Study Skills: Reading & Note-taking

For incoming freshman/first year students, talking about how to take notes may seem humdrum. “Write down what the teacher says!” is the mentality many high school students seem to have. That is the problem with a lot of incoming freshman – they have not developed that mindset of concepts & critical thinking, a skill that many professors expect you to have. To fill this gap, instructors & mentors have taken the initiative to teach these skills & provide the resources to help newly admitted students succeed, develop the mentality of a studious college student in hopes of achieving their main goal of attending college – to be well educated & graduate with a degree so you can go out into the workplace & pursue your endeavors. It all starts with basics.

There are 6 main points to remember when refining your skills in note-taking. Yes, you know how to read & write & that is fantastic, but what use is the knowledge when you can’t apply it in real life? As students you need to be able to take the information, jot it down for reference in an organized fashion, review it in a timely manner & be able to analyze that information for an exam or project. Here are the basics for effective note-taking:

I. Stay organized. It may seem obvious but your notes can only help if you can find them!

  • Keep your notes in once place
  • Date & number pages; keeping them in order helps make it easier to recall material
  • Before the semester begins, review the syllabus your professor provides for you. Organize a binder or folder according to the number of exams & additional assignments for that semester.
  • Assign a color to the content based on what exam they fall under. For example, you can assign an orange highlighter for exam I, blue highlighter for exam II, etc. Or you may assign a color based on the classification of material – pink for vocabulary, yellow for general facts, green for references to figures, etc

II. Scan the required text & review any material BEFORE class to get a general idea. Write down any questions you may have.

    • A highlighter is a great tool to point out important information in your textbook, but do not overdo it! If you are highlighting every other word in a paragraph, drop the highlight & back away.



III. During class, set up a format to help organize the way you take notes. One great method is the Cornell Note-taking Method.

  • Divide your paper into 3 sections – 2 inches from the left; 6.5 inches on the right & 3 inches from the bottom like below. The main section will be where you will record your notes during lecture. The left column will be a section for main points, important information as determined by your teacher, any references to textbook material & potential test questions.


  • Set up any main points as a header. You may choose to assign a symbol to denote that piece of information as a header (like a Roman numeral or letter). Assign another type of symbol for subtopics & indent a space below the main header. This way, you have a coherent flow of notes without any run-on ideas that may confuse you.
  • Remember to write the main points & embellish them with additional information from the book or associated material. Note any vocabulary words, formulas, facts, etc. Write down a page number or figure number next to key points to use as reference.

Here’s an example of well-constructed notes:


  • An alternate method is the Concept Map Method. This format centers thoughts & concepts around a central main topic & visualizes links & relationships between the information.
    1) Write down your main point or topic
    2) Divide that main topic intro 3 or more concepts as they would relate to each other
    3) Specify important tidbits of information linking back to the concepts & main topic. Write down textbook pages or slides as references.


IV. Studies has shown that students forget nearly 80% of lecture material within 24 hours. So it would be wise to review your notes within the next 24 hours post-lecture.

  • Ask questions! Clear up any doubtful material. Get into the habit of getting to know your professors. The more they see you are willing to learn, the more they may be able to help you. After reviewing, write down main points, potential test questions on the left hand column of your notes. At the bottom, summarize your notes & write down any questions/thoughts you may have.
  • Set up a schedule of review a week before the exam. DO NOT use this time to finally study the content. You need to be proactive & study the material as early as possible to save any burden later on. Try to overcome the habit of procrastination.

There are many other methods for note-taking: concept maps, mind maps, bullets, etc. Experiment which format works for you. Some formats may work well for some classes & some may not be practical for others.

Remember, these tidbits are not only reserved for freshman or first-year university students. Nursing students can most definitely benefit from adapting an effective reading and note taking strategy to help them progress through their courses.

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One thought on “Study Skills: Reading & Note-taking

  1. Jennifer says:

    These tips are so helpful! I’m a sophomore and still trying to figure out the best note-taking strategies. Thanks for the help.

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