Study Skills

10 Helpful Note-Taking Tips for College Freshmen

July 1, 2019

Are you hitting the books and heading into your first year of college?

Embarking on your undergraduate degree is a new experience that demands new skills — but note-taking is one high school practice you still have to keep sharp. With so much new material to explore, you’ll need to switch up your previous study habits and find better ways to retain your curriculum.

How can you hone your note-taking habits for the college classroom? With the right methods, you won’t feel blindsided by a new world. Check out these 10 efficient note-taking tips to take on your courses with confidence.

1. Recognize the Essential Concepts

Write down any piece of information that might appear on future tests. How do you figure out what’s essential? Look in highlighted sections of your textbooks — and listen to your professors while they teach. Educators often change their tone to create emphasis and stress particular topics above others. If your professors are extra helpful, they will give you a general idea of vital test details.

2. Write Down Key Terms and Definitions

Key terms come up repeatedly throughout the course — record them! Make sure you also write down and rephrase their definitions in a way that makes sense to you. Practice memorizing both the terms and their meanings. Professors often change the wording on their exams, so you should understand the concept behind each term — not just the word-for-word definition.

3. Use Visual Aids

Let’s be honest — walls of monotonous text aren’t fun to look at, nor are they helpful for differentiating material. If you get bored or distracted while reading your notes, add visual components to keep you focused. Many people learn visually or through demonstration.

You aren’t limited to what you can do — flowcharts, illustrations, tables and color-coding are all useful tools. By creating associations between concepts and images, you’ll trigger memory recall when you see that image again.

4. Organize by Date and Subject

Rather than scouring your room for your notes on the night before an exam, organize them so you always know where to find everything. A common method is to write out the lecture topic and date whenever you start a new set.

Number each page by section to group topics together, and keep these in digital file folders or paper notebooks to avoid losing track of them.

5. Create a Structure That Works

Outlines are a useful tool for both students and professors. Because outlines are concise and efficient for storing substantial information, professors may often ask you to use them for research papers.

To help you organize your thoughts in a way you understand personally, create your own hierarchical outlining systems.

Draw symbols you find memorable or straightforward to organize topics and sub-points. The more information you write, the more frequently you will use them. Bullets, checkmarks and arrows all work excellently — but it’s up to you.

6. Prepare Before Class

Always remember to do any assigned reading before class begins — and take notes on it. This way, you’ll have more attention to spare for what the professor says during the class itself. You’ll be ready for the new information presented in the lecture and won’t spend as much time writing what you already recorded.

You won’t be able to absorb valuable material in the moment if you’re too focused on taking extensive notes during every class. Learn a chunk of the content beforehand to free up headspace.

7. Write in Your Own Words

Paraphrase! Most texts and lectures include jargon specific to the field of study. Use your own writing style to shorten the number of words you write down.

Condensing material makes it easier to scan later when you’re studying. If you copy direct quotes, always jot down the sources to use for papers and avoid plagiarizing.

8. Compare With Classmates

You may sometimes miss details during a lecture. Maybe some of your notes are inaccurate, or maybe they’re even missing key concepts. Luckily, you aren’t alone!

When you’re still learning what note-taking techniques work best in college, seek out your classmates. Compare what you have, and fill in the blanks when you find something missing. Answer each other’s questions if possible.

In addition to helping you in your studies, comparing notes is a great way to connect with your classmates — and make new friends.

9. Ask Questions

Write down questions to ask the professor during the lecture or before class. If you think of more questions during the lecture, don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask — if the professor allows it.

Chances are, several other students have the same question you do. Your professor will appreciate your interest in the subject and will be happy to help you understand.

10. Review Your Notes

Lastly, review your notes. While many students leave their lecture notes untouched until exams or projects come around, you should know information ahead of time.

The best time to study is shortly after you write. When you come back from class, take a few minutes to read over the material. Refreshing your mind on the material will make you more likely to remember it later.

You miss out on maximum benefits when you review your notes only once or twice, so do it regularly.

Put Your Methods Into Practice

Every student is different, and some of these note-taking methods may help you more than others. There’s only one way to see what works — put them to practice! Your professors will notice your hard work, and you’ll thank yourself when you walk across that stage in four years. Don’t forget — you’ve got this.

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