How to Study from your notes

Do you take notes during class lectures and never seem to look at the notes again? If you are filing your class notes away, and not using the valuable information found in your notes, you may be missing a key study tool. Notes are a vital part of your success when preparing for a test, as they are one of the best sources of information you have. Using your class lecture notes may not be as intuitive as reading the textbook, but once you learn how to study from your lecture notes, you’ll learn more quickly.

The first step to successfully study from your notes is to take organized notes! Taking notes can seem tedious and frustrating if you don’t know what you are doing. However, with the methods we’ve provided you will have well-organized notes that will be a breeze to study from.

This means more than just mindlessly jotting down every word you listen to or read. Taking notes helps you remember. You have to actively decide what information is key and write it down.

The key to good note taking is organization. Being organized enables you to effectively use the written information and memorize it. Your notes should be simple, but include some key phrases or vocabulary that will stick in your memory, so that you can recall the full information when you look back. Aside from these terms, keep the notes in your own words. This will help you understand the content more easily. Most importantly, only write down what is important.

Notes come in all shapes, sizes, and fonts. You have to determine which is the best way for you to put down the material. Some different structures include:

Split Page– True to its name, this method is simply just a line down the middle of the page. You put the main ideas or any questions on one side, and details on the other.

Cornell MethodDeveloped by Cornell University, you divide you paper into three sections—record, reduce, recapitulate. You record the notes, reduce the amount of initial information written to key words, and then summarize the information.

Outline Method Starts on the left-hand side of the paper. The most important points are placed at the left edge of the paper. Less important points, which are typically ideas that support the main points, are indented to the right.


For more detailed instructions on how to create and use these structures click on the links provided above.

You may find it easier to take notes on your computer. If you decide to take your computer to class and type your notes, look for a note taking program with simple interface that will allow you to concentrate on your note taking and not on the other programs your computer can run. Keep in mind that typing up notes are good for fast paced lectures, but also leave you mindless while inputting the information.

Whatever note taking method you determine is ideal for you, use paper notes when it is time to study. Collect your notes and use them to clarify the information you are reading and studying. Paper notes are useful when studying because you can write additional information on the paper and even highlight information that you do not understand. You can then return to your class and gain additional information to fill in your notes.

In order to succeed on a test, you must take complete notes! If you only have incomplete notes written down about the topic, then you will only partially understand the material, and not be fully prepared for a test. Students often won’t use the classroom notes because they believe they are incomplete. There are many ways to fill in these blanks or to check your notes.

Often in college, the professors will have the classroom notes written on a PowerPoint and posted to the class website. Check to see if that is true for your situation. If so, this is a valuable resource that you can come back to again and again. If this isn’t the case, then check with your teacher to see if they offer the notes or would be willing to discuss the important topics details should have written.

Check the material you’ve been given in class. Use any handouts, homework, or the textbook to write down key information, which will come up again when it’s time to study.

If you feel you are missing key information in your class notes, join a study group and help each other fill in the missing blanks. You could also simply check-in with your classmates to compare what you both have written. As it gets closer to the exam, you can exchange the information you have and study together. You may also want to rewrite your notes after class and fill in the missing information while it is fresh in your mind.

Incorporating your classroom notes into your study sessions can help you to learn more information in a quicker manner. Reading your textbook will be easier if you use your class lecture notes to guide your reading and refresh your memory during the first part of your study session. Your classroom notes can be a helpful tool to your entire learning process, stop filing the information away and start using them.

Completely rereading your textbook or classroom material can waste time while studying, especially if you have to cram. Use your notes to study from and your textbook to supplement that information. By using the notes you took during the previous lessons and readings, you will save yourself time and frustration. Use the notes to create study questions and quiz yourself. This will help you determine which areas you are strong in and where you may need to go back and study more.  How to study textbooks

Your notes might also have information that your teacher or professor said would be on the test, but isn’t in your textbook or any of the class handouts. Sometimes teachers will feel generous and give a preview or a full question that is on the test as a bonus. This can be extremely helpful in getting you that A, so you want to make sure you have everything written correctly in your notes.

Reduce and rewrite your notes. Normally when taking, you are trying to listen to all the information while frantically scribbling it down. If you have the time, go through all your written work and redo it. Not only will you be reading through the information again and further implementing it into your hand’s memory, but you will also be able to determine what is important. You can weed out any fluff that will distract you from the real content, and add in anything that you may have missed. Although it can be time consuming, you will be thanking yourself when it comes time to study and you have detailed notes that you can actually read.

Repeat and reflect upon the information. As you study, try reading the material out loud and in your own words. You will find that you can actively recall more of the information afterwards, but can also find out any spaces in your comprehension that you can work on. Reflection allows you to think about the information at a deeper level, and encourages you to make connections. This act is beneficial because you are more likely to remember something you are personally linked with. Ask questions that you may have and see if you can answer them or bring them up during class time, so that there can be a larger discussion.  See also SQ3R method

Overall, you want to try and connect with your notes in a variety of different ways, which will utilize different learning paths and keep you engaged in the process!

Written by: Brian Stocker MA, Complete Test Preparation Inc.
Modified: November 1st, 2018 November 1st, 2018
Published: October 9th, 2008

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