colors is a fun way to stay alert during a long class, plus it’s a great technique for keeping your notes organized and eye-catching. A study conducted by The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences and published by the U.S. National Institute of Health found that color can actually produce a higher level of attention and increase memory performance. So the next time you go to take notes in blue or black pen, consider adding some pops of color instead.
When it comes to taking my own class notes, I like to title each page in one color, subheadings in another color, definitions in a third, and…you get the point. Color-coding notes can help break up each page visually, stay organized, and you’ll be able to find exactly what you’re looking for when studying.
Rewrite (or Type) Your Notes to Help Boost Your Memory.
If your class is extra rigorous, I would recommend rewriting your notes. Since you probably don’t have a lot of time in your busy schedule to do this, try handwriting them during class and typing them up later, or vice versa, whether it’s later that day or at your next study session. Rewriting something for a second (or third) time can help you go over the material and learn it more in depth. If your first round of notes were more “stream-of-consciousness” style, you may try reorganizing them into categories the second time around. Go back and see if you missed any information from the class lecture or your textbook. Did your professor mention a vocab word you’re unfamiliar with? Is there a concept you need to read more about to fully understand it? Rewriting and even reviewing your notes after class can be a game-changer in helping you succeed.
Make Flashcards (Digital or Physical).
After I’m finished rewriting my second round of notes, I write everythingon flashcards, making it at least my third time writing the information down. It’s a classic study tool for quizzing yourself and breaking information down into bite-sized pieces. It may seem like a lot of work, but studying with flash cards can be super helpful for final exams and tests where you need to remember a lot of information. If you don’t feel like handwriting your notes onto physical cards, try a free digital flash card platform like Quizlet to make studying easier and more efficient (plus you’ll save some trees!).
Follow Up & Clarify Any Confusing Info.
If you’re in a big lecture hall and your professor says something that doesn’t make sense, highlight or put star next to it. You may want to circle the information or highlight it in a certain color. Whatever your tactic is, find a way to remind yourself to go over information later — and certainly before you’re going to be tested on it. College moves fast, so it’s important to stay on top of studying and be super clear on what you know and don’t know!
These simple, yet tangible tips will help you take better notes in college so that you can set yourself up for success. Good luck!