Apply these strategies to make your note making more efficient and your notes more useful:
- Always maintain academic integrity and note the source of information. Write down the page number if you are making a note from a specific part of a text.
- Be clear and concise so that your notes will be easy to read and understand later on.
- Leave extra space in your notes so you can add further information and clarification as you learn more.
- Make your notes visually pleasing and easy to skim through.
- Highlight important points, particularly core concepts, key theories, and assessed task instructions.
- Plan how you will store your notes for easy retrieval of information. For example, plan how you will organise your files and folders so that you can easily find the notes you need.
- Explore different ways of making notes for different purposes:
- Note-making applications such as OneNote and Evernote can be customised to fit a range of specific needs.
- Mind mapping can be an effective method of structuring notes and ideas.
- MS Word and Google docs will allow you to easily navigate large amounts of notes through headings, bookmarks and hyperlinks.
- Spreadsheets such as Excel or Google Sheets can be used as note making tools when you need to tag or organise information by categories or in chronological order.
- Review and improve your notes as you learn:
- Rewrite what you have written if it can be made clearer and easier to understand.
- Add more details if needed.
- Annotate or summarise the information captured in any diagrams or images.
Ask your lecturer or tutor, or your classmates to help you fill in any gaps.
Note making in classes View
To get the most out of your class or study session and retain the information you learn, you need to make notes actively. That involves engaging with the material and noting down your own thoughts, understanding, and questions, as well as the answers to your questions once you find them.
Active note-making also requires preparing before class, and summarising, reflecting, and revising after class.
View the tips for each of these stages below:
This may seem like you are using up more of your time, but it actually saves you a lot of time later on, and makes your note-making a lot more efficient and effective.
Before class, research the topic and think of questions that you might have. Having some understanding of the topic before class allows you to engage with the content more actively during class, and makes it easier to participate in class discussions. Consider unit outcomes or weekly learning objectives to guide your thinking.
To research the topic:
- Check your unit information to find out what the class is about.
- Complete any weekly readings.
- If slides or other class materials are available to you in advance, read through them so you know what to expect, and highlight any sections that you want clarified.
Throughout your preparation write down any specific questions you have.
Approach coursework slides and handouts actively. Think critically about the content, note the main points and see how the individual parts of the content are connected.
Listen out for verbal cues, and look for visual cues. Where the content is emphasised by your lecturer or tutor either in speech, or visually in the materials they provide, it is likely to be of particular importance. Make notes about why it is important, and how it relates to any assessed tasks you might have coming up.
Make connections between new and known information. How does the content you are learning relate to what you already know? In particular, make notes about how it relates to content from previous or upcoming classes, or other units you are undertaking. The more connections you can make, the greater overall understanding you will gain in your field of study.
Write down questions as soon as you think of them. In a classroom or live study situation, you may not always have the opportunity to ask questions immediately, and it is easy to forget them later. Therefore, write them down as soon as they come to mind and ask them when you have the chance to do so. Once you have the answer, add it to your notes too!
Whether they are in-person or online over video conferencing software, the struggle in lectures can often be to stay focused. There is a lot of information covered in a typical lecture. In addition to the active note-making tips provided above, remember that the real value of this style of class is that an expert is explaining the material to you live, so use your time with them wisely.
You may prefer to type your notes if you find that faster, but do not fall into the trap of simply typing out what your lecturer is saying verbatim. Always strive to summarise the main points, and apply your own critical thinking to ensure you understand the material.
Noting and asking questions in lectures:
- Note down questions as soon as you think of them, so they are well formed and ready to ask when you have the opportunity to do so.
In tutorials and hands-on classes like labs, pracs, studio, and clinical classes you are actively participating and have a lot to do, so you may not have time to stop and make notes for yourself.
- When you do have time to quickly jot something down, do so as briefly as possible by using dot-points and shorthand.
- When you do not have any time at all to take notes, write a quick summary of the main points directly after the class.
TIP: If you have produced something or written anything on a whiteboard, etc. during group-work or pair-work, taking a photo is a quick and easy way to capture that.
Pre-recorded videos are an increasingly common style of engaging with coursework. Live classes are also frequently recorded to make the materials accessible to everyone for revision purposes including the students who are not able to attend in person.
- As with live classes, try to be as active as possible in your note-making. Do not fall into the trap of passively watching the video without taking meaningful notes.
- Compile a list of questions and post them on your unit forums. This is especially important for pre-recorded lectures because there is no opportunity to ask questions during the class.
After class, or at the end of your study session, identify and reflect on the key points you have learned, and how this content relates to the overall context of your course (including other classes and units).
Clarify anything you do not understand. It is common to think of additional questions afterward, or simply realise that you want more clarification on a particular topic. When this happens, make sure you reach out to your lecturer or tutor, and add the answers to your notes for ease of reference later on.
Make a list of references or ideas to follow up, and do it! Undertake additional reading, and engage with each topic as much as you can to learn more. If any of the content you studied was specifically relevant to an assessed task, make a separate list of action items about the task. Use your notes to plan what you will do next.
Note making as a revision strategy View
An effective way to remember and understand the material you study is to re-read your notes frequently, and actively revise your notes to consolidate your learning. Active revision can help with memorisation, but more importantly it lets you practice applying the information, which is a crucial skill especially for timed assessments and professional practice.
Notes are a powerful revision tool, but only if you use them. There is no point making notes unless you review and revise them afterward, so make sure you do! If you are having trouble finding time for revision, see our tips on the How to manage your time resource.
Do not simply read your notes. As you revise the content, ask yourself questions, and constantly think about how you will use the information after you graduate and are working in your chosen field.
- Summarise the main points.
- Make additional notes for clarification where necessary.
- Make connections to what you have learned about the topic elsewhere.
- Make a list of points that you need to learn more about, and research each point.
It can help to keep your textbook or weekly readings handy while you revise your study notes so that you can look things up for clarification. If your lectures are recorded, you can also revise your notes while listening to the lecture again in case you missed anything, or simply to consolidate your learning using both the text and the audio/visuals.
How and when you revise your study notes can be flexible, but the most important thing is to do it regularly. Revising your notes on a regular basis will help shift the information from your short term memory into your long term memory. Repeated revisions are essential for organising your notes, and will help you retain the information.
- Within 24 hours of writing your notes summarise and clarify the content you learned in that class/study session. If there are any points you do not understand, ask your lecturer or tutor.
- At the end of each week revise what you have learned throughout the week. Draw connections to previous weeks and across units, and begin researching knowledge gaps.
At regular intervals in your learning revise your notes to keep the information fresh in your mind and build a cohesive understanding of how the topics relate to each other. For example, after each theme or module, revise your notes from each class to consolidate your understanding of that topic; and at the end of each semester, revise content from all previous semesters to understand how different aspects of your field fit into the bigger picture of your profession.
Revision does not have to be time consuming. You can revise your study notes in shorter revision sessions by using the summary section of your notes to gain a quick overview of the class material. Comparing all of the summaries is also an efficient exam study strategy, as it can give you an overview of your learning throughout the semester, and help you identify which materials to revisit for further information.
A further strategy leading on from this is to take content from your notes and turn it into flashcards, or an index book, for easy on-the-go revision.However, remember to keep your approach active. Even when you are dealing with short chunks of content, always ask yourself questions and think through how you would apply your knowledge in an exam or professional context.
Taking it further
As a student you will be expected to engage with the literature. This may include reading a set textbook for a unit or reading an academic article for a literature review.