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Note taking skills

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Three main ways to take notes: Cornell notes, Guided notes & Harvard notes

James Kennedy Annotated notebook

No one note-taking system is always best. The type of notes that helps one the most depends on the subject and material.


Cornell Notes

A systematic format for condensing and organizing notes. The student divides the paper into two columns: the note-taking column (usually on the right) is twice the size of the questions/key word column (on the left). The student should leave five to seven lines, or about two in (5 cm), at the bottom of the page.

Notes from a class are written in the note-taking column; they consist of the main ideas; long ideas are paraphrased. Long sentences are avoided; symbols or abbreviations are used instead. To assist with future reviews, relevant questions (which should be recorded as soon as possible so that the lecture and questions will be fresh in the student’s mind) or key words are written in the key word column.

Within 24 hours of taking the notes, the student must revise and write questions, and then write a brief summary in the bottom five to seven lines of the page. This helps to increase understanding of the topic.

When reviewing the material, the student can cover the note-taking (right) column while attempting to answer the questions/keywords in the key word or cue (left) column.
_ Wikipedia

The Cornell Note Taking system (2 page PDF file)


Guided Notes

“Sometimes lecturers may provide handouts of guided notes, which provide a “map” of the lecture content with key points or ideas missing. Students then fill in missing items as the lecture progresses. Guided notes may assist students in following lectures and identifying the most important ideas from a lecture. This format provides students with a framework, yet requires active listening (as opposed to providing copies of powerpoint slides in their entirety). Research has shown that guided notes improve students’ recording of critical points in lecture as well as their quiz scores on related content.” – Wikipedia

Example of guided notes for a biology class:

Guided notes


Harvard Notes

This is a very well organized and common note-taking system. When taking notes from a book or lecture:
 Write down the main idea of at least every other paragraph.
 Use phrases, not complete sentences
 Where you have a I, you have to have a II; where you have an A, you have to
have a B
 You don’t need sub ideas


Harvard notes

Image from hicksvillepublicschools.org, note taking systems.



Here is a example from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Center for College and Student Success, note-taking methods.

Harvard outline example


Related articles

For Note Taking, Low-Tech is Often Best; In college lecture halls, evidence suggests it’s time to put down the laptop and pick up a pen. By Susan Dynarski

Wikipedia text is from “Note-taking.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 5 Mar. 2018.

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