The art of note taking

Lucie Hamilton

Faculty: Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care
School: School of Education and Social Care
Course: Early Childhood Studies
Category: Education

20 August 2017

This sounds easy enough to do but actually, I have come to realise that it is a skill you acquire.

When I first started at ARU, I had been out of education for twelve years. I had been working in education and childcare, but actually learning and retaining information myself, like when you attend school or college, I had not done for twelve years – ever since I graduated college when I was eighteen.

I found my first few months in my first year really tough and I wondered whether I was cut out for completing a course at degree level because I felt that the information I was gaining was not sticking in my mind, I couldn’t retain the facts. I would look back at my notes and find it difficult to decipher what it was that I meant. I also found that I had missed some important parts because I was too busy writing down notes from previous comments my lecturer was making, I didn’t take in the topics they then went on to discuss afterwards.

It was then I made an overhaul of how I wrote notes in these sessions and I quickly found that actually, I was retaining more than I thought. So here are my tips for taking effective notes in limited time.

1/ Don’t write full sentences.

You will not have time to write full, comprehensive sentences as your lecturer speaks. Pick the key points and list them. Give yourself a sub heading so you know what you are writing about when you look back and list key points, key words, page numbers for any references and any names of books and authors your lecturer mentions. When you go back, you will have clear points to work from.

2/ Don’t worry about making it pretty.

I love a highlighter and I love to colour code things. I spent my first few weeks of my first semester writing nice and neatly and using every colour under the sun to make the page look like a rainbow. But, as with before, I was missing key points and found it a little stressful as I was constantly writing to keep up. I then changed my approach. I still like things to be pretty and bright so now I write my notes in class quickly, making sure I get everything down – only making sure my writing was legible enough for me to read – and then when I was home, or the next day, I would re-write the notes in the ‘neat’ notebook. This way everything still looks presentable with clear sentences and highlighted notes, and in addition to this, as I rewrite, the information has another chance to sink in, essentially having a second chance to solidify into my mind – like a second edit.

3/ Check the VLE

Your lecturer will upload the PowerPoint or Prezi to the VLE prior to your session. Take the time to look over this before your session so that you feel more prepared and it gives you a chance to have an idea of what kind of things you will be making notes on in that session.

4/ Use print outs.

Some people print out the PowerPoints prior to the session so that they can make notes next to the relevant PowerPoint slide. This way you have a clear indication as to where you need to look for further information and when you look back, you will know what date you spoke about that particular topic.

5/ Make a note of the week number.

When you get to the end of the semester and you are writing essays and referencing to topics, it will save you time if, at the start of the session, you make a note of which week number you are on. Then you know, when you find something in your notes that you want to use, which week folder you need to go back to on the VLE to find your information or links.

These are just a few tips that I find make it easier for me. Everyone will find their own way of working, though. Just try not to stress and let yourself find your feet. Chances are, you will find a way of working that will work for you.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.