How to Take College Lecture Notes that are Actually Coherent Later

Taking good class notes during a lecture is incredibly important if you’re going to make it in college. While it can help to have a voice-recorder handy for note-taking, it’s still important to have visible college lecture notes in front of your face when it comes to studying for the eventual exam. But if your notes look like scribble-scrabble, then you might as well beg some legible lecture notes off your college classmate…which is a bit too high school, don’t you think? Here is some advice for taking clear, efficient lecture notes you’ll actually be able to use later for finals.

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Gather your supplies

No war was ever won without the right ammunition, and the same rules apply for the university battleground. To succeed in college, you have to come to class armed with sharp pencils, sturdy notebooks, and other essential school supplies.

You may need:

  • Binders
  • College-ruled paper (not wide-ruled)
  • Ink pens- more than one!
  • Highlighter markers
  • Pencils
  • Laptop with PowerPoint
  • iPad with note-taking apps like iA Writer, Pear Note, or Omni Outliner

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If your professor uses PowerPoint notes, then you may be able to download them before his lecture. Check online before class for lecture outlines.

Laptop or paper?

Don’t rule out taking old-fashioned paper and pen notes just because you got a brand-new expensive laptop. Some college students find they need a laptop for certain classes, and the old stand-by college notebook for lectures. Try using a laptop for lecture notes one day, and switching to paper notes the next, and see which results in better, clearer lecture note-taking.

Also, some college professors don’t permit laptops in their classroom, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to leave your laptop computer at your dorm.


Part of taking good lecture notes is listening attentively to your teacher’s lecture style. Most teachers have a style of speaking; they drops clues when they get to points which will be on the exam or when they’re about to stray completely off the topic.

  • Listen for cues like, “Moving on…” or “Next, we’ll discuss…”
  • When your professor pauses during a lecture, he’s not catching his breath- he’s warning you to get your notepad ready!
  • And if he gets repetitive, it’s not because he’s forgetful; it means this is a really important point and you’d better be taking good notes!
  • Likewise, if your professor raises her voice during a lecture, it’s not because she’s hard of hearing- it’s your cue to write this down!

Have a good note-taking system

Hands down, the Cornell method note-taking system is one of the best; it involves dividing your note paper into three sections: Cues, notes, and summary.

Notes column

The “notes” column is on the right-hand side. Use short abbreviated sentences to “transcribe” the lecture in short-hand.

Cues column

Your “cues” column should be on the left-hand side of your notes. Use this section after class to record questions or clues which will later help you remember key ideas presented during the lecture.


Leave a section at the bottom of your college lecture notes for a short summary of the main points you picked up during your college lecture.

To get you started, here’s a Cornell Lecture Notes PDF Generator


Your turn!

Will you use our advice for college lecture notes? Do you have any good study habits to share?

Do you have any questions or suggestions?  Please leave your comments below.

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