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How to take notes

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We forget about 40% of everything we hear or read within 24 hours.

You need to take notes, revise your notes, and ideally, you should take your notes by hand.

From Professor Hetty Roessingh in The Conversation:

Researchers have found that note-taking associated with keyboarding involves taking notes verbatim in a way that does not involve processing information, and so have called this “non-generative” note-taking. By contrast, taking notes by hand involves cognitive engagement in summarizing, paraphrasing, organizing, concept and vocabulary mapping — in short, manipulating and transforming information that leads to deeper understanding.

There are lots of different ways to take notes. Irrespective of which system you use, there are a couple of steps to a good note taking process:

  1. Take notes in class
  2. Review your notes (within 24 hours)
  3. Summarize your notes (within a week)

By breaking this process up into three steps you build in revision and break the curve of forgetting.

Take your notes

  • Record the topic, learning intention, and key vocabulary.
  • Listen and take notes in your own words. Paraphrase key ideas.
  • Write in phrases not complete sentences.
  • Use bullet points and lists wherever possible.
  • Use diagrams, pictures, and mindmaps to record information visually.
  • Use different colours, symbols and abbreviations.
  • Leave space between main ideas for revising and adding more information later.

Review your notes

  • Re-read your notes.
  • Use highlighting or underlining to identify key information.
  • Break your notes into “chunks”, write key questions that are answered by each chunk.
  • Annotate your notes with extra information and further thoughts.

Summarize your notes

  • Write a summary that addresses the learning intention and answers the key questions. This summary could be a paragraph at the end of your notes.
Cornell Note taking system explained.


Cornell Notes Examples