At Work

How to Become the Most Efficient Note-Taker

Note-taking is a skill needed for all education levels, but also for life itself. Think about it—any time you wish to record important information, note-taking is a factor. But note-taking is so much more than just scribbling down a few words in hopes of remembering the information down the line. There is an art to note-taking and by thinking about the following tips, you can surely become an efficient note-taker.

One of the top skills you need to master to be an efficient note-taker is simplicity. As your teacher speaks, you can’t expect that you’ll be able to write down every single word verbatim—this would likely be a waste of time and cause you to end up with a page full of broken sentences and thoughts. Instead, carefully listen to what your instructor is saying and write it down in your own words. The actual writing portion of note-taking should be minimum and the amount of listening time should be at a maximum. You really need to comprehend what your professor is saying so that your notes accurately reflect the message of the lecture. The only exception to this rule of thumb is if you have a direct quote, date, or name you would like to retain. Those details should be written exactly as your teacher dictates them as to avoid confusion when reviewing your notes at a later time.

Establish a shorthand
One strategy to implement simplicity into your notes is by establishing a shorthand approach. Shorthand is a set of rules you can follow that allows you to bypass certain words or phrases that take extra time to write. How you choose to incorporate shorthand is up to you, but one thing rings true—you need to have your “shorthand rules” mastered. One example of a shorthand rule is instead of writing out the word “because,” you could instead write “bc.” This can be very helpful because it saves you from writing five extra letters in every instance you would have written “because.” It may sound minuscule now, but incorporating many similar rules in the same note-taking session can result in a lot of saved time.

Recording methods
One area of note-taking to think about is how you record these notes. With technology at everyone’s fingertips, many students opt for having their notes in a digital format. There are many tools available to do this from Microsoft Word to Evernote. Some students find they can type or click on a device faster than writing by hand; ensure your teacher allows these devices in class, though. Others feel that the classic pen and paper is ideal for note-taking because the method forces you to focus more on each word you write. Plus, you have more flexibility in drawing pictures, arrows, or other side notes that may be useful later on. Choosing a note-taking method from the beginning is important so that all of your notes can live in one place.

Visual cues
It is not surprising that each of us learns and retains information in different ways. One strategy that you may find useful in your note-taking is to create visual cues that can help you better recall what your notes mean. For example, if your teacher is explaining a complex topic like photosynthesis, if may be helpful for you to draw pictures showing the actual process and labeling it from there. Not an artist? That’s no problem. These notes are meant only for you so don’t worry about perfection. Other visual cues can include bar graphs, Venn diagrams, or even arrows to bring clarity to other sections of your notes.

Organization and structure
Now that you have spent all of this time learning how to be an efficient note-taker, you need to keep those notes organized. If you have chosen the electronic route for your notes, be sure to save them all in the same place and create a naming system that will allow you to locate the relevant information at any given time. Naming systems include anything from the date, to content, to keywords. If you choose to hand-write notes, keep your notes organized by practicing techniques such as highlighting important sections, underlining keywords, or writing a headline at the top of each note.


Jenny Modlisz is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

  • organization and structure is something I definitely need to work on in my business. When your multi tasking all day things can get a bit crazy. Thanks for the post. Great content!