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    10 Questions About Note Taking In College Answered

    February 6, 2018 Amanda Cross 9 min read
    Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more details. Thanks for supporting the brands that make The Happy Arkansan possible!

    Note taking is so important in college, but it can be difficult to grasp. Today's blog will walk you through 10 questions about note taking in college and I will give you my best answers to each of these pressing questions so that you can be the best note taker possible!

    Here are just a few of the questions we are answering today:

    • Should I handwrite or type my notes?
    • Which note taking method is right for me?
    • How should I organize my notes?
    • …and more!

     10 Questions About Note Taking In College Answered | Have a question about note taking in college? Well, I have hopefully answered all your most pressing questions in this note taking answer session. I am chatting about things like typing or handwriting your notes, color coding your notes, organizing your notes, and so much more.

    1. Should I Handwrite Or Type My Notes?

    This is a huge debate for the college community. Most of my classes in college weren't as laptop friendly and I personally hated lugging around my laptop (especially when I lived off campus.) I would often handwrite my notes even though I am probably a much faster typer than I am a writer.

    In the end, it's about preference in my opinion. Don't rule out either. Try them both out in your different classes. I hypothesize that what you might find is typing works best for some classes while handwriting your notes works for others.

    For example, typing might be annoying in a math class with a bunch of difficult equations. Keyboards have come along way, but they are still not meant to type numbers and math out. For those classes handwriting your notes would probably be easier. In a class with a bunch of technical jargon or just words, typing might be better because you can spell check as you go.

    Be open to both and don't be afraid to use a mixture depending on what you need at the time.

    2. If I Type My Notes Which App Should I Use?

    If you choose to type your notes there are a variety of methods you can use.

    You may want to:

    • Be simple and use a Word or Pages document.
    • Be more complex and use a note-taking platform like EverNote or Microsoft OneNote.
    • Choose an app that works for you!

    Why do you choose to type your notes? Getting that answer may help you decide the kind of note-taking app you want to use. You want a note taking app that lives up to your expectations and needs. So, create a list of what you need from your note taking app and choose the app that checks most if not all of those boxes.

    3. Is Color Coding My Notes Necessary?

    Some people get really in depth when it comes to notes and they color code everything. Blue is a date, pink is an important person, green is something that may be on a test one day, etc. At the end of the day, this is time-consuming AF.

    Color coding your notes makes them pretty, but it doesn't necessarily make them practical.

    My advice, skip the color coding during lecture and do it in a different way. Or, create a more condensed version of color coding.

    For example:

    • You may write all your notes in black but then underline certain words with colorful pens. Underlining may help you reduce the amount of time you are spending color coding while giving you the same effect of color coding.
    • You might also use things like asterisks, underlines, brackets, etc. to denote certain important things in your notes.
    • Lastly, you may create content with two different colors, one for your main writing, and one to emphasize certain points in your writing.

    You should strive to simplify the note-taking process, not make it harder.

    4. Which Note Taking Method Is Right For Me?

    Many students default to the outlining method of note taking, but that method may or may not work best for you. It's important for you to experiment with other forms of note taking so you can find the method that is truly the best fit for you.

    I have always used the outlining method because it does work for me, but if you find that you feel you could be taking notes in a more effective way–branch out! Find a style that works best for you and stick with it until it doesn't.

    Below I am linking this awesome article by Chloe Burroughs. I love this article because she really breaks down these note-taking methods so that they are easy to understand and visualize.

    Related Reading: How To Choose The Best Note Taking Method by Chloe Burroughs

    5. How Can I Create A Balance Between Listening And Note-Taking In College?

    In my honest opinion, the best way to create a balance between active listening and note taking is to put down your pen. I know, crazy!

    When I was in college I saw so many people who were writing so fast in class that their hands were cramping up. They were seriously cramping my vibes in class because I was never one of those people. You see, in this particular class about poetry, we both made As, but I made As without cramping up every five seconds.

    I realized long ago that the teacher's words wouldn't truly mean much if I didn't grasp them and put them in my own words. So, instead of being a transcriber I became a summarizer. I would put my pen down, listen for a slide or two, then I would pick up my pen and write down the important things.

    Transcribing is not note taking my friends!

    6. How Should I Take Advantage Of PowerPoints & Lecture Outlines When Note Taking?

    If you want to take advantage of the PowerPoints or lecture outlines your teacher provides–print them out and bring them to class with you! Alternatively, put them on your tablet or laptop so you can have them open during class. This is the first step to being able to utilize them.

    If you have access to these before class, give them a quick read through. This will help you orient yourself to what you will be discussing in class. Write down any preliminary questions you have in the margins or on a separate sheet of paper.

    When you are in class, follow along. If it's in the lecture outline or PowerPoints you don't need to re-write it down.  Add on to the notes your teacher gave you, don't copy them! Your professor will likely go into further detail in class. Use the PowerPoint or Lecture Outline as a basis for your note-taking. Let it guide your note-taking.

