College Note-taking System

In one of my last posts, I talked about some of the differences between college and high school. One of those differences was regarding the type of work we get, and with that there needs to be different systems in place to store material. Each class is structured differently, but I’ve been able to distill my note taking systems into three main categories: prep & lecture, lecture & review, and techy.

I’ll go through each of those systems in depth as well as what kinds of classes they tend toward being useful in.

1. Prep & Lecture

At my college, there are a lot more discussion-based classes as opposed to my high school. I quickly realized that this would warrant a different type of note taking system. A prime example of this my Critical Inquiry class, where we will typically have one big text/video to read/watch, and then we will spend time in class discussing it and tying it in to other works we’ve studied.

For a class like that, I want to make sure to take notes on the reading/watching. So, I write the different articles or videos in a numbered list and take note of interesting and relevant points. I also answer any questions that have been posed by the Professor.

I also use this system for my Entrepreneurship course, which is pictured above. I’m able to take notes on the reading, then connect them in class to my lecture notes. It cuts down on lecture notes by putting definitions and diagrams in the prep part of my notes. That way, I can be more engaged in discussion and what the teacher’s saying, rather than getting down definitions and diagrams.

2. Lecture & Review

For some classes, there isn’t much advantage in doing a bunch of prep beforehand. In my experience, this is especially true for math and science. I would rather be walked through the topic in lecture, then review the material by going over the text or practice problems afterward. Especially for my current math course, which is a Business Analytics class, it is a waste of time for me to try to figure it out in the book beforehand because I just won’t understand it until I’m taught it in class.

This method does stress importance of good note-taking in class. After class, I will review my notes by annotating them and clarifying anything that I might read in the book or walking through any challenging practice problems.

3. Techy

There is one class that I currently take all my notes for online: Business Law. I use Microsoft OneNote for this purpose. Before class, I will do the reading and take notes on it as well as attempt any example problems. Then, I’ll go into lecture with a fresh page to take notes and reference/annotate my book notes as we go along. It comes in really handy when questions are posed in class, as I’m able to easily navigate between the two pages. After class, I’ll look over the practice problems and see if I want to reevaluate my responses based on the lecture. I will also annotate them if necessary, and add my color coding.

This method is really useful for any classes that are really word-heavy. History, government, and law classes are two good examples of those. The search-ability function of these online note takers is extremely helpful in answering questions, so you’re not wasting time flipping through pages trying to find that one section where you know you wrote down that one example.


So, those are my three main note-taking systems that will work for pretty much any course. It’s important to change up your note-taking for any preferences by professors and tailor it to the way class works.

For instance, if there are a lot of good visuals in an online textbook, you may want to take your notes online so you can cut and paste those in your notes. In contrast, if a professor prefers no laptops in class, you’ll be better suited to use paper only.

I would love to see examples of your note taking! Take a picture and tag @alicia_life_tips to share!

❤ Alicia

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