This post is all about how to take good college notes for better grades.

The key to success is good college notes. Goodbye. That’s it. That’s the post.

I’m serious. Regardless if you are a first-year freshman or a last semester senior, you won’t be able to escape note-taking. Everyone takes notes differently.

Some people have extremely neat and well-written notes. While others (me) have notes that look like a 3rd grader wrote them. There is a method to my madness which we’ll speak about in a minute.

Whether you are in a gigantic auditorium or in your dorm, watching a lecture from your computer note-taking will be required. Here are some tips to make your note-taking a success.

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This post shows you exactly how you should be taking notes in college.


The only wrong way to take notes is to not take them at all. So the real question is, how do you take good notes? And why are they important?

First let’s talk about what makes a note “good”. A good note has two components: an accurate summary of the lecture/reading and it must serve as a revision tool later on. If your notes can’t accomplish both of these tasks then you need to re-evaluate your note taking strategy.

Let me break down each criteria in more detail:

  • Accurate Summary – Your goal here is to capture the key ideas, terms or concepts within the lecture (and reading). One easy way to do this is by writing down the questions you have after each section. This will help you discover what’s important and make sure you understand the main points of the lecture or reading passage.
  • Revision Tool – You can accomplish this my using mnemonics, diagrams or key term sheet. Mnemonics are essentially memory devices which helps you recall something (i.e., HOMES to remember the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie & Superior). A diagram is exactly what it sounds like; they show relationships between complex topics in a simple way (i.e., SOCRATES for different types of triangles). And finally, key term sheets are lists of vocabulary words (and their definitions) with an emphasis on the words that are most important in the lecture/reading.

Create a Note-Taking Structure

college students writing college notes

Having a structure to your college notes will enable you to be more organized. This also will give you an advantage when it’s time to study. You’ll be able to where everything stops and starts in your notes.

Start with a Heading, subheading, essential vocabulary, and definitions. This way, you’ll be able to know what sections are where. Here are some examples:

The best structure to use is one that you are most comfortable with. I personally like to split my notes into 3 columns. The reason for this is because it maps out the lecture in a way that’s easy to understand.

It works perfectly for me because I can create questions after each section which helps keep me on track while taking notes and makes sure I understand the main points of the lecture or reading passage.

Notetaking Tips

  • 1) Take down only the key ideas, terms or concepts within the lecture/reading – Do not take everything down word-for-word. It will be impossible to remember every detail so why even try? You want to focus on what’s important. If you notice that one section of your notes is much longer than the others, chances are it’s not as important as the rest (and should be condensed).
  • 2) Write down questions after each lecture/reading section – This technique will help you discover what’s important and make sure you understand the main points of the lecture or reading passage. It will also help to separate different concepts within a lecture and mark where one topic ends and another begins.
  • 3) Summarize information in your own words whenever possible – One easy way to do this is by asking yourself “What does that mean?” Do this enough times during a lecture or reading passage and eventually you’ll start writing down your answers instead of just summarizing them.

Use Different Color Pens

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Using a different color pen for other parts of your notes doesn’t just make the page look pretty.

It actually goes hand and hand with the structure. You will be able to see the keywords on the page and identify the main points in different colors.

You don’t have to do rainbow colors. Suppose you don’t want a red, blue, and black pen to work just fine. Use rainbow colors; it’s more fun.

It’s better to use different colors than the same color with line variation. Why? Because your brain will automatically remember the different colors faster and it’ll help you identify main points quickly.

Summarize Information in Your Own Words

One easy way to do this is by asking yourself “What does that mean?” Do this enough times during a lecture or reading passage and eventually you’ll start writing down your answers instead of just summarizing them.

This technique works best when done right before taking notes on a new section because it forces you think critically about the material, rather than simply recording what was said word-for-word.

Re-reading Lecture/Reading Notes

This might seem like common sense but trust me, things fly out of your mind easily when you are in college.

Rereading notes is important because it allows you to review what was said, condense the information into small pieces, and organize your thoughts about the material.

And if that’s not enough, rereading lecture/reading notes helps to return any missing parts of the passage.

It’ll save you from having to go back and ask questions during the next class which will definitely annoy everyone behind you in line for whatever reason they want to leave early or arrive late.

Key Term Sheets

Whenever possible take down key terms with their definitions whenever available.

They might seem unnecessary at first but once exams roll around these sheets are an extremely valuable study resource since they have all the important terms on one page.

Actually, Write Your Notes

Maybe this should have been step #1, but you get the gist. Many students use their laptops in class to take notes, and that’s cool if that’s how you study best.

For many other students and me, handwriting notes help us remember what we write. It’s science.

Don’t Ignore PowerPoint Slides In Lecture/Reading Sections

Many students have a tendency to ignore or even skip over the PowerPoint slides during lectures and readings.

After all, why should they write down information that’s already being displayed right in front of them? Why not just use it as a study aid? This is a huge mistake.

Why would professors bother spending hours creating these slides if they weren’t important? I’ll tell you why: They are important. Professors spend hours developing those presentations for one reason: to help organize their thoughts and explain concepts as clearly as possible.

If anything, follow the PowerPoint format as you take your lecture notes.

Rewrite Your College Notes

You could get in a rush in class and have to jot some information quickly. This allows you to put that information in the right section.

My 3rd grader written notes will be turned into handwritten artwork during this stage. Make your notes looks look like something you actually want to read.

writing notes in college

Also, when you rewrite your notes, it helps you to remember what you wrote. I tend to do this the day or two before an exam or quiz to remember the main points from my notes.

If there are any drawings I want to add, I would add them during my rewrite. When you rewrite your notes neatly and efficiently, you could sell them next semester to students taking the class after you. COLLEGE HACK!

Use Sticky Notes

If you are writing your notes and come across something you don’t completely understand, jot it down on a sticky note and remember to ask about it in class.

When you get your answer, make sure you write it in your notes along with the sticky so you can remember what you asked. This will also get your participation grade for the day when you ask your question in class. You’re welcome.

How do you take notes? Do you use a laptop? How is that working for you? I have questions. Leave a comment below if you have any answers.

College Notes Pinterest Pin

This post was all about how to write good college notes for better grades and organization.