Good students take clear, organized and useful notes. If you want to get the most value from your notes, you can't just go through the motions of writing everything a teacher says. Instead, read before class, learn the material and use an easy-to-follow system to outline and write notes.

Before Class

Students generally take notes at two points -- while reading alone and during class lectures. You should typically read text and organize book notes prior to a lecture. This process involves going through the chapter, outlining the key themes, subject headings and concepts. Within clearly organized categories, you list all key terms and concepts and write out definitions or explanations. Chapter prefaces or summaries are useful in learning what the author identifies as key concepts, terms and goals.

Note Structure

In both book and class lecture note-taking, your structure is important to organization and clarity for studying. Start notes for each book session or class lecture on a separate page, write the date at the top and write page numbers at the bottom for every page of notes taken during that session. Write brief phrases, use acronyms and shorthand when possible and write in your own words. When formatting, including indentations or marks that distinguish main points from subpoints or minor points. Use symbols to designate instructor perspectives, book points, potential test topics and your own interpretations.


To avoid inefficiency and hand cramps, it helps to understand the main elements to include in your notes. Essentially, you want to note any main idea and supporting points. Depending on subject matter, common elements to include are math formulas, core definitions, rules for decision-making and instructor-supported philosophies or perspectives. Adding notations in the margin of your notes may help you later to organize or review key points. Listening for key words, such as "This concept will be on the test," helps you get the main points.

Review and Reorganize

The first run-through on lecture notes is often rough. It is hard to write legibly and clearly while keeping up with the lecture. Take time to review and reorganize your notes later that day or soon after a lecture. Your memory helps in remembering what your illegible notes refer to. Rewriting or typing notes allows you to elaborate on points and concepts, add missing details or gaps and remove any items you decide are less pertinent. This process is a key distinction between great study notes and going through the motions in class.