How to take notes in college


Your student will discover that college differs from high school in many ways. But some things never change — like having to take notes. Sure, they probably have some experience with note-taking from high school, but they’ll likely have to take a lot more notes in college. 

So we’re sharing some tips you can share with them to make their note-taking more efficient and effective. 

Decide whether to take notes by hand or using a laptop

There’s no right answer. It’s all personal preference. But if your student has alway hand-written their notes and never used a laptop, they should at least give a laptop a try, if they have access to one. (Caveat: Some professors may not allow the use of laptops in their classroom. Make sure your student checks first.)


Your student should be laser-focused when they’re taking notes in class. Easier said than done, of course, but missing even one sentence uttered by a professor could be costly to their grade. To help them focus, they should:

  • Turn their phone off.

  • Eat before class so they’re not distracted by hunger.

  • Avoid chatting with friends during class.

  • Schedule classes at ideal times — night owls should avoid early morning classes and early birds should stay away from late afternoon classes.

  • Be stronger than the distraction. They’ll never eliminate all distractions — in those cases, they’ll just have to deliberatley work harder to stay focused.

Sit up front

This also helps with staying focused. By sitting up front, your student will hear their professor better and have an easier time seeing the board or screen. Plus, with most of the room behind them, lots of would-be distractions are naturally eliminated.

Write using shorthand

If your student will hand-write notes, it can be hard to keep up with some professors when all the information is worthy of recording. In that case, they might try writing in shorthand. And it doesn’t have to be an official shorthand system (though they can certainly learn one). It can be one they create. For example, they can write their notes the way Prince titled his songs, using 2 for “to,” 4 for “for,” Y for “why” — U get the idea. Or they can abbreviate (if they text, they're probably already good at this). Or simply pull the main words out of a sentence. For example, if their professor says, “George Washington was the country’s first president” they can write “Washington 1st prez.” 

Read through notes at the end of class

If your student is writing or typing really fast, they could make spelling errors or leave out some important words that muddy the meaning. That’s why they should look over their notes right after class when all the material is still fresh in their head. If they see something missing or unclear, they can fix it or add to it. If they were writing so fast they can barely read their words, they can rewrite the information. If they wait days to review their notes for the first time, they may not remember what they were trying to capture.

Compare with a classmate’s notes

Your student might want to buddy up with a classmate and exchange notes after class. That way they can see if their friend wrote down anything that they might have missed, and vice versa. You’d be amazed at how two different sets of notes from the same class session can sometimes appear to be from two different lectures.

Continually review notes

This may sound obvious, but your student should read over their notes regularly. The act of taking notes itself has been shown to help make the information stick better, but reviewing the notes several times throughout the semester really helps solidify it in your student’s brain. 

So there it is, our notes on notes. Hopefully this will make your student a better note taker and their grades will reflect it.