The Art of Taking Great Notes – It’s Easier than You Think!

Great NotesWhen I first went to college, I thought I was the master of note-taking. I attended every class, listened to my instructors’ words and wrote as fast as I could. In fact, I wrote down every word they said until they stopped talking. Not only was this physically exhausting, but I didn’t learn anything and I wound up getting nothing out of the lectures. However, it wasn’t until I received two D’s and three C’s as my final grades that I decided to change my note-taking style.

With that in mind, I consulted various study guides, I enhanced my speed reading and I practiced writing faster. Finally, through trial and error, I developed a system of taking notes and learning at the same time. My method is called the “KPC 7 Step System of Taking Superior Notes,” which is based on the Cornell system of note-taking. My system is easy to learn, saves time, works with virtually any subject and keeps you from physically exhausting yourself. Plus, it is fully adaptable to your personal needs.

So, without further ado, let me explain the “KPC 7 Step System of Taking Superior Notes”:


  1. Know your teacher. Really, get to know your teacher’s lecturing, teaching and test-creating style. For instance, does he recite page numbers and expect you to follow along during the lecture, or does he discuss the previously assigned reading material only? Does he read to you by consulting his notes, or does he “talk from the hip” about non-related subject matters? When he administers pop quizzes and tests, are they based on the book, the supplemental material or something else? Does he prefer multiple choice or essay questions?
  2. Review your homework material before you go to class. Make it a point to always review any previously assigned material before class. If you aren’t familiar with the material, how are you going to know what notes are important and what aspects of the assignment aren’t? If you haven’t read the book, how are you going to follow along with your instructor and, most importantly, how will you learn anything?
  3. Purchase and bring the right supplies. This might seem like a no-brainer but you’ll be surprised to note that many students show up to class empty-handed. It is no wonder they can’t take notes when they don’t have the right materials to do. Therefore, make sure that you have the right supplies on hand. This should include your textbook, supplemental materials, handouts, a notebook or a 3 ring-binder with loose-leaf paper, extra pencils or pens, and highlighter.
  4. Sit close to your instructor and listen carefully. Sitting in the front of the classroom might seem a bit nerdish but who cares? Focus. You aren’t in college to look good and be cool. You aren’t there to win a beauty pageant. You are there to learn, to get good grades and to graduate. Therefore, learning should always be your first priority. By sitting in the front of the room, you will be less likely to fall asleep and you’ll be better able to hear what your instructor is saying. You will also be forced to make eye contact with him.
  5. Listen to what your instructor says and how he says it. This is very important because actions speak louder than words. For instance, does your instructor seem passionate about the subject matter or does he tend to raise his voice when he discusses a certain topic? If he does either of these things, he will likely include those topics on the test or pop quiz. Therefore, that information is something that you should obviously write down.
  6. Pay attention to body movements. In addition to listening to how the words are said, you should also watch your professor’s body movements. Does he leave the podium to write something on the board? Does he use PowerPoint presentations or pass out handouts? If so, these are likely indications that he believes that such information is important and, therefore, you should also.
  7. Find a good method of taking notes and stick to it. My absolute favorite note-taking method is the Cornell method and includes the following:


  • Record. Before class, draw a straight line (1.5 inches) from the left side of your notebook and at the top of your paper on several sheets of paper. Then, write the class, date and any other distinguishing information at the very right top corner. During the lecture, make it a point to only write on the right side of the line. Perform the above-mentioned steps and write as much of the information you deem important as you can. If you get confused, ask for clarification and keep writing. The key is to take detailed notes without being a tape recorder.


  • Reduce. Immediately after the lecture, review your notes and then, on the left side of your paper, summarize definitions, explain confusing points, etc. Feel free to use your textbook or ask your instructor for clarification.


  • Recite. After reducing, test your knowledge by covering up the right side of your notebook with another piece of paper then use the information on the left side of your paper to recite (out loud) important facts and major points. You can then quiz yourself and test your knowledge by uncovering the other side of the paper as necessary.


  • Reflect. If you’re having a hard time with certain terminology or topics, review them again and ask for assistance. If necessary, don’t be afraid to hire a tutor to help clarify points.


  • Review. Review your notes every single day until you truly know them.
  1. Take good care of your notes and feel proud about your new note-taking skills. Once you have established a note-taking system that works for you, be very proud of yourself and make sure you take good care of your notes.