The Secrets of Great College Note Takers

The Secrets of Great College Note Takers

The Secrets of Great College Note Takers

Shhhhhh! We must keep our voices down. This conversation contains secrets. And possibly traces of nuts. If this highly classified conversation is mentioned on your next Facebook update, then consider yourself de-friended and un-liked. Got that?? Good.

Ok. It’s time to share those secrets. The secrets of great note takers.

Yeah, yeah, you might have been expecting something juicier. Like the secrets of Roswell. The things I could tell you about that place would make ET’s hair curl. So would the secrets about Elvis…you just wouldn’t believe what he’s up to now!!

alien roswell

But while the secrets of great note takers might not fit into the ‘sexy secret’ category, they are things you really should know. One study indicates that 47% of what we hear in a lecture is forgotten within 20 minutes! Scary. That’s why taking notes during lectures is essential, whether you’re studying on campus or doing an online degree. You’ll need them to review and recall the key points and facts from each lecture. Of course, the better the notes, the more information you retain. And the more information you retain, the better you’ll do in those all-important exams.

There are a million and one techniques and systems you could use, like the world famous Cornell Note Taking System. But these secrets I’m about to share are more like insider tips used by the wise, the successful, and the graduated. So, are you ready to learn the secrets of great takers?


Shhhhh! Put your megaphone down and listen up. Here is Secret Number One.

Great Note Takers Are Prepared – For example, they’ll read the material that will be covered in the next lecture. There’s nothing more disconcerting than sitting in a lecture and being hit with a concept or theory from out of the blue. This can make you take leave from your note taking and sit there with a stunned ‘What The????’ expression on your face for the rest of the lecture. By doing some pre-reading, you minimize the chances of being blindsided, and your note making will continue relatively smoothly as you’ll already have a basic overall understanding of the material.

Great Note Takers Know Their Place – They’re not interested in sitting with the cool kids up the back of the room. They take a place towards the front, where they can hear and see the lecture, without distraction. Research reveals that students who sit in the first few rows perform better, so leave the cool kids where they are, arrive early, and claim the best seats in the house. This is particularly important if the professor uses a lot of visual aids during their lecture. Dude, you’ll be the one looking cool when you breeze through your exams…

Great Note Takers Take Cues From Their Instructors – What a secret this is! This could be one of the best note taking tips of all time. I’m not exaggerating. And I’ve told you a billion times that I don’t exaggerate.

You can’t write down everything as you follow a lecture. But you can learn to write down what is really important by the things your professor says or does. For example, when a professor takes the time to write something on a board, you can safely assume that it is an important piece of information that should appear in your notes. Similarly, the use of any visual aid is an indicator that there is note-worthy information for you to write down.


Just as crucially, listen carefully to what your professor says. Listen out for phrases and words like: “it’s important to remember”, “you need to understand”, “this is worth repeating”, “key”, “essential”, “major”, “core” or even “ if you’re only going to make one note this year, make it this one”. When you hear words and phrases that indicate a certain urgency or importance, be sure to make notes of what follows. And if a professor happens to repeat something, make sure you note it, if you haven’t already

Great Note Takers Know When To Move On – Even if you’ve some done reading prior to the lecture, and have a good idea what direction that lecture will take, it’s to be expected that some material will go straight over your head. When an unfamiliar topic or concept is introduced to the lecture, don’t stew on it. Don’t sit there pondering the strangeness of it all, as if you were contemplating The Meaning Of Life. While you’re doing that, the lecture is still going on, and you’re missing out on vital information. The best thing to do when you come across things you don’t understand is to just put a question mark in that point of your notes, and move on. This will act as a reminder to seek clarification from your professor or text b ook after the lecture.

Great Note Takers Improve Their Notes Immediately – It’s a well-known fact among the great note takers of the world that retyping notes straight after a lecture is all part of the process. Like putting maple syrup on your pancakes. Or flossing before you brush. Or rolling your eyes every time you hear a politician make a promise.

The notes you take during a lecture are just that. Notes. They’re phrases rather than sentences. Words rather than phrases. Letters rather than words. They’re full of your unique shorthand, which is as mysterious as The X Files. They’re crammed with abbreviations and symbols. In short, they’re unpolished.

By retyping these unpolished notes, you flesh them out. You turn words into phrases, and phrases into sentences. Abbreviations are made whole, and symbols and shorthand are turned into a language the rest of the world understands. You are turning notes into readable study material. All the while, you’re reabsorbing what you have learnt and adding layers to your memory. This is probably the key benefit of retyping your notes immediately after your lecture.

Great Note Takers Dare To Compare – Comparing notes with class mates is a fantastic way to check that you have picked up everything that was discussed in a lecture. A momentary lapse of concentration, or a distraction in the form of a particularly hot human sitting next to you, could translate to key facts or concepts being left off your notes. By cross referencing with friends, you can all make sure you cover all bases.

Great Note Takers Actually Use Their Notes! – The best notes in the world are worthless if they’re not reviewed on a regular basis. It’s like having Gordon Ramsey in your kitchen but not inviting him to cook. What a (******insert curse word of your choice here) waste!


When you’re in your dorm room, or in your lounge room if you’re doing an online degree, it’s easy reach for your ring binder and do some study. But things like ring binders and notebooks are about as portable as Bono’s ego. To help you review your notes while you’re travelling, or on vacation, or sitting under a shady tree on a sunny day, consider making up a set of pocket sized and very portable study flashcards. The simple act of transferring information from your main notes to flashcards is yet another way of remembering information, so this a good idea in more ways than one.

You’ll take lots of notes as you study for your college degree. More notes than your average Beethoven symphony, that is for sure. Whether you’re doing a degree on a college campus, or via a distance education program, you must never underestimate the importance of taking notes, and taking them well. By following the secrets of great note takers, you’ll be setting yourself up for academic success. There is no secret about that.

Thanks for reading.

And yes, we can stop whispering now.