Often, college students do not always know what kinds of notes they should be taking.

How can I encourage students to take notes more efficiently and more effectively?

In one of my lecture-style courses, I have lots of organized information on my lecture slides for reference purposes. This allows me to introduce more material and work through more examples than I would otherwise be able to do. The lecture slides use signposting in order to give structure and to help students organize their notes logically. I post the slides to our course web page before class so students can use them in class to aid their note-taking. I have discussed with my students that I do not intend for them to copy my slides into their notes and that the slides are meant to used as reference. I've mentioned that I want them to be more strategic with their note-taking: they should be taking notes on major themes, key ideas, and processes, as well as on things that we discuss that are not in the slides. This works for some students, but I want to do better for all. The current semester is almost over, and I'd like to specifically address this for next semester.

Note that I am not asking how to take better notes, as others have asked here (example), but rather how I as the instructor can address this in the classroom to improve students' note-taking skills.

  • How do you know that the student notes are inadequate? They're missing questions on tests that you discussed in class but that aren't in the slides?
    – mkennedy
    Dec 4, 2019 at 17:52

2 Answers 2


This answer assumes that the course you are teaching is not about note-taking itself.

Make sure there really is a problem to address

Are the students who you think take bad notes also performing badly in the course? Different students have different ways of taking notes, or even different purposes (for example, I used to write down as much as I could because that would help me learn the content afterwards through "muscle memory").

There is not an unique "correct" way of taking notes. If you know exactly what notes the students are supposed to take, then probably they do not know, so why not provide those notes to them? That would help them much more, and the goal of your course is to transfer knowledge about a specific topic.

If, after considering this, you still want to get the students to learn these note-taking skills, you will probably have to dedicate some lecture time to explain how they should be taking notes. Having them submit some of their notes as an assignment will also help. After all, if it is not part of the course, many students will not be motivated to do it. Keep in mind that students have developed their own learning methods for many years, and changing to a new note-taking method might actually make some students perform worse while they get used to it.

  • +1 “Make sure there is a problem to address.” I’ve had instructors insist I take notes in a certain way, but what has happened is that I would take notes in the way that works for me and then I make a second set of “bad” notes to show to the instructor, which I never actually used to study. Dec 3, 2019 at 23:19

I have a few suggestions.

First, suggest to your students that they print out your slides, perhaps 4-up, and write their class notes directly on them. This implies paper (see below).

Second, suggest to your students that they should summarize their notes, rather than just depending on the first impressions they wrote. When the summarize, suggest that they capture the (say) three most important ideas in the lecture. Copy these ideas elsewhere. I suggest note cards (see below). Suggest that they do this daily. They can write out a few note cards (one idea per card) during the lecture itself.

Third, at the end of class, call on someone for a one sentence summary of one of the big ideas. Repeat once or twice and make brief comments if necessary. Calling on them, rather than asking for volunteers is key.

Fourth, repeat three at the start of the next lecture. What is a big idea from the previous lecture. This sets the stage for the next round of information.

For more on note cards and their value, see this answer to a possibly related question on a different site. A few of the note cards can easily be carried for quick review while waiting in what would otherwise be an unproductive situation.

And note that my suggestions here is that they work with pen/pencil on paper, not on a computer. Actual writing (not typing) engages the mind in a more fundamental way. Summarizing gives the required reinforcement of what they have seen. Your brief comments give some feedback. And it is your daily asking for a review of big ideas that provides the encouragement.

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