Effective Note Taking (For Students)

When learning, our teachers and lecturers often present us with reading materials, textbooks or hand-outs. However, most of us will also want to capture our own notes. This benefits our learning in a few ways:

  • We can capture additional information that is not in the reading materials or handouts. This is usually the case when the teacher presents additional material or when he/she gives situational examples beyond the immediate context i.e. how the knowledge has real-world applications, interesting case-studies, etc
  • The act of taking notes in itself also helps us organise and sort out information. Thus, helping us to filter and retain knowledge which can then be easily recalled and applied.

Here are some common habits we can use with note-taking that will be useful in learning.

Get Prepared with the Right Tools…

First of all, come prepared to take notes.

Have a proper notepad or notebook. A4 is ideal as smaller sized note books make it hard to write continuously across the page.

Use a blue or black pen to take main points and a red pen for titles/labels.

Have a short ruler ready to draw lines for arrows to connect ideas or to create tables.

Have a correction tape to quickly cover over mistakes.


What NOT to do….

The idea in note taking is to have additional materials to AID your understanding of the lesson.

If we are too engrossed in note-taking and fail to LISTEN attentively, then we will miss out the teaching that is taking place.

Also, if we take down everything that is spoken or written on the whiteboard; then I think we have missed out the point of note-taking. Today, most teachers will present their lessons using PowerPoint slides- if we are going to copy everything, then it make sense to just take a snapshot of the slides!

In fact, most teachers readily make their teaching slides available and hand-outs are often provided. Students in schools are also well-equipped with comprehensive textbooks, so note taking should not devolve into a kiasu effort to prevent losing out on any information being presented.



Rather, effective note-taking should help the student relate what the teacher is teaching with the relevant portions of the textbook and other teaching materials.

It should also organise the learning tasks that need to be done i.e. read Chapter 3-4, attempts questions 1-5, etc.

The most useful way to do note-taking that involves both creating a repository of knowledge as well as establishing the relationship between the contents is through a process known as Mind Mapping.

Mind Mapping is a technique that helps us take notes in a visual format that systematically links concepts, data and relationships together.

There are many types of Mind Mapping tools available on mobile devices and tablets. But for the average student in class, learning to do Mind Maps with ‘old school’ pen and paper is still a good skill to pick up!

Here are links to some good mind mapping sites that will introduce you to the fundamentals of mind mapping.



By Randell Siow


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