Skip to Main Content

Academic Support


Learning Skills and Strategies

Learning strategies are ways to understand, remember, and apply the knowledge you learn.

The Importance of Note-Taking

Note taking is important because:

  1. It keeps you attentive and focuses your concentration in class.

Before you can take a good set of notes, you must hear, understand, and put the material in your own words.

  1. It is a memory aid.

It is entirely possible for you to memorize all the main points of a lecture, but you would need an excellent memory to do this for all your classes. Writing key words and points in your notes can trigger your memory to start a flow of ideas that might not have been released.

  1. Sometimes the instructor may be your only source for important information.

Class lectures are more than just a summary of the textbook, providing extended learning about what is in the textbook. Lectures are important sources of information, because they more fully analyze and explain material. 

  1. It helps you prepare for exams.

In the lectures, you discover the aspects of the course which are most important to the instructor. These aspects usually show up on exams. Note whether your instructor focuses on understanding concepts, or whether he or she is more concerned with the memorization of detail. Knowing what is important to your instructor will usually help you in predicting the kinds of questions that could show up on a test.

  1. It helps you review the material.

Review is an important part of study, and taking notes in class simplifies this exercise. Trying to review lecture material from memory is a large task, but is unnecessary if you take good notes.

  1. It improves your self-image.

When you take a good set of notes, you'll have feelings of satisfaction and power that come from doing a good job. It also helps you feel confident in yourself and in your ability to handle tough college courses.

Three Steps to Better Note-Taking

Taking good notes is a crucial part of your success.

Besides allowing you to create a record of the key information presented by your instructor during class, good note-taking involves you in active listening strategies and encourages you to think as you organize ideas into different categories and levels of importance.  To be an effective note-taker you need to prepare before you go to class and do something with your notes after class. Follow these three steps to be a more effective note-taker.

Step One: Before Class

  • Read about the topic before you go to class: Use the course outline or other information from the instructor to determine what will be covered. Do the pre-reading before you go to class.
  • Review the notes you took during the previous class: Remind yourself what you have learned so far and the topics you have covered.
  • Anticipate what you are going to learn in the class: Have some questions in mind that you think will be answered during the lecture.
  • Select a good place to sit: Situate yourself in a location that will minimize internal and external distractions.

Step Two: During Class

  • Maintain concentration as you listen to the lecture: Make sure you are actively listening.
  • Keep you eyes on the instructor: This helps minimize distractions.
  • Listen for key points: Don't try to write down everything the instructor says. Make a conscious decision about what the key point is and write it down.
  • Use a note-taking format that works for you: See below for some examples of different note-taking strategies.
  • Participate in class activities and discussions: Interaction with others will help you think more deeply and stay engaged.

Step Three: After Class

  • Schedule time within 24 hours of the lecture to review your notes: Research shows that individuals forget 60% of the information they have heard within 24 hours. It's crucial to review your notes within a day of the lecture.
  • As you review, identify key concepts and supporting detail: Underline, circle, or write down what you determine are the important points covered in the lecture.
  • Re-organize your notes to make them more readable and suitable for study:  As you do this be careful not to simply copy your notes.  Straight copying of notes takes a lot of time and is a passive activity with little learning value.

Cornell Method

The Cornell method of note-taking is best for understanding key ideas and relationships.

It involves drawing a horizontal line 2 inches from the bottom of the paper, then drawing a vertical line 2.5 inches from the left edge of the paper, from the top to the 2 inch bottom line of every page. Notes are written on the right-hand side of the paper. The area to the left of the line is used to write main ideas, prompts and sample questions. The area at the bottom is used to write a summary, note any questions, and highlight concepts. These areas are to be filled in when reviewing your notes.


  • Notes are well-organized
  • Key words and key concepts can be quickly identified
  • Relationships between topics are easy to recognize
  • Can be easily used as a study guide for exam preparation
  • Aesthetically pleasing and easy to scan (useful for visual learners)


  • Requires the student to closely follow the lecture
  • Daily review of notes is essential

Mapping Method

The Mapping method is best for visualizing connected topics and ideas.

It presents information in a graphic way using either "mind-map," "concept map," or "flowchart" techniques. This style typically uses a pen and paper; however, a tablet with appropriate software can be used also.

The page is organized by topic. The main topics branch out into subtopics with detailed information about each.

Note: You don't have to be an incredible artist to utilize the mapping method! You can include as many images as you want. Also, it's up to you as to how simple or complex your notes are.


  • Helps visual learners orient their information.
  • Allows notes to be easily organized.
  • Assists students in making connections among ideas.
  • Relationships can be illustrated quickly and accurately, by connecting various branches with arrows, or enclosing them in boxes or circles.
  • They can also include diagrams, drawings, and references to other maps.


  • Not all information is easily presented in graphic format.
  • Post-class time is needed to organize notes.

This video is a great resource to explain what visual note taking is and how it works.

Outline Method

The Outline method of note taking is best for easily creating study questions for review. 

Each section starts with a heading of the main topic. Each subtopic and supporting fact is written underneath the proper heading.

This method of note taking outlines details presented during class, such as important concepts, theories, facts, principles, arguments, examples, evidence, and anecdotes.  It shows the content and main points of lectures and also shows the relationship between points.


  • Helpful for material that is highly structured or as a way of organizing information.
  • Can include personal reactions, analysis, and questions.
  • Reviewing can be as simple as turning main points into questions.
  • Does not require speed or great detail in writing.
  • Facts are organized and easily reviewed.


  • Difficult to use in science and mathematics because those courses benefit more from showing sequential relationships than outlining allows.
  • Courses with fast-paced lectures may be difficult to outline, partially because outlining requires the note-taker to think about organization.

Charting Method

The Charting method of note taking is best for reviewing a lot of facts.

This style of note-taking can use either pen and paper or a laptop or tablet with appropriate software.

The page is divided into columns labeled by category. The details for each category are filled in the rows below.


  • Facts are organized and easy to review.
  • Highlights key pieces of information for each topic.
  • Helps pull out the most relevant information.
  • Reduces the amount of writing necessary.
  • Provides easy review for memorizing facts and studying comparisons and relationships.


  • Can be a difficult system to learn and use.
  • Students need to know the content that will be covered during the lecture before it begins.

Resources to Print

Tools and Apps

There are a variety of tools and apps that can assist you with note-taking. We have tried some of them, and others have come to our attention from faculty and students who have found them helpful. 

Red Deer Polytechnic does not endorse the apps and sites listed here, and is not responsible for any technological problems that may arise from their use.