The average speech rate is 150 words per minute, while our writing ability is limited to about 27 words per minute… No wonder effective note-taking is not an easy exercise! In addition to requiring the ability to write quickly and concisely, it requires concentration, listening, analytical skills and the ability to synthesize. The web is full of standard note-taking models. The most important advice is to adopt a way of doing things that suits you best since it is for yourself that you are writing!

Here are some simple tips to help you make the most of this exercise and avoid its pitfalls.


There’s no point in running to catch up; it’s better to start on time. Good note-taking starts with being prepared, whether by doing your preliminary reading, checking the lesson plan or familiarizing yourself with the jargon of the subject matter. Good preparation will help you to be in an active listening mode during the course, make connections and be less intimidated by the new concepts.

Get your energy up. That’s right! Feeling good physically and mentally is not insignificant when it comes to a task that requires as much concentration and presence of mind as note-taking. Neuroscience has confirmed that sleep plays a major role in the learning process (see Neuroscience: learning in 4 steps and 3 myths that prevent you from learning).

Be creative and organized. Create your abbreviations and symbols for repeated notions and list them in a checklist. To be ready, you can also benefit from numbering your pages!


On the content

Focus first. What must come first, before any note-taking technique, is to remain attentive to what is said during the course. That said, it is normal for you to miss a few passages or for a sudden question to disrupt you. To avoid losing the thread, leave a blank space and a brief explanation to add the missing details later.

Give priority to ideas. Prioritize ideas over sentences. Avoid transcribing the speech word for word! This is the secret to memorizing information better – making it your own and having a deeper understanding of it right from the beginning.

The anecdote: separate the wheat from the chaff. Throughout the course, you will be given anecdotes and comments from the teacher. Know how to distinguish the teacher’s digressions (normal, by the way!) from examples, anecdotes or comments that are intended to help you understand the concepts of the course. Forget the first ones, but take note of the latter!

On the form

Get your pens ready. As we saw in the article Note-taking: Keyboard or Pen? The Verdict of Science!, the pen wins hands down on the keyboard when it comes to promoting learning. Technophiles who don’t want to go back to the good old paper and pencil duo can opt for the intelligent digital pen, which transfers handwritten notes and diagrams to a mobile device.

Let your presentation breathe. It is better to leave a little more blank space than less so that you can complete your notes later, insert points to clarify or even comments in revision. For the same purpose, keep the back of your pages blank. To find your path better, change the line or paragraph for each new concept.

Transform, delete, shorten. To write your notes faster, do not hesitate to adapt the teacher’s comments and use your abbreviations and symbols. You can delete articles and status verbs, but be sure to note proper nouns, dates, theories, numerical values, references and any other elements essential to understanding or which will be assessed later.

Frame, underline, highlight and colour wisely. At the note-taking stage, it is better to remain minimalist on the “embellishment and colouring” side. While it may be relevant to frame or underline key elements, keep a certain consistency (e.g., frame only important terms, underline only section titles, etc.). Same for colour: if you want to use it, limit yourself to one or two and assign a function to each (e.g. yellow for key terms, pink for definitions to look for).


Do not copy your notes. This is one of the objectives of effective note-taking: that notes be usable as they are! Using your original notes will make it easier for you to immerse yourself mentally in the course and some elements will probably come to mind more clearly.

Review it within 24 hours. To be able to use your memory optimally, it is recommended to make a first reading of your notes within 24 hours.

Dig, complete, fix. If it is not a question of copying your notes, it is strongly recommended to rework them; either to add the essential missing information, to dig deeper into the concepts that need to be studied, to define unknown terms, to refine your diagrams.

Highlight important passages. Now that you have a perspective on the course, you are in a better position to identify the information that needs to be highlighted. It’s time to take out your coloured pencils, frame, underline and highlight the important points.

In learning mode. There is no point in studying too much; it is better to spread out your lessons at the right time… As the neurosciences have confirmed (see Neurosciences: learning in 4 steps), the winning formula for assimilating a lesson is to study at reasonable doses over several relatively short periods and to test yourself!

Catherine Meilleur

Catherine Meilleur

Creative Content Writer @KnowledgeOne. Questioner of questions. Hyperflexible stubborn. Contemplative yogi.