Note -Taking Techniques

By Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir.

Impetus for Writing this Article

One day in a discussion-based class of International Relations with friends at the debate platform of CSS PMS Knowledge Builders, Islamabad, an important, vital academic issue propped up in conversation. The topic was: Is it important to take notes while listening to lectures or reading books both from examination and pleasure point of view?

The time was pertinent and we discussed the issue threadbare and in a clinical manner. Most of the girls take notes in classes while boys banter with and make aero planes of papers while simultaneously taking notes randomly.

For facilitating students from across the whole spectrum, I have taken up the cudgels for writing on this critical and fundamental issue. For the aspirants of CSS and other competitive exams, this mental and physical activity is a sine qua non of brilliant success.

Importance of Note-Taking

To begin with, the goal of effective note taking is to help recall what has been learned and retain that information over time. It is one way to enhance listening, and using a systematic approach to the taking and reviewing of your notes can add immeasurably to your understanding and remembering the content of lectures. It’s a simple fact of academic survival – the best students take the best notes! Notes not only aid comprehension, but they also make learning active and, most importantly, make study time more efficient, especially during end-of- the semester review sessions for final exams.

Effective note taking is an essential part of any successful academic study program. It is a high level skill, involving such complex cognitive processes as analyzing, synthesizing, writing, evaluating, and reviewing. But more than anything else, it requires active listening. Notes taken during reading or lectures can be one of the strongest tools a student has in their academic experience.

Here I am going to quote some of the prominent scholars on the importance of this academic domain.

“Always have a plan and believe in it. Nothing good happens by accident.” — Chuck Knox

“Learn how to listen and you will prosper even from those who talk badly.” — Plutarch

“Learn, compare, collect the facts.” – Ivan Petrovic Pavlov

“There is a great difference between knowing a thing and understanding it.” – Charles Kettering 

“Ideas won’t keep; something must be done about them.” – Alfred North Whitehead

Why do we take notes?

To summarize.

To highlight important information.

Most importantly, to review and study from later

What should be included?

  • Pertinent information • Valid information • Questions you have • Ideas • Verbal clues • Points to study later • Know the source (lecturer, author, etc.) • Tangents/Examples • Specific order • Handouts .

General tips and tricks:

Develop a personal form of abbreviations to allow you to take notes more quickly and allow you to include more information effectively.

 • Skip lines to allow you to fill in more information later.

• Always date material to know what material each test covers.

 • Leave marginal room for notes when reviewing or from reading text.

 • Re-write notes right after lecture for better retention.

• Paraphrase! – It is easier to study from your own ideas than your lecturers’!

• Stay ahead of reading assignments. This will help you understand lectures better and give you a better indication of what notes are important to take.

• Use labels, categories, and separate chapters/concepts to organize your notes.

 • Keep notes clear. Doodling is distracting when you go back to study and is an indication of daydreaming during class.

 • Use separate notebooks for each class.

 • Underline or star key points.

• Record lectures if you are having trouble keeping up. (Remember to ask permission from lecturer).

• Know the type of test you will be taking, if you are going to be tested on the material. This will allow you to tailor your notes to fit this style.

 • Diagram relationships between information. This can be especially useful in subjects such as history.

• If your lecturer repeatedly speaks on a topic, it is likely that you will have to know it in the future.

Use your notes for review and study later:

The main reason we take notes is to aid our studying later. Use them appropriately. Review your notes frequently; this can be extremely useful even in short sittings. It is best to begin this process within 24 hours of first taking the notes. By doing so, retention is greatly increased. The more you use your notes, the more familiar the material will become and the more information you will retain for future use.

How to Highlight


Pragmatically, this requires continued determination and struggle. As the process maintains, so do the skill perfects and knowledge develops in a multi-dimensional level. I conclude this with the long-cherished, noble hope that both my students and online readers will be benefited from this intellectual piece of writing. The article is dedicated to my father who has stood by me through thick and thin.

About Author:

Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir is a freelance writer, human rights activist, aspirant to CSS and having specialization in English Literature and Linguistics from NUML, Islamabad.


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