One of the best things college students can do is know how to take reading notes. It may sound basic, but there are different ways for note taking when reading your material. For example, you can use the Cornell note strategy or keep it basic with the sentence method. Additionally, you can do handwritten notes or keep a digital note system. The best method of taking notes is the one that 1.) works best for you, 2.) is useful in the future to review material, and 3.) helps you with your final assignment. Here, we’ll summarize common methods and then give you the dos and don’ts for how to take reading notes.

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Common Note Taking Methods

There are a handful of common note taking methods you can use. Most likely, you’ll use a bit from each type, depending on your preferences. 

  • Sentence Method: This is a list of key ideas. It’s so basic, in fact, it’s tough to consider it a note taking system. However, new college students sometimes think this is the only way to take notes. For each key point, you start a new line and insert the note. It has no real organization and goes sequentially as you would go through your textbook.
  • Cornell Note Method: This assumes you are writing your notes in a notebook. Here, you section the page off into three major areas. First, draw a vertical line separating the page 30% and 70%.  The left side, or 30% side, is marginal. Here you’ll write questions you have, key words, or an important point. The right 70% side is for general notes and can follow the sentence method. Then, draw a horizontal line toward the bottom. This bottom section is for you to summarize the key takeaways.
  • Mind Map Method: This is a visual way to jot each note. The central key concept goes in the middle with a box or circle around it. Then related key ideas go off to the side. These are concise. Then, you include more details, expanding further out to the side of the key point. If you aren’t used to it, it can be difficult. And, it tends to work best for visual thinkers.

As you’ll learn, the note taking system you choose is less significant than following general dos and don’ts of how to take reading notes. If none of the common methods work for you, it’s fine. Instead, follow these best practices.

Dos For Taking Reading Notes

When you start your reading assignment, follow these tips for the notes you take.

    • Use the documentation way that works best for you. Hand writing your notes is better for absorbing the information as you write the note. Typing and keeping digital notes is a faster way and is more legible for going back and reviewing later on. Ultimately, pick the one you’re most comfortable with. You don’t want to worry about changing the way you keep notes while you’re actually taking them.
    • Look at the learning objectives. The learning objectives tell you what information you should pay attention to and will be tested over. If you read something that doesn’t directly align to the learning objective, it’s not worth writing down. Consider summarizing the learning objective in your note and numbering it. Then, for each point you write down, you can note what objective it maps to.
    • Read the textbook headings before reading the chapter. By looking at the major headings first, you’ll get an idea of how the author goes through the information. It also helps you to mentally warm up to what you’re about to ready. Therefore, it makes the entire reading process more predictable and easier.
    • Create your own legends and symbols. For example, if you have a question about something, note it by creating an empty box. Once you know the answer, check the box and write it in. If it is a key term, put a star next to it. Use whatever legend or key works best for you. It’s a guide for your future self when you go back and review your notes.
  • Review your notes. After you finish your reading, glance through the notes you just took. Make sure they make sense to you and add detail if necessary. Then, review them before you start another reading assignment to make sure you understand foundational information.
  • Make sure your notes serve a purpose. The point of taking notes is to help you digest the information and prepare you for a final exam or assignment. Keep this in mind and only include the most relevant information.
  • Keep the notes concise. Don’t write them as sentences. Use as few words as possible to document the key ideas. This will make future reading and reviewing much easier. If you can use symbols like &, ^, and = do so. Similarly, don’t write out numbers.

Don’ts For Taking Reading Notes

Just as much as following the tips for taking the right reading notes, you should also avoid some common note taking pitfalls. Here’s a list of things to avoid during your note taking while reading.

  • Don’t overlook the importance of taking study notes when you read. Note taking isn’t just for lectures. The goal is to take a 20-page chapter and bring it down to less than five pages of notes. This in turn rewards you by giving back some of your time since your study efficiency improves.
  • Don’t write before you digest. If you read a sentence that doesn’t make sense, read it again until you can better comprehend it. You shouldn’t be just copying information over.
  • Don’t copy the note word for word from the book. You should be writing the notes in your own words. This helps you commit it to long term memory and demonstrates that you know the key concepts.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just taking notes while reading. You should either add to your notes (by highlighting or including more points) based on what you experience in lectures, what you see on quizzes, and what your assignments address. This further helps you realize the most important material.
  • Don’t expect to be a great note taker right away. You’ll end up adapting your style to the instructor and course. Additionally, you’ll adapt to what ends up working for you as you see your progress and scores.

When you get a degree in exercise science from Lionel University, you’ve got an entire team invested in the success of your academic studies and professional future.  Therefore, we’re here to help! Regardless of what degree program you’re in (associate's degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree), these tips for taking notes apply.