Note-Taking | St. Lawrence University Academic Support

Note-Taking

Writing down notes during class is an essential skill to learn the material, perform well on exams and quizzes, and apply the concepts successfully in essays. Although you may be compelled to record every single word that is spoken by your professor, it is better to process the information and summarize it in your own words.

Keep a notebook for each of your classes. If you prefer to have a 3 or 5-subject notebook, have a section dedicated to each class. This way, you can always find the notes you need for the right class. All handouts or printed pages should be kept in a folder (again, dedicate one for each class) or in a 3-ring binder. 

If your professor makes the PowerPoint slides available before class, print them out and bring them with you to class. This way, you can focus more on what is being said rather than copy the text from the slides. If you don’t have time to print the slides out, record your notes in a notebook and keep track of what slide the material was presented on. After class, print out the slides and review them with your class notes. Keep these notes until the very end of the semester - even if the professor says that you will not be tested on the material again, it's likely that you will need to review it when learning new material.

Avoid taking notes on a laptop, if possible. Although you may be able to record more information, research has shown that you are less likely to process this information and are more likely to forget it. Using a laptop may also make you more prone to give into temptations of using it for non-scholarly activities (i.e. checking social media, online shopping, watching videos/Netflix) during class.

Note-Taking Methods

Outline (i.e. Linear) method

This method uses bullets to keep track of main ideas and the supporting information that follows. It keeps track of the information as it is presented (i.e. chronologically) by the professor in class.

Example of outline notes:

1. Main idea #1

    a. Supporting info

        i. Detail #1

        ii. Detail #2

    b. Supporting info

2. Main idea #2

    a. Supporting info

        i.     Detail #1

Cornell method

The Cornell method of note-taking was developed by Walter Paulk of Cornell University. This method encourages students to review and engage with their class notes after class, rather than wait till right before a quiz or exam to review them.

Setting up the Cornell Method

  1. The right 6-inches of the paper is designated as the “note-taking column.” Use this side to record your lecture notes.
  2. The left 2.5-inches of the paper is designated as the “cue column.” Use this side to write down questions based on the information in the “note-taking column.
  3. The bottom 2-inches of the paper (entire width) is designated as the “summary.” Use this section to summarize your notes after you have spent time reviewing the information.

How to use your Cornell notes

Review your notes by covering up the “note-taking column” and answer the questions in the “cue column.” The questions in the “cue column” should help you recall the information you recorded in lecture. As you study, these questions should prompt you to think about how you would apply the concepts to new ideas and questions that may be asked on quizzes and exams. Make connections to previous class lectures and texts you have read.

General note-taking tips

  • Review your lecture notes as soon after class as possible. This allows you to recall any information that you might not have been able to record at the time. 
  • Avoid recording all the information verbatim. Paraphrase and summarize as much as possible.
  • Make your notes legible and neat so you can read the information. Don’t worry about making them “perfect” - it’s great to have nice-looking notes; however, it’s the information that is essential for your learning, not their appearance.
  • Use colored pens or pencils to highlight different topics/ideas. This helps key details stand out in your notes.
  • If you miss a lecture, reach out to a classmate and ask to review their notes. Go over the notes on your own and if there is still something missing or unclear, visit your professor. DO NOT ask your professor “Did I miss anything important?” or assume that your professor will presume you the notes. It is your responsibility to get the notes.