How to Take Notes That You Will Actually Read

So here you are, a fully-grown adult and you still have to take notes during your classes…really? Well, yes. Notes are not only taken in class but also at work when taking instructions, hence, they are more crucial than we actually realize and give them credit for. Notes can be captured in various ways, the most popular and, perhaps more traditional means being writing them out by hand. For now, though, let’s stick to the classroom setup and see exactly what it has in store for us.

Get good-quality stationery

Ensure that you get yourself tools that are fit for the purpose for which they will be used. Good-quality pens and notebooks are easily accessible and available not only from stationery shops but at local supermarkets and small-scale vendors. There really is no excuse for you to use a pen that smudges or paper that is either too thin or will not represent your notes and diagrams accurately. I highly recommend notebooks whose spines are sewn and glued compared to the spiral ones…but hey, the preference is yours, as long as the paper quality allows you to highlight, use a pencil, and colored pens, then you’re all good. You also don’t want a felt-tip pen that will leave mirrored traces on the back of the page or else whatever you write here will be pretty illegible. So think like a high scholar…simple yet functional stationery.

Clearly demarcate your notebook

This applies especially when using a large 3–4 quire notebook; it’s important to clearly mark each section you will have divided to accommodate a module. You can even use colored sticky notes or stickers and assign a different color to each module so that you save time instead of fumbling through the notebook to access notes for a particular module.

Underline your headings and subheadings

Headings and subheadings help one demarcate the different topics and sections within a topic. I prefer to write main headings in capital letters and underlining them so that I could easily locate a new topic even in the midst of a long topic. Subheadings are better written out with each relevant first letter capitalized or in sentence case and underlined. This helps you distinguish the different notes. Ensure to omit a line after each heading and between a section of notes and the beginning of a new subtopic to keep your notes neat and simple to locate.

Use different color pens/ highlighters

This is varsity and believe me, no one will come around to check your notebook and what color pen you have used — you do what works best for you. So why not embrace different color pens or highlighters to bring life to your notes? My preference lay in using different color pens and keeping the colors between 3–4…nothing fancy because I used black ink for the headings, subheadings, and regular points, blue ink for definitions, and a green pen for examples, questions, and N.B.s (nota bene). You can still go on to use more colors for the latter elements or more popping colors, as long as these make your notes attractive, interesting, and easy to read. I used a pencil to draw my diagrams then labeled them in blue ink. A combination of highlighters and color pens is also perfectly fine.

Points, not paragraphs

Unless it’s a highly punctuated definition and has a full stop somewhere along the line, why write in paragraphs? They are notes, not an essay, hence, notes are taken in point form as they are a summary of what is being said and are originally designed to be concise. This way, you are better able to locate crucial points as they are clearly defined and easily readable. There is absolutely no need for you to write every single word the lecturer says — just important, noteworthy points. Notes written in point form are really a summary of what has been noted down in text as well as verbally as your lecturer speaks. These little summaries are useful as you will have structured them in your own words that you better understand — and you can use different bullet styles for them too. Also, make sure to space your notes out neatly in between each topic and subtopic.

Abbreviations, symbols, and shorthand

Honestly, I am not a big fan of abbreviating and especially using shorthand, however, these are your personal notes, and keeping things short will come in handy. Just make sure you do not shorten and abbreviate everything to the extent that your own notes become an incomprehensible liability and you fail to understand them as you study. You can devise your own symbols as long as you are confident and can read them, e.g. =for equals, (+)ally for additionally, (-)ss for less, an upward-facing arrow for upwards, etc.

Be consistent

Whatever system you develop, adopt and embrace, be consistent with it across all your modules. This will help you locate specific notes and points with ease as well as remember where you last left off regardless of which module you are switching to study. Listen attentively and take notes consistently throughout the lecture so that you have well-balanced information at the end of the session. From time to time, you may improve your system, but make sure you stick with it and this will make stationery purchases easier as you know the exact tools you need for your work, regardless of the note-taking style you use. You will realize that studying becomes automatic, simple, and enjoyable.

You will realize that I do not go into detail about the note-taking styles that are well-known because we all write things out uniquely and I have never used a prescribed note-writing style before. The recommendations below are based on my own experience and what worked for me. I hope the simple points prove to be useful to you on your learning and note-taking journey.



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Schooling & Adulting

Schooling & Adulting


Hi, I’m Sli. Continuous learning is a passion of mine and I’d like to share my journey with you. I also love food, travelling and reading great books.