Great Ways to Improve Note-Taking Skills

Note Taking by Hand

Note-taking is a skill that we use in many walks of life: at school, university, and in the world of work. However, it will be obvious to many people that they have not honed the skills needed to get the maximum potential from their note-taking. Therefore, this article will show you some great ways to improve note-taking skills.

How to Improve Note-Taking Skills

1. Don’t write down every word

ways to improve note-taking skills: Don’t write down every word


The whole point of note-taking is to be able to summarise information in a different, shorter form to use later. Therefore if you try to write down every word of a lecture or book then you will soon get behind and lose the thread of what is being presented to you.

2. Determine important content

Note-taking should never be a transcript of every word said, but rather a summary of important information and questions.

If you’re going into a history class, you’ll want to remember names and dates especially. If a coworker is doing training on SEO, you’ll want to pay more attention to terminology and recommended practices.

Anticipate before any presentation, meeting, or class what kind of content will be important to remember later.

3. Make sure your handwriting is legible

ways to improve note-taking skills: legible handwriting


It doesn’t have to look like something you’d see from a calligraphy video. Your aim is to make your penmanship clear and readable, not perfect. As long as you can understand your handwriting, you’re on the right path.

4. Minimize distractions

Effective note-takers avoid classroom distractions. This can include sitting in spots with fewer distractions and not signing up for classes with friends that you might want to talk with during lectures. Some students will even sit in spots where it is difficult to constantly glance at the clock.

5. Keep calm

ways to improve note-taking skills


If you’re too nervous about note-taking, you’ll probably make mistakes. Understand that your notes probably won’t be perfect every time, but you can always get help and clarification later.

Note-taking is difficult, so acknowledge your mistakes and improve on them.

6. Be an active listener/reader

Being an attentive listener and/or reader can help you to navigate which information is important.

7. Use symbols and abbreviations

Use symbols and abbreviations



One of the efficient ways to improve note-taking skills is to use symbols and abbreviations. When you take notes you will not have time to write in full sentences, and sometimes the information comes so thick and fast that you cannot even write full words. Develop your own set of symbols and abbreviations. Some obvious ones are + or & for ‘and’; = for equals. Other examples seen less often are w/ for ‘with’ or wch for ‘which’. There will be subject-specific shorthands that you can use too.

8. Use colors

For extra clarification and to improve your active listening/reading techniques make sure you use different colored inks when taking notes. You can show different themes and approaches by changing to a different color for example. This is especially useful if you will need your notes later for report writing or revising for exams.

9. Discuss with someone

Once you’re done with listening and note-taking, turn to someone nearby and talk with them about what you learned.

You can ask them questions about what stood out to them or what changes they would like to make based on the material. You can ask questions about things you perhaps misunderstood or did not receive a clear answer to.

Continuing the discussion with someone else is an excellent way of applying the material and cementing it in your memory.

If you have a meaningful conversation about it, that information has a much greater likelihood of being retained.

10. Review your notes

Review your notes


In order to retain information discussed during lectures, it is best to review notes immediately after class. This will help you better understand the lecture, your notes, and it will enable you to focus on what you just learned for long-term retention. You should review your notes a second time just before your next lecture. This will help refresh in your mind important topics and concepts and prepare you for the next lecture. You should continue to review your notes on a regular basis between your lectures and your exams.

Even better than reviewing your notes is reviewing them with someone else. This gives you the opportunity to teach what you’ve learned.