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Taking Notes

Note-Taking Phases

Note taking can be broken down into three key steps or phases:

  • Preparing before class.
  • Staying engaged and active during class, and
  • Reviewing everything you learned after class.

In this section, we'll cover important tips and tricks to help you succeed during each of these phases!

One Student's Experience with the Note-Taking Phases

Watch the video below to learn how one student takes notes before, during, and after classes.

Three Phases for Good Note Taking

So, what should you keep in mind during each phase of your note taking?

Here are some tips to follow so you can take clear, effective notes before, during, and after class.

In this stage, you should prepare yourself by finding out what you need to know and understanding the purpose of the lecture or the reading.

Before class, you should:

  • Complete any assigned readings and scan through the presentation to understand the basics of the topic you'll cover in class.
  • Write down any questions you have about the assigned readings so you can ask your professor.
  • Review your notes from the previous week's class to refresh yourself about what you've already learned and make connections to new material.
  • Arrive at least 15–30 minutes before class starts to help you get centred and settled before class starts.

In this stage, you should plan to stay active and engaged during your class and the make the most of your time with your professor and your peers.

During class, you should:

  • Actively listen to your professor and give your full attention to the lecture.
  • Take notes using a consistent, organized system—learn more in the Taking Notes in Class section of this module!
  • Write down any questions your professor asks of your class and listen for the answers.
  • Pay attention to the lecture's structure: Your professor will often take the first 5–10 minutes of class to give an overview of the main topic and explain how the lecture or class will be structured. Before the end of class, you professor will often repeat the main points of the presentation and make connections to class readings and future lectures.
  • Listen for summaries, main ideas, and concepts—don't worry about trying to write down every word!

In this stage, you should reflect on and review your class notes and then organize your notes to help you study.

After class, you should:

  • Review and process your notes within 24 hours of your class: Sort, reorganize, add, subtract, and evaluate your notes in a way that helps you make connections between content.
  • Ask questions about your notes: Do you notice any common themes throughout your notes? Why do those themes matter? How could you use this information outside the classroom? As you make connections, add those thoughts to your notes.
  • Identify any questions for the next class that need clarification from the professor.
  • Organize notes with symbols or colour codes to identify definitions, test questions, etc.
  • Write a summary of the main ideas from class and fill in any missing information.

Pause & Reflect

Now that you've read this section, ask yourself:

  • What approaches am I already using to help me take notes before, during, and after class?
  • Which new tip or trick will I try out in my next class?
  • If I were talking to a new student in my program, what note-taking tips would I share with them?