Note taking

Learn how to take notes that help you understand and retain information.

Note taking could be completely new to you, or a skill you would like to improve on. Here you can learn about the note taking process, what good notes typically include and can check out five common note taking systems.

There are many benefits to making good notes. Effective note taking develops skills in ordering information, rephrasing information, summarising information and thinking critically about information, to name a few. This ultimately leads to understanding course content more quickly than before. Good note taking skills will make your life much easier.

Hear about note taking from some recent Lincoln University students

taking notes

The three stage learning process

It’s not just about taking notes in class. Making good notes is a three stage process. 

Have a look at the notes below made by Kelly-Anne Bentley, a successful science student at LU. Her system of notetaking is as follows:

  • Before the lecture: Kelly-Anne uses the slides to write an outline (in black pen) of the lecture’s main headings and key details. She also pastes key lecture images into that outline.
  • During the lecture: Kelly Anne makes further notes (in orange pen) adding to what she has already outlined. The examples and extra information she is able to include in her notes because the basic outline is already there strengthen her understanding.
  • After the lecture: Kelly-Anne reviews and fills out her notes even more, seeking answers to any questions she is unsure of.

Kelly Anne's study style is effective and is one example of using this three part process:

Before your class, complete the preparation work including doing any assigned reading (check the course outline or Akoraka | Learn page), watching videos, completing online activities and reading through the lecture slides. This means skimming, noticing key concept definitions, topic headings/subheadings, diagrams etc. and maybe creating 'pre-lecture' notes with these as Kelly Anne does. This will give you an overview of the class beforehand, helping you engage with the material and get more out of the class.

In the class, use a note taking system that engages you actively with the content you are learning about. If you’re in a lecture, don’t forget to look up at the lecturer and take notice of cues, body language and points emphasised. Having an idea beforehand of what the lecture will cover means you will be able to do this. Remember to participate fully in class discussions and make notes on important points from these too.

If you are taking notes from a lecture recording, don’t go faster than 1.5 speed and pause the recording as you take your notes so you don’t miss anything. Taking notes while watching videos makes you an active learner and means you get more out of recorded material than if you simply watch it. 

After the class, review and expand out your notes while they are fresh in your mind. This includes referring to other resources on Akoraka | Learn that are relevant to the content of the class such as weekly readings. These resources help answer questions you had in the class and extend your learning. The notes you take from other learning material expand and add to the notes you took in class. You may want to watch the class recording too. Some students like to reprocess their notes into a different format, such as a mind-map or a summary sheet. Doing something like this with the information, or discussing it with friends, will help you retain the information and understand it better.

How should I take notes?

Note taking is not just typing or scribbling down at a furious rate, there are processes you can use to make it much more effective. However, there is no one size fits all system to use. You will need to choose one that works for you - we will come on to that in a moment - but there are some principles of good note taking you should be aware of. Good note taking should cause you to:

  • listen more actively to the lecturer or tutor
  • order information into key points, sub-points and detail
  • rephrase information into your own words/pictures/diagrams
  • ask questions
  • understand underlying principles
  • connect theory with examples provided
  • connect new information with what you already know
  • summarise the learning from the lecture
  • take hints from the lecturer about what to pay attention to
  • have a useful record for studying later

If your current note taking system is not doing most of the above, it might be time to try a new one.

What note taking system should I try?

Here are five common note-taking systems you could try:
note taking 2

Apps, reading and exams

  • If you are using online apps to take lecture notes (eg Evernote, Mindmeister, Apple Notes, Google Keep, Notion, Obsidian, Microsoft OneNote and Microsoft Word), apply the same principles of effective note taking as described above. Taking word-for-word notes for an entire class or video is not the best use of your time. You are unlikely to take in what the speaker is teaching you or develop deeper concept understanding.
  • In addition to what you have learnt about taking notes here, learning how to read more critically and think more critically will improve the quality of comments you are noting down.
  • Click here for advice about making study notes for tests and exams.

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