Black male student with yellow stripe in Afro writing notes in class

Better Note-Taking Tips for High Schoolers to Take to College

Quality and effective note-taking requires practice. Get some tips and tricks to help you take the best notes possible from a student who understands.

Are you a bad note-taker? Do you have trouble studying what you’ve learned in class? Are you one of the many students who have no idea where to start when trying to improve your note-taking skills? Notes are extremely useful for learning and practicing outside of class, which is why teachers make you take them! It’s not always fun, but it is always beneficial. Learning to take good notes is something that takes learning and practice. It’s a very important skill to get the hang of now so by the time you go to college you'll be a pro. If you're having trouble learning the art of note-taking, keep reading for further assistance!

Learn to listen while writing

Multitasking is an not ideal skill but a necessary skill to be mastered when it comes to learning the art of note-taking. From experience, I can say this is very true, especially in both high school and college classes. You need to be able to listen and absorb the information at the same time you're writing it down. The professor might say things that are not in a PowerPoint or written on the board but are, in fact, very important for you to know. They might go a little too fast, and you need to be able to keep up. So practice your listening skills! 

Related: Tips for Better Organization and Study Habits in High School

Don't write down every single word

Speaking of going too fast, the majority of professors in college, and even high school, will not stop and wait for you to finish writing everything that's on the board. Try to avoid using small words that aren't always necessary, such as: and, the, a, or an. Abbreviate common words and phrases you will recognize later, use initials, and draw simple pictures or symbols to represent things that you notice occur frequently in the notes. Remember, you should be going back later, preferably that night, to review your notes and ask questions, so it is at that point that you can finish writing and filling it gaps on things you didn't get down in class.

Pay close attention to future assignment hints 

Staying focused during lectures is crucial. Instructors will often indirectly say or do things to give hints about information and ideas that could appear on future quizzes and tests. For instance, the professor might go into a subject or idea with great detail, which usually means it's something that greatly interests the teacher and may be important to understand completely for questions on a test. Many professors even make it obvious using signal phrases like, “This is important...“ “For this reason...” “It is critical...” etc. If they repeat a question throughout the lecture or ask questions about what you just learned, they are likely emphasizing the significance of you remembering it. They might do or say certain things quite often, depending on what the professor is like or known for. Be sure to look or listen for actions or words that you notice your instructor does or says frequently.

Related: 3 Things to Learn Before College for Academic Success

Use a structured and organized note-taking format

I would suggest using the same note-taking format, whatever you choose, for all your classes. You should of course always use what works best for you and helps you understand the information. There is always a difference between students who take some notes and students who take organized notes and review them daily. But if you're looking for a new method to try because your current strategies aren't cutting it, you can try this. 

The Cornell system

At my school, we were introduced to the Cornell University note-taking system, which emeritus professor Walter Pauk developed. I've included an example of my own modified example of the regular Cornell note format. This is usually how I take my own notes in class. You can find the official format for Cornell notes using an online search, but let's break down the general sections.

  • Topic and Title: The title or topic of the notes, lecture, or chapter you are learning about
  • Essential Question box: In this section, create questions that ask about the most important thing you need to take away after studying your completed notes. Make sure your question is thought-provoking, comprehensive, and an intriguing introduction to the ideas expressed in your notes. You can either pose the question before note-taking for guided writing, or after during review and summary of information. Whichever better suits your needs. 
  • Questions column: Here you will write questions and/or the big ideas of the overall content you're learning. This box may also include sub-section titles, but should predominantly be used for writing questions that should be inserted when you go back to study your notes. Your questions should be challenging and grasp the main ideas of what each section of your notes is about. Develop questions similar to questions that might appear on quizzes and tests. The idea of this section of the Cornell format is to create longer-lasting retention when you apply what you've learned by becoming the “test question maker” in your studies.
  • Notes box: This is the only box you should be writing in during your lecture or while reading for an assignment. This is also where you'll use all the tips and tricks I gave you previously to punch up the efficiency of your note-taking in class.
  • Summary box: Once your sheet is filled out, write a short one- to three-sentence summary about what you have written down. You want to convey only the most significant information from your notes. The answer to the Essential Question should be what the summary is based upon. Make sure that you have evaluated your notes thoroughly so you can write a thoughtful and helpful summary.

Related: 5 Tips for Focusing and Note-Taking in Online Classes

When it comes to note-taking, exercising longer-lasting learning practices will help you when you go back to study your notes. Do yourself a favor and try out this preemptive method of note-taking to see how it might help you. It only takes a little extra effort to make a world of difference in your studies and grades. You're only doing yourself a disservice come test time when you find a messy binder full of incomprehensible information. Get organized, get studying, and get those grades up! 

Another great thing to pair with improved note-taking skills is new, engaging ways to study, like these 4 Unique Study Techniques for When the Usual Tricks Fail You.

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About Serenity Bogert

Serenity Bogert is a simultaneous high school and college student. Cares about people, art, science, and education. Adult-escent. Ginger. Can type 56 WPM and likes to annoy famous people infinitely on social media. You can annoy Serenity on Twitter @serenityredsox.


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