How To Take Good Notes

How To Take Good Notes

Note taking while reading is a skill. Some people come about it naturally, but most have to be taught how to take really great notes. Whether you are already in school or you are returning to school for the first time in awhile, knowing how to take good notes while reading is absolutely key to your success.

Studies have shown that taking notes improves both your comprehension and retention of information (aka: how much you remember and how much you understand). By writing down what you are learning, you internalize more and can better recall facts and details.

The type of notes you take depends upon the setting. Let’s take a look at the two main settings for note taking.

How to take Good Notes While Reading

One of the most common opportunities take good notes is while you are reading a school textbook or other assigned reading. Textbook writing can often be dry and hard to pay attention to. By taking good notes while you are reading, you’ll force yourself to stay focused and really understand what you are reading.

  1. Divide the reading into sections
    • Often the reading will be divided for you. Textbooks are split into units, chapters, sections, etc. If your assignment is something like an article or an essay, separate it into sections of about 1-3 paragraphs, depending on how dense the text is (how much information is in each paragraph).
  2. Read
    • Now take one of those sections and read it carefully. Don’t rush yourself. If there are unfamiliar words, look them up. You may also want to reread sections now and then.
  3. Write down the main idea
    • Look at the section as a whole. At this point, you’re looking for the main idea of the section. What point is the author trying to prove? What is the main thing they are trying to say? Write it down.
  4. Write down the details
    • Skim back over the section for important details. This can include things like names, dates, definitions, or anything that you think may be important.
  5. Repeat
    • Repeat steps 2, 3, and 4 until you finish the reading. When you come to the end of a larger section (a whole chapter, for example), take a moment to jot down the main idea of the larger section as well. This will help you keep in mind the big picture of the text as well as the small details.


how to take good notes while reading

How to Take Good Notes in Person
Taking notes during a class lecture is a bit different. Teachers sometimes speak very fast, and you can feel like you are running a race just to keep up.

  1. Determine your preferred method
    • If your teacher doesn’t mind laptops in the classroom, you have the option of either typing your notes or writing them by hand. Figure out which is faster for you, and stick to it.
  2. Listen
    • Never get so caught up in your note taking that you forget to really pay attention to the lecturer. Listen closely to what they’re saying, and try to avoid distractions or daydreaming.
  3. Write down triggers
    • Taking notes in person is more about writing down triggers: things that will help you remember the main idea or details that you want to write down later. Never write in complete sentences, and use shorthand and abbreviations as much as possible. The key is to write just enough so that it will trigger your memory for the full idea.
  4. Rewrite
    • As soon as possible after the lecture, find a quiet place to read over and rewrite your notes. This is the time when you turn those short triggers into full main ideas or details. For example, you might write “Biz type: sole prop, partner, corp, co-op” during class, and now you would rewrite that as “The four main types of business ownership are: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and cooperative.”

how to take good notes while reading and in person

You should now know hot to take good notes while reading and in person. Now you can also stretch this beyond your education. When you get a job after graduation, use your knowledge on how to take good notes while reading to comprehend and remember assignments from your boss or main ideas from team meetings.

If you have any questions or are feeling inspired to pursue your education, get in touch with one of our LA ORT Advisors today!

LA ORT is a group of nonprofit junior colleges in Los Angeles and Van Nuys provide career training in short term courses.