College 101: Note Taking

By Kaitlin Hurtado on January 25, 2017

When it comes to note taking in college, there is no right or wrong method. Students have a wide range of preferences on note taking, and being able to alter your note taking method to every course and professor is key to achieving great results in a class.

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The Classic Pen and Paper Method 

Growing up, most students in public school settings were taught to take notes by hand due to lack of technology in the classroom. Students were expected to keep up with the teacher and utilize their handwritten notes for further studying.

One of the more efficient ways to write notes is using the Cornell method. This method encourages users to clearly label notes, organize key points and explanations, develop their own summaries, and review.

Another way to help amplify the effectiveness of handwritten notes is to develop a system of color coding and shorthand to aid in later studying. Different colors of pens and highlighters can help tie concepts together and make it easier to identify key ideas when skimming notes. A system of symbols can function similar to color coding to categorize concepts and make notes easier to understand, even when cramming at the end of the semester.

While colleges and universities tend to give more freedom to students when it comes to note taking, some professors place a technology ban during their instruction, preventing students from using laptops and tablets to take notes. The prevailing statement of “I can type faster than I can write” is quickly disregarded by stricter instructors, and students will have to resort to handwriting notes to avoid points docked from their grade.

While technology may seem like the easiest method of note taking, it could be the hardest if you have tabs of online shopping and social media platforms alongside your lecture notes during instruction. By taking technology out of the equation, there’s less possibility of distraction when taking notes and studying them later.

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The Keyboard 

Though handwritten notes are classic, typing notes is the near-obvious answer to the question of efficiency. You can type more words per minute than you can write and do not have to worry about the legibility of your notes for later studying.

Another factor adding to the efficiency of typing notes is the array of possibilities for later organization. Rearranging notes typed in a rush during lecture is as simple as copy and pasting within one Word document — something you can’t easily do with handwritten notes.

Alexandra Gacuya, a second-year biological sciences major at UC Irvine, commented on how typing notes helps her with later studying when she transfers typed notes from lecture to Quizlet. The study tool allows users to create their own notecards sans actual paper.

“I usually write a concept on one side and on the other side, I have an elaboration of the concept as explained in lecture and in the course textbook,” Gacuya said. “Quizlet is convenient because I learn better with notecards.”

“They also have a mobile app available, so it’s more accessible on-the-go than carrying around notecards for every course,” she said.

The Group Effort 

As efficient as a single note taker is on a single keyboard, joining forces with classmates allows for more input on course content and helps fill in on concepts not understood/taken down during instruction.

Take advantage of Google Docs/Drive to make note taking a collaborative effort by having classmates uploading their individual lecture notes to the same drive or document. After reading course instruction in different forms, students can ask for further help on concepts they don’t understand. This group effort encourages peer teaching, even in an environment that doesn’t have as big of an emphasis on the method as earlier education had.

The Preparation

While it seems like an extra, unnecessary step, it’s a good idea to check out any resources that your professor provides online. From handouts applicable to course content or actual lecture PowerPoints, professors do want you to succeed and provide the materials for you to do so.

Print or download PowerPoints before lecture so you can write or type directly onto the lecture slides rather than racing to copy slides word for word instead of taking it in during instruction.

The Perks of “Good” Note Taking 

More people than yourself can benefit from your note taking. Colleges and universities often enlist the help of its students to provide their notes for fellow students unable to take their own notes due to disabilities. Note taking for organizations, even off-campus like OneClass or Course Hero, can provide note takers with benefits like Community Service Hours or financial pay. Try contacting the Disabilities Services Center for your university for opportunities (UC Irvine students, applications for note takers can be found here).

Finding the note taking that works best for you is definitely a learning process — it can even change between courses. It’s best to find out what the method is as early as possible as notes aren’t going to work if they are illegible or hard to understand later in the semester when you actually need to use them to study.

By Kaitlin Hurtado

Uloop Writer
Hello! I'm Kaitlin, a second year Literary Journalism major at UC Irvine. I'm a writer on Uloop's national team and a campus editor for UCI.

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