Note-taking 101

Note-taking 101

I think I speak for most students when I say that midterm season means heightened stress, social media overload, and procrastination like never seen before. Midterm season is a force to be reckoned with, but there’s a silver lining. Midterm season means we’re that much closer to the sweet freedom of the holidays (right after exams season that is…).

What makes midterm season so stressful anyways? The whole studying part isn’t too bad if you’ve been taking good notes in lecture and keeping up with the content. As long as your materials are well organized and thorough, it really just comes down to pushing through.

If there’s one thing I do really well, it’s staying organized. I have just about everything integrated with my Google Calendar and no deadline is missed. I have “ideal” start-dates for all my assignments and sometimes even have reminders set weeks in advanced. But, where I struggle and maybe you do too, is in my lecture/textbook note-taking.

Sometimes the prof speaks too fast, sometimes they only have one or two sentences on their slides, and sometimes it’s a combination of both. Nonetheless, this is problematic. I’m either writing everything down from the lecture (to decipher later), or not writing down enough and left with half-complete notes (and a whole lot of fill-in-the-blanks).


Over the years, I’ve tried several techniques to up my note-taking game. Here are three strategies that have worked for me:

1) Main ideas: Most of us already know we should be writing down main ideas and important examples, but sometimes it’s nice to hear it again. First and foremost, turn your phone off and sit away from your friends. Simply moving where I sit in class has really helped me. Next, listen attentively and prioritize what you write down based on what is relevant/supplemental to the slides. Usually, main ideas are left on slides so students can build upon those ideas with extra information.


2) Pre-reading: This method is not for the faint of heart. Grab your textbook, lecture slides, and your favourite writing materials. Read over the content being covered and make some light notes on your slides. Attend the lecture and be amazed at how much you already have down, but most importantly UNDERSTAND.


3) Lecture recording: One of the things I find most useful is when there are podcasts for lectures. Having an audio recording of the lecture in combination with one or both of the methods above is a fail-proof system for better notes (and probably better grades).


What I’ve learned is that there are no true shortcuts when it comes to good note-taking and good notes are so important when it comes to later studying for exams and lowering stress levels. So, if you’ve got any note-taking tips, I’d love for you to share them here. In the end, we all can benefit from better note-taking.

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