The Best Note Taking Strategies for College Students

New year, new notes? Call me nerdy, but one of my favorite things about school is note taking. Yes, you heard me correctly: I love squeezing myself into those stiff lecture hall chairs, pulling out my favorite note taking supplies and jotting down and organizing my professors’ thoughts as they simultaneously speak them. There’s something rewarding about having nice-looking notes that also double as good studying material. This week I wanted to share my favorite note taking strategies that will help you reach note taking nirvana.

best note taking strategies

1. Have the best supplies.

There are so many factors that go into picking the best note taking supplies, because nothing sucks more than writing on crappy paper with a crappy pen. You need to begin by choosing whether or not you will take notes electronically or by hand. There are benefits to both, but I personally prefer to take notes by hand. On my iPad, I like using the app Notability that you can find in the App Store.

Going on a more traditional route, starting with the best notebook is key. I personally prefer spiral-bound, college-lined notebooks that easily lay flat and are easy to write on. As far as writing utensils go, I like to have both pens and highlighters, and sometimes colored pens. These are my favorite black/blue pens and these are my favorite highlighters (they allow you to better see what you’re highlighting, so you have less mistakes!). When I’m in the mood to get colorful with my note taking, I also like to use colored pens like these.

2. Know how you want to format your notes.

There’s two basic ways to format notes: Cornell Style (also known as Column Style) or Bulletin Style. Know which style you prefer. Cornell notes are formatted in two columns and use keywords to organize notes (click here for more info). I tried Cornell notes for a while, but bulletin style is personally what I prefer. I also try to organize my bulletins with headers, usually prompted by the professor’s slides or subtopics.

Once you’ve figured out how you want to format your notes, it’s just a matter of practice. Over time, you’ll figure out what works best for you. One thing I always make sure to include in my notes, though, is a title and a date. I always title my notes (either with the lecture’s title or the lecture number or both) and I include the date so I know when I took the notes.

3.  Emphasize key terms and dates.

This is kind of an obvious suggestion, but I’m going to challenge you to emphasize key terms in a less traditional way. Instead of pulling out your highlighter, try writing them in a different script or using a bright purple glitter pen that will draw your eyes to the term. Keep your notes fun and creative, always.

4. Highlight notes after class.

After class is over, take some time during lunch or in the evening to review your notes and highlight any important items. This will help you review and synthesize everything that you wrote down in class.

5. Review notes before the next lecture.

Following my fourth point, also review your notes before your next lecture. My favorite way of doing this is just by simply showing up to class about fifteen minutes early and looking over my notes/highlighted terms. This allows me to stay in-touch with what I have previously learned so that I know I’m not behind for the upcoming lecture.

6. Be creative!

There’s nothing more tiring than looking at black-and-white notes. Have fun with your notes! As I previously mentioned, try to make your notes creative, fun, and appealing to the eye. It can be hard to be super creative when actually taking the notes since you’re hurriedly scribbling incoherent words, but when preparing and reviewing notes, you can always do small things that will make your notes pop!

One thing that I love to do is make my note titles look super cute when I’m waiting for the lecture to begin. I like to use a colorful marker or highlighter paired with a pen to create a title that almost pops off the page. When reviewing notes, I will sometimes doodle arrows, stars, or any other identifying symbols in the margins near important information. The prettier they look, the less daunting they are and the more likely I am to study them.

7. Take notes when reading from your textbooks.

For many of us, highlighting is the go-to operation when reading assigned textbook pages, but I’ve found that taking notes instead is much more helpful. Not only am I able to remember the information better afterwards, but I understand it better as I read it. All in all, I just retain the reading so much better. Yes, notes take more time, but it’s time that you would have used reviewing the textbook passages that you didn’t initially understand.

8. Write down your professor’s examples.

This is so important! Many times during a lecture, a professor will give examples of various terms or situations that they are trying to describe. Write down these examples because they’re usually included on exams or work well in papers. I’ve found the best way to do this is just to write down key words that will help me remember the example. In the case of classical conditioning (PSYC 101), when the professor told us about the experiment of Pavlov’s Dogs, I just simply wrote “Pavlov’s Dogs” under the definition of classical condition so that I could remember the two went together. After all, I could always look up the experiment at a later date if I needed a reminder.

And there you have it! Do you have any other suggestions? How do you like to take notes? Shoot me your responses in the comments below!

Until next week,


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One thought on “The Best Note Taking Strategies for College Students

  1. […] For the one class I have this semester that requires we use paper to take notes, I bought a notebook, but this is still handy so I have some form of paper in class in case of a pop quiz or in-class essay (I have these a lot, being a Spanish major). I personally love Decomposition Notebooks not only because they’re cute and eco-friendly, but because their paper quality is superior to any other notebook on the market (in my humble, humble opinion). Naturally, mine has cats on it! Here’s a similar design, of which I actually own and use to write my knitting patterns down in. If you want to see how I like to take my notes (and my personal favorite strategies), click here. […]


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