Study Skills

Note-taking and Study Skills


Do you ever finish reading material for class and realize you don’t remember what you’ve read?

Do you sometimes have a hard time figuring out what to write in your notes during class lectures?

When you sit down to study your notes, are you sometimes unable to figure out why you wrote down what you did?

Do you sometimes study a lot but still not remember the material or do well on tests?


Note-taking is a skill that can be developed. Study strategies also are learned and can improve over time. Many different methods for both exist, and you need to figure out what works for you. Follow all these tips for reading, listening, and note-taking, and over time you will study less, enjoy classes more, and earn better grades!



Active Reading

When you read a textbook, an academic article, or any other assigned material, it’s important to read it actively—don’t read it the way you would a story; approach it like a puzzle. You need to write while you read, either in the text itself (if you are keeping it) or in a notebook. Follow these steps:

  1. Look through the reading: What are the headings/sections? How is the reading organized? What is in bold?
  2. Write down an outline of the reading, listing the title and section headings. Also list any charts or graphs.
  3.  If there is an abstract at the start, read that carefully several times and circle or write down key words. In the abstract, you will find the purpose of the article and the main point. Make sure you know what that is.
  4. Are there questions at the end of the chapter? If so, read those next—they are your clue to what is important. (from From Kruger, Susan. 2013. SOAR Study Skills. Grand Blanc, MI: Grand Lighthouse Publishing.)
  5.  Go back to the headings and reframe them as questions. As Kruger (2013) notes, turning headings into questions keeps you focused and “helps your brain develop connections” to recall information later. For example, a heading like “Developing a Purpose for Reading” could be “How can I develop a purpose when I read?”
  6. Read the assigned material, one section at a time, writing down/circling key terms and making notes about the main points and any questions you have. Review these notes right before class and take them with you.


Active Listening

To take good notes, you have to listen, which is harder than it sounds. Often students don’t realize that listening is a skill that must be practiced and developed.  Learning the skill of active listening is crucial – learning to listen in this way will make class less boring and will decrease the time you have to study.

What is “active listening”?  Like active reading, it means being awake and actually interacting with what is going on. When your professors are talking, you need to think about what they are saying. Ask yourself questions about what they are saying, write down key words and main points, and look for ways that their comments connect with what you have already read or heard.

A few tips to improve your listening:

  1. Always read well before class, so that you have a good idea about what the topic is and what some key terms are. When the professor lectures, it will make more sense to you.
  2. Sit in the front of the room or otherwise in the teacher’s direct line of vision—it will make the class feel smaller and will keep you from losing attention.
  3. Do not use your laptop, because it’s too tempting to surf or respond to messages.
  4. Do not use your phone. Same reasons.
  5. As the professor talks, do not write down everything he/she says or everything on the board/PowerPoint. Focus on key concepts, main points, and topics that come up more than once. DO NOT write down word-for-word what the teacher says. Come up with your own abbreviations that work for you – use parts of words, arrows, whatever helps you remember what was discussed.


Organizing Your Notes

Different note-taking methods exist. Google it for examples! In general, though, most recommend hand-writing notes, not using a computer, and dividing your paper into two columns – on the right-hand side (about 2/3 of the page), take your notes For a good example, see Kruger, Susan. 2013. SOAR Study Skills. Grand Blanc, MI: Grand Lighthouse Publishing.)

On the left-hand side, write questions, summary points, comments the teacher makes (e.g., “important point”), and questions you have.  If you miss something, leave a blank space and circle it to go back.

Important Note: When class is over, read through your notes and fill in any blanks you can. Add in additional things you remember while you remember them, including any reference to the reading.  If you have questions, write them out and go talk with your professor.



Studying begins with active reading, active listening, and good note-taking and review. If you engage in all of the above, your actual “study time” will decrease substantially.

Studying should be a time to review, not to learn new material. You should have:

  1. Notes from your reading (either in the text or on paper
  2. Notes from class (filled in after class with additional info)
  3. All assigned materials

Spend time reviewing them and making yet another set of notes about themes and main points, using a study guide if one was given. When in doubt, ask questions and see your professor. Bring all your notes and materials with you, so that he/she can see what you have been doing and help you improve as the term goes on.