    7. What Is The Best Method For Taking Notes From A Textbook?

    When taking notes from a textbook I think the most important advice is don't reinvent the wheel. Don't try to be fancy or come up with your own headings–the textbook company has already done that for you! Follow their headers and subheaders as you are taking notes.

    It's easy to think a task is too easy. You don't want to just copy their outline because that would mean that you aren't doing as much work as you should be, but sometimes you just need to relax. Go with their flow because ultimately that will be the best way to take notes and be able to compare notes with the book when you are studying later.

    8. How Should I Organize My Notes?

    Here are a few note organization methods:

    For Handwritten Notes

    The best method for organizing notes that I have found is using a binder with separate tabs for each class. Some people use notebooks but I find that:

    1. They can be wasteful if I don't happen to use all the pages provided.
    2. They can't be re-arranged or made smaller in case I want to study on the go.

    I like that binders are flexible. If I find that I am taking fewer notes in one class I can move some of that classes paper to another class where I am constantly taking notes. I can also take the most important pages out of my binder so I can study on the go in case I don't want to carry my binder around.

    I've personally always been a fan of binders, although they can get a little bulky if you have a million articles and supplemental materials stuffed inside. I would encourage you to keep your binder as clean as possible. Some people have an expanding file or a few file folders at home that they use to keep old stuff during the semester that they may need at a later date (to study for a big test like midterms/finals and/or to write a big paper, etc.)

    For typed Notes

    If you don't want to print them out, hole punch them, and organize them in a binder you should:

    • Create a huge folder for each semester.
    • Inside that semester folder, you should create subfolders for each class.
    • Inside that subfolder, you should have at least one Word document for your notes as well as any supplemental class materials like your syllabi and articles assigned.

    You may want to create separate Word Documents for each type of note taking: one for in-class note taking and one for textbook note taking.

    Organization is key for note taking on your computer because you likely use your computer for more than just course work.

    9. What Should I Do If I Can't Keep Up With My Professor In Class?

    There are a couple of options for people who can't seem to keep up with their professor in class and it depends on a few things:

    If You Have A Learning Or Physical Disability

    Go to Disability Support Services! They offer a wide array of services that can help you in all of your classes. They may even be able to get you a note taker for your classes (at my school this was a student who volunteered to take notes for a student in class then they got a special notebook to make copies of all the notes they took, now at my alma mater this process is digitized though so they don't need to get the special notebook.)

    If you get a note taker you still need to pay attention in class, go to class, and try to write down the notes that you can. Your notetaker is probably trying to be as meticulous as they can be, but they cannot write everything down! You need to be in class every day so you can get your information right from the professor's mouth instead of through a student.

    If You Just Have A Hard Time Keeping Up

    Maybe this is your first time having to take diligent notes or your professor has an accent that you can't quite grasp, here are some options for that:

    Talk With Your Professor: They want to help you succeed! Ask them for their best advice on note taking and see what they have to say. You may even ask them if you could bring a recording device to class so you can get your notes completed. Let them know what you have been trying to do to keep up in class, so that you both can work together on a better solution!

    Team Up With Another Classmate: If you are having difficulty keeping up, maybe a classmate is too. You guys can work together by trading notes after each class. You can scan your notes and send them to them and they can do the same. This way you both have two sets of notes to look off. You may have caught something they didn't and vice versa.

    10. What Do I Do With My Notes Once The Semester Is Finished?

    The end of the semester is the best, but what do you do with all the notes that you just took. Here are a couple of options:

    Recycle Them

    Don't just throw away your paper if you can help it, find a recycle bin and recycle all your old notes. If you have staples in your notes you may want to remove them. I know that some mills where paper gets recycled have the ability to remove staples, but you should remove them yourself just in case. You will feel a lot better if you recycle your notes versus burning them or throwing them away (although burning your notes after a crazy semester is fun sometimes.)

    Keep Them

    If you believe that you may re-use your notes at one point in your time as a college student, I'd keep them. For example, notes from the introduction to your major class may be useful later on when you get more involved in your major. Gather up all your notes, put them in a file folder, and keep them somewhere safe until you feel like you no longer need them–then recycle them.


    Note taking is an important part of college life, but I hope that going through these answers helped you make better note taking decisions. Do you have any more questions about note taking in college? Leave them below so I can answer you in the comments!

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    1 Comment

  • Taylor February 7, 2018 at 4:30 am

    I did the same thing every year in college – handwritten notes kept in a 5 subject notebook! Writing everything down helped me remember!

  • Leave a Reply

    About Amanda

    Hey Y’all!
    My name is Amanda Cross, and I am the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan. I am a blogger, freelance writer, and podcaster. When I am not creating content for any of my content online, I can usually be found baking, watching YouTube, or napping. I love helping millennials and young adults navigate the mess that is adult life. Keep reading for my thoughts and experiences.

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