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The basics
Study abroad : Once you arrive

How to take notes at university

Being able to take good notes at university is key to your study abroad success. Here we look at why notes are important and cover tips and advice on how to improve this vital skill.

 Top view of students studying or doing homework


One of the most important skills you will need as a student at university is the ability to take good notes. This is true of all students, both English speakers and international speakers alike. It takes time to learn what style of notetaking works for you and how to take notes efficiently, but it’s time well spent and will help you throughout your life at university.


When should I take notes?

Take notes before lectures using the recommended reading list. This can help you prepare for upcoming lectures. Remember to take notes during lectures when the professor is speaking too. It's useful to note the key points so that you can refer to them later. 

Top tips

  • Focus on the beginning and end of the lecture. Often the professor will highlight the key points that will be made and that have been made.

  • Make a note of key information such as statistics, dates, facts, keywords.

  • Make notes on the summary given at the end, which usually contains the main points and any important information.

  • Make a note of any mention the professor makes to the exam or essay question. 

  • When reading, focus on the introduction and conclusion and the beginning and end of each paragraph. This gives you a good general idea of the different points made.


After classes, review all the notes you took before and during your lectures. You should compare these notes and combine and organise them logically to help you later in exams and essay writing

Make sure that you’re in the know with everything else you need when studying abroad with our ultimate checklist.


How to take notes

People prefer different methods. Some prefer to take notes on their laptop or tablet. Many people can type faster than they can write, which helps in lectures where the professor talks quickly. It’s also an excellent way to organise your notes, as many notetaking applications allow you to create different notebooks and folders. 


The drawbacks of taking notes on a device are that with all tech comes great distractions. You’re never far away from an email or social media notification. Typing also isn’t very suited to some subjects such as maths or art where often note-taking needs to be visual. Many people are visual learners and can remember information more easily if they’re able to draw or make diagrams. Writing things in a list of words doesn’t work for everyone. 


Then there’s the good old-fashioned pen and paper method of taking notes. Research has shown that people are better able to retain information if they have written it down by hand.


‘The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.’  The pen is mightier than the keyboard: advantage of longhand over laptop note taking. Pam A Mueller, Daniel M Oppenheimer

Top tips

  • Use abbreviations (e.g. - for example; b/c - because; s/o - someone).

  • Remove some letters from words – especially vowels (cn y wrk t wht ths sys?).

  • Use one notebook for each class.

  • Use different coloured pens and highlighters.

  • Leave gaps in your notes in case you miss anything in the lecture or have a question that needs to be answered.

  • Record you lectures so you don’t miss anything and can add to the notes you’ve taken in lectures.


Different styles of note taking

Now let’s look at the different ways in which you can take notes. You could use the straightforward linear style. This is where you have a main topic with bullet style notes underneath.

Notetaking styles:


1. Linear style

  • most commonly used
  • headings
  • bullets                 
  • conclusion


2. Mind map / brainstorming style


note book showing colourful mindmap of a subject


3. Three column method


Main subject / topic



This is from the text you’ve read or the lecture.

Headings and main points




Own words

Personal opinion, observations, thoughts.


Experiment with the different styles and see what works best for you and the subject you’re studying. Good notetaking will make it easier to write good academic essays and will be so helpful when it comes to exam time and studying. It’s a hard skill to master, but it’s a necessary one.

Remember that if you’re looking for some more advice and guidance you can speak to an education counsellor.



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