Photo of a group of students studying for class on Farrand Field in the fall.

Note-taking is a valuable skill that can come in handy throughout your college career and beyond. Whether you’re trying to learn new material, prepare for an exam or simply get through a fast-paced lecture, these tips can help you strengthen your note-taking skills.

Before class

Preparing before you go to class can help you get a preview of class materials and make it easier to keep up with lecture or lab notes, especially if your professor talks fast. Give these strategies a try before heading to class.

 Take notes on assigned readings

Many classes have assigned readings, whether it’s out of a textbook, case study or article. If you have time, it’s best to read through the entire assignment. If you’re stretched for time, consider skimming to see if you can identify the main discussion points and important details. It’s also helpful to identify topics you find confusing, and write down questions you can ask during class or office hours. Try using sticky notes to write a quick summary of each section or chapter to make sure you understood the content.

 Use slides

If your professor makes their presentation slides available, be sure to print them out in advance or have a copy pulled up on your laptop before class starts, so you can take notes directly on the presentation slides. This can help you keep track of important information, key points and visuals all in one place. 

During class

Whether you prefer to take handwritten notes or type them out, these tips can help you take more effective and efficient notes during class.

 Use shorthand

If you struggle to keep up with lectures or presentations, try using shorthand while taking notes. One way to shorten your notes is to use abbreviations or symbols. For instance, “function” can be written as “fxn” and “change” can be written as “Δ” (delta). It’s also helpful to avoid using complete sentences. Instead, try to use bullets and phrases when taking notes during class. Leave blank spaces as you write, so you can revisit your notes to add any additional information you missed or expand on important points.

 Try color coding

Using different colored highlighters can help you to differentiate between terms, definitions, examples and other important information. For instance, you may highlight important definitions in pink and helpful examples in orange. Using a system to color code your notes like this can help you quickly identify important information when you revisit them for review.

 Take notice of repetition

If your professor repeats a phrase, key fact or information more than once, it’s probably something you need to know. Keep track of important points by listening for repetition and other verbal cues. For instance, your professor may say things like “the following five steps” or “a major reason why.” These types of cues can help clue you in to things you should be taking notes on during class.

After class

While it may be tempting to abandon your notes after you’ve finished a given lecture or chapter, it’s important to check back and review what you have before moving on to the next topic. Here are a few things you can do within 24 hours of your last class to refresh your memory and notes.

 Clarify information

Take a look back at your notes and make sure you understand what they say. If there are concepts that are tricky for you to remember, consider adding examples or illustrations to help make the information stick. This is also a great time to fill in any information or terms you may have missed.

 Get organized

When we write notes in class, it can get hectic. Take a few moments to organize your notes by summarizing topics and identifying key concepts to include in your study guides. It can be helpful to add sticky notes or use your color coding technique. 

 Visit office hours

If you’re still unsure about a certain topic area, reach out to your professor or teaching assistant (TA) for help. All professors offer office hours where you can meet with them to discuss or ask questions about lecture materials, assignments, exams, presentations or projects. Be sure to check your syllabus to confirm when office hours are available and the best way to contact your professor. Keep in mind that if the listed office hours don’t work with your schedule, you can ask your professor about meeting at a different time.

Before exams

Effective notes can be a useful tool when studying and preparing for exams. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of studying.

 Test yourself

Use your notes, textbooks and slides to create practice questions and quizzes. Quizlet is a great free app that you can use to create digital flashcards and practice quizzes. If apps aren’t your style, paper quizzes are just as good. You can also use your textbook as a framework. Many textbooks include practice questions at the end of each chapter, which can be a good place to start when creating a study guide. 

 Form a study group

Studying with classmates can help you learn material in new ways. For instance, you can set up a Google Doc to compile notes and share examples that may be helpful. You can also meet up with your study group or classmates to take turns teaching each other the materials from class. This will help you learn and remember important content, while also helping your classmates review the content. If you plan to use study groups, check your syllabus or ask your professor to avoid any potential honor code violations.

 Be consistent

Research shows that all-nighters aren’t the best study technique. In fact, pulling an all-nighter can worsen your performance on tests and exams. This is because your brain doesn’t have time to commit new content to longer-term memory. Instead, try to commit some time to studying each day. If you know you have a quiz or exam coming up, think about how much time you want to give yourself to review content and run through practice questions. For instance, if you have a quiz next month, it may be helpful to start scheduling study sessions two weeks in advance. Consistent repetition over time builds better understanding than cramming everything in the night before an exam.

Support resources

If you are struggling to keep up with your classes, it’s okay to ask for help. Here are some services available at CU Boulder to help you succeed.

Disability Services

Disability Services provides accommodations to students with a wide range of disabilities, including chronic health conditions, physical or learning disabilities, mental health conditions, temporary medical conditions and more. Students who are registered with Disability Services may be eligible for note-taking consultations and software support. 

Disability Services

Peer Wellness Coaching

Peer Wellness Coaches are here to listen and work with you one-on-one to set goals and connect to the resources that can help you achieve them. They can help you navigate a wide range of topics, including stress, time management, careers, academics, goal-setting and more. 

Peer Wellness Coaching

Tutoring services

CU Boulder offers a wide variety of tutoring services. Some are specific to classes, departments or groups of students, while others are available campus wide. Many of these services are free to use. If you aren’t sure where to begin, be sure to check your syllabus, and ask your professor or course assistant for help and referrals.

Tutoring services

Writing Center

The Writing Center provides free one-to-one tutoring sessions with professionally trained writing consultants, individualized guidance and feedback, as well as time-saving skills for writing and presentation projects. The Writing Center is available to all CU Boulder undergrad and graduate students for free.

Writing Center

University Libraries

Reserve a place to study or request a research consultation to help you refine and focus research topics, develop successful search strategies and identify appropriate sources for academic research projects and assignments.

University Libraries

Academic coaching

Academic coaching is available to help students develop skills and tools that will help them be successful at CU Boulder, including note-taking, time management, motivation, study skills and more. Academic coaching is available through the following programs:

Don’t see your program? Check with your college or school to see if other academic coaching or peer mentoring programs are available. You can also contact your academic advisor to discuss specific resources available to you through your college or school.