Knowledge NoteBook

Good note-taking is crucial for your academic success.  Our team has done extensive research on note-taking for college students and we'd like to share our findings (notes) with you here.

First, let's debunk 5 myths about note-taking.  
1.Note-taking is unnecessary when the instructor has hand-out or lecture notes for you
2.Write down everything you could while taking notes
3.Note-taking method or format is very important
4.Once done it's done (after note-taking forget all about it until exam time)
5.Paper and pen seems more "natural" or "typing does not help consolidate my thinking as much as writing"
All wrong.

The truth is:

Myth 1
Instructor's hand-out or notes are simply like books in a library, the knowledge has not been transferred to you even if hand-outs are in your hand.  Note-taking is "write to learn" (research has proven it, see more below...).

Myth 2
a) It's an impossible task;
b) More importantly, not every word is equal, that is, something is more important than the rest. It's just like your parents, boyfriend or girlfriend are very important or special to you.

Myth 3
Cornell Method is widely acknowledged as the best note-taking method, which structure-wise divides note-taking space into 3 areas with 2 columns, namely, left column for cues, right column for note body and at its bottom, a summary.  It's excellent but you don't want to be rigid. And digital note-taking can produce better results if you do it right.

With regard to Outline of multi-layered structures, it may look sort of nice BUT don't let appearance fool you. If you're writing a business proposal or a legal document for others' consumption, yes, format counts but not note-taking. It is not recommended during lecture because your short memory (working memory) is limited, such complex structures impede learning (information encoding). So, let it be "flat" while not letting key ideas/concepts slip...

Myth 4
If we really have to be "lazy", at least taking good notes and immediately review the notes for important courses (immediately, meaning within 24 hours).

Myth 5
For the two most important processes of learning when it comes to note-taking, the note-taking itself and the review, for the first process, note-taking, either form does not make any difference in terms of learning outcome (see CMU Bauer's research referenced below), but for the second important process of review, paper and pen approach is inferior for a couple of reasons unless the course material has a lot of diagrams,equations or formulas. 
a) hard to read
b) difficult to add substantive additional information
c) impossible to move "idea" around, that is, it's rigid.
d) hard to share your notes with peers for collaboration or offer of help.
e) extremely difficult or impossible for future re-use or reference


"Classes: Notetaking, Listening, Participation

Information presented in class often contains the central concepts of the course and the material most likely to be included on exams. Yet, students frequently do not realize the importance of notetaking and listening. The following resources provide tips on how to recall more information from your lectures through active listening and purposeful notetaking. In addition, lecture notes can be a critical tool for preparing for exams. Suggestions are provided for how to use your notes regularly to review.

The key is to develop a system that enables you to : review regularly recite (repeating key concepts from class) reflect (connecting class ideas to other notes and readings) "

Comment by Knowledge NoteBook Team:
We wonder if you've noticed there's one tiny flaw above...


1. Why taking notes?

    * Did you ever wonder why instructors make such a big deal about taking notes during a class lecture ?
    * Have you ever really thought about the importance of taking notes in class?

It helps you sort out Important Information, which is a big deal for exams.

2. Why you need to review or re-write your notes?

Study after study, research after research, experts have confirmed for the best retention of learning, make review or re-writing what is learned within 24 hours.

Theory support: SQ3R.

Note-Taking and Learning (A Summary of Research)
Franqoise Boch, Stendhal University, and
Annie Piolat, University of Provence
Two Key Functions of note-taking:

   1. note taking helps students learn
   2. and note taking helps students learn to write

University of Minnesota Duluth

"Notetaking is still the primary means of sorting, organizing, and processing lecture material."

An essential skill for good notetaking is good listening."

When you hear the information, process it, and write it in your notes, you are already beginning to learn the information. Reinforcement of the information through review of your notes completes the learning process.

"identify main points"

Tunxis Community College

KN: Interesting but too theoretical and rigid, and too demanding, probably a large number of community college students won"t be able to follow such recommendation.

College of the Canyons

The five Rs of note taking are as follows: Record, Reduce, Recite, Reflect, and Review

If you were to rate all the different tasks that you pursue in an effort to get good grades and a high GPA, you will find that note taking skills rates as the highest.

UNC Asheville

Strong note-taking skills are essential for your academic success
Note-taking help you remember important concepts.

Bucks County Community College

"Note-taking is the primary method for documenting and summarizing the important information"

Note taking - EduTech Wiki

Note-taking interface thesis - PhD student of CMU
Aaron Bauer
June 2008

Doctoral Dissertation

It is essential that we map functionality to behaviors, and
behaviors to learning outcomes as well as satisfaction outcomes

Organizing your notes seems a waste of time!
Students do not place much importance on process benefits of highlighting, whereas that is the most important feature of notetaking for them. The importance of processing to note-taking may be why they spend so much time organizing their notes, though they do not appear to gain any process benefits from doing so.

Muskingum College - Center for Advancement and Learning

One of the most fundamental skills to learn and master in school is taking notes.
This skill will continue to benefit even beyond your school life.


"This research indicates that providing students with instructor-authored notes can improve student achievement and learning."

Problem in the above scenario:
"For this portion of the lecture, I typically provide the students with relatively detailed, instructor-authored notes to insure that they leave with accurate external storage information and that their working memory capacity is not exceeded during the lecture. They can also think more and write less during this part of the lecture. This is typically the most "tedious" part of the lecture for students, but if they are interested in the concept, they likely will listen and learn about the details (i.e., theory) that support the concept."

Possible Solution:
What if students are told they may receive instructor notes or not... but in actuality give them notes 2/3 or 4/5 of the time, and release them all a few days prior to exams?

James A. Smith, Cavaliers, Distinguished Teaching Professor (2000-2002), Department of Civil Engineering.

  • Listen attentatively to the speaker of the lecture.
  • Capture as much Important Information as you could.
  • Participate in class discussion.
  • Review your notes while it's still "hot", aka, review within 24 hours.
That's it. That's how to learn smart, and college should be easy.
And don't forget to let Knowledge NoteBook help you.