Most people believe that you need to be a highly organized and efficient person in order to take good notes. However, this isn't necessarily true. Taking good notes is more about developing good habits and finding a system that works for you. So grab a pen and some paper, and I'll show you the easiest way.
Taking Notes Made Easy
Ger organized. Before you even head into a classroom, the first thing you should do is set up and organize your binder(s). This might seem like a real pain, but the fact of the matter is that you only have to do this one time per semester, so you may as well do it right. Grab a binder (or more if you need). If you have block schedule and go to different classes on different days, make sure you set up a Tuesday - Thursday folder and a Monday - Wednesday - Friday folder, or whatever is relevant. Having the wrong binder with you is a common excuse for not taking notes, and you don't want to do that.
Create sections for each class with your dividers. This will make it easy to flip straight to the class you need at any time. Stick a nice, big stack of lined white paper into the binder behind each divider. It's also a good idea to include the syllabus for each class as the first page that comes after the divider.
Label your work. Now that your binders are all set up, you're ready to go to class and take notes. Make sure you write the date at the top of the page every time you begin a new note-taking session. This will help you to keep everything in order in the case that you take a page out to let a friend copy. Be sure to add some kind of title or heading at the top of the page that will help you be able to tell at a glance what this section of notes is on. If your teacher announces at the beginning of the class what she is going to specifically cover that day, then this part should be easy. If not, leave the title blank to start and then jot down your own title at the end of the class, after listening to the entire lecture.
Underline key information. Any time your teacher focuses in on a specific concept or idea, underline it and include all the relevant information about it below. Because teachers have a tendency to jump from topic to topic and then back again, leave a few extra lines of space to jot down any extra thoughts that might come up. For your US History class, you might have Westward Movement, The Fur Trade and The Plantation System all underlined with important notes beneath.
Names, dates and definitions are also very useful, and should therefore stand out in your notes. Underline names like "Calvin Coolidge," new words like "carpetbaggers" and all the important years that you need to remember. For a math or science class, the equivalent would be putting boxes around useful formulas.
Review your notes. Taking notes isn't very useful unless you actually use them, and that doesn't mean right before a test. Soon after a lecture, go back through your notes and highlight ideas that are important. You could even go through with a separate color and highlight concepts that you don't entirely understand. This will make it easier to bring up relevant questions to your teacher or to go through your books and clarify things yourself.
- If you have a teacher who speaks very quickly (and makes it hard for you to catch everything), you can always ask if it would be okay to bring in a device to record the lecture. That way you can fill in the blanks at home.
- Be wary of taking notes that you can't read yourself. While it's tempting to go for the quantity aspect of notes, quality is more important - otherwise you may end up with three pages of chicken scratch that you can't make out.
Ashley Schaeffer has been writing professionally since 2005, specializing in arts-and-entertainment, health and wellness topics. She has written extensively for "Buzzine Magazine," the culture and entertainment publication of Richard Elfman. Schaeffer holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in comparative literature and Spanish, both from UC Berkeley, and is pursuing a master's degree in counseling psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies.