Note Taking in College

While I was an “A+ student” in high school, I never found it necessary to take many notes to succeed. Sometimes in high school, teachers print out slides or give you the lecture material after class. While this still does happen occasionally in 100-level classes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it when you start taking more difficult classes. This necessitates learning how to take notes on your own — fast. 

Computer or Hand-Written?

While I can see the value of tech in the classroom, I’m not a fan of online note-taking. Often on a computer, I get caught up in trying to type what a professor says verbatim. When I’m writing by hand, I have to quickly synthesize the information in my head before writing it down. This leads to far better comprehension, and I’m not distracted by the 40 email notifications I get in an hour. If you get distracted easily, a computer might not be the way for you to go.


Your note-taking style will likely change throughout your time here as you adapt to different classrooms and professors. Each person has a different preference for note-taking, whether it’s with brand-new colored pens or a used-up Bic.

I choose to keep a binder instead of a notebook. I used to write in notebooks, but I’ve found that binders are far more efficient. I’m able to take out specific pages at a time and insert in-class activities next to the notes that they refer to. This is helpful when I’m reviewing, as I can see examples of the analyses I might be asked to do on the test! 

Like I said, everyone does this differently, but I wanted to give you a quick overview of what my note-taking process looks like! 


This is a page from my notes on CMN 345: Visual Media Effects. My system for this class is a dashed line (-) to denote something that is written on a slide, and a plus sign (+) to denote my own summary of what a professor says. Later on, this helps me compare notes to other students. My interpretation of what the professor said might vary from theirs, and while I never make mistakes (ha ha), I’m always interested in different understandings of the material. 


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This is a page from my notes on CMN 368: Sexual Communication after our first exam. This gets into a little bit of my study habits, but that ties right into note-taking. It’s been typical in my communication classes to get a “study guide” before the first exam that has a list of all the topics that will be on the exam.

The best way for me to study is to go through my notes and readings and make a document of everything I know about each topic. I will then print that document and color-code it according to each subject. Once I’m finished, I’ll do the same in my original notes. The color-coordination per subject and the amount of times I go over the material help it stick better. It also makes me think about whether or not I have a comprehensive understanding of the material.

My note-taking style has changed a lot throughout the years, and still changes slightly from class to class. How I take notes depends heavily on the professor, but I almost always stick to hand-written. Professors rarely put a lot of text on the slide, so you’re mostly relying on what they say.


Class of 2020
After switching majors four times, I've finally fallen in love with what I'm studying: communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I hope hearing about my experiences can put all your worries at ease, because college really isn't as scary as you might think!

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