Note Taking Tips, Tricks, & Tools

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What I’ve learned since being in college, is that you can’t get away with doing the bare minimum. You’re going to find yourself spending a lot more time studying than you probably did in high school. I used to be able to get by with not really paying attention during class and reading the textbook the night before an exam. But with college/university, that’s not the case. Most college exams contain a lot of information from the in-class lectures. The professor’s lectures contain just as much vital information as your textbooks do. They will probably contain most of the information you’re likely to see on an exam. You’ll actually have to pay attention and at one point or another and you’re definitely going to have to take notes during class.  The way I take my notes is constantly evolving. I want them to be detailed and organized, but I don’t want to waste time trying to write down every single thing the professor says. I’ve learned a thing or two about note taking over the years. So I’m here to talk about a few note taking tips, tricks, and tools that I use.


Some professors use PowerPoints to accompany their lectures. I personally like that they do this because it gives me something to base my notes on. If they post them online to your school site and make them available for download, you should use them to your advantage. I use PowerPoint in the following ways:

    1. Print them out: PowerPoint has a few different print layout options that are beneficial for notetaking. I print the slides out with 3, 4, or 6 slides per page, staple them together, and I take notes directly on them.
    2. Type on the slides: I always carry my laptop with me and I prefer to type. I download the PowerPoint slides and I use the “notes page” view. This option lets you type in a designated notes section directly beneath each slide.

Hand Written

If I choose to write my notes during class, I use the either the Cornell style of note taking or I make an Outline. My favorite Cornell Notes example is from, you can see it here.

Cornell Notes

    1. The Note-Taking Section: Use this section during class to take down notes.
    2. The Cue Column: This column can be used to write vocabulary, keywords, phrases, or things to further research.
    3. The Summary Column: After class, this section is used to briefly summarize the main points from the note taking section and cue column. This section is really helpful because I can read through it find exactly which notes I’m looking for.

Note Taking Apps

If you’re like me and prefer to type during class, there are tons of note taking apps available to help keep your notes organized and together in one place. These are the two apps that I use.

    1. Evernote: This is a  free note taking app that let’ s you take notes, create to-do lists, and save pretty much anything from photos to pdf files. It also gives you the option of creating notebooks so you can organize your notes by subject, class, or any other way you’d like. I have a notebook for each class so I all I have to do is create a new “note” page, title and date it, and I’m reading to start typing.  If you’re interested in checking it out, you can sign up here.
    2. Microsoft One Note: This is one of the apps that is included in Microsoft Office (which is free to download for college students using their “.edu” school email). It’s pretty similar to Evernote. You can create notebooks, there are tabs to help with organization, and you can also save attachments. I recently started using One Note and I love it.

Both apps are easy to use and are available for your desktop, tablet, or mobile phone. So you can sync them and take your notes with you everywhere without having to print them out each time.

Quick Tips: 

Regardless of how you choose to take notes, here are some quick tips I’d like to share.

  1. Use headings and dates: Use headings so that your notes are easier to go through later. You’ll be able to skim through your notes and focus on a particular section. Also don’t forget to write the date the notes were taken. That way you’ll be able to see what was covered during which class period.
  2. Use shorthand: Use symbols and abbreviations. You can always write everything out later if you like, but shorthand will make your note taking so much faster. If you’re looking for an example, check out this post from tumblr user, Study Quirk.
  3. Color-Code: Whether you like using highlighters or different colored pens, color-coding can be very helpful when taking notes. You don’t have to use more than 2-3 colors (unless you want to.) Try to highlight key points and any important information. That way when you glance at your notes, those main ideas stand out.

What are some tips, tricks, and tools that you use to help you take notes? 

Spread the note taking love!


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