Everyone knows that paying attention in class facilitates the learning process. However, this is rarely sufficient for recalling course material during an exam. This is where taking notes comes in. The goal is to summarise the main points stated by the teacher. Effective notes enable the student to review and learn the course material. Ultimately, effective note-taking saves time when reviewing and sharing key information. It is therefore crucial that you learn how to structure your class notes. So what should you do?

"Note taking is divided into 4 stages: listen, understand, summarise and write it down." “Note-taking method”, from the Publidia.fr website.



avoid plagiarism

What is important to write down?


Meaningful keywords

Copying your teacher's words verbatim can be reassuring. You have the feeling that you haven't forgotten anything and you'll have time to sort through it later. However, there's a lot of text to reread and a lot of work to synthesise the material afterwards. We recommend that you pinpoint important information while you take notes. Instead, use key words that are meaningful to you. Use your own wording.


Sources used

When your teacher uses a graphic, picture, or quotation, note the author and source. You will thus be able to cite this information and earn more points on your assignments. Also, if you need a further explanation, you can find this information more easily with the source used by your teacher.

Questions from classmates

Listen carefully to the questions that your fellow students ask. Teachers may sometimes include this material in a knowledge test. It is important to write down these questions and/or answers discussed during the course.


Visual diagrams

To explain what they're saying, your teacher sometimes uses diagrams, drawings, graphics, illustrations, etc. These handwritten or digital images can be invaluable for remembering an explanation.


Additional research

Note taking doesn't stop there. Your teacher wants to evaluate you based on your ability to think about a specific topic. When you're studying, we recommend that you do some additional research to deepen your thinking. If only to view other graphics, images and texts that pertain to the same topic. The goal remains knowledge retention. Moreover, diving deeper into the subject gives you material to support your answers on an exam (and teachers love it!).

This is how you will develop your critical thinking and participate effectively in future discussions on this subject.

take notes

When should I take notes?

During class

Of course, you still need to pay attention in class while, at the same time, writing down the main ideas being discussed. If you organise your notes from the get-go during the course, you will save time later. This is called proactive listening.


After class

At the end of the day, the class material is still fresh on your mind. This is the perfect time to quickly reread - and adjust, if necessary - your notes from the day's class.

Before an exam

Some students learn the course material the day before an exam (almost all in fact 😉). This is a heavy workload, and even the best note-taking is not always enough to quickly memorise the course material. To avoid this stress, we recommend that you reread your notes regularly so you don't forget what you've learned.


Before going to sleep

To learn your course material easily, reread your notes right before you fall asleep. Your brain will work for you, and when you wake up you'll have organised your thoughts and figured out the main point of the lesson.


What methods can I use to transcribe relevant information?


There are several ways to take notes in class, but the most effective one is... The one that's right for you. Yes, that's the secret. To figure it out, you should experiment with several techniques and choose one that enables easy rereading and learning. The best note-taking strategy for you may also be a mix of several methods.


Mind mapping: reasoning in the form of a tree diagram

Mind Map

Do you have an analytical mind? This note-taking method, formalised by Tony Buzan, is for you. The Mind Map is a technique of taking notes by using a tree structure or diagram. A keyword is chosen. It is connected to other secondary keywords that are themselves connected to other words or phrases.

"These words can be accompanied by drawings and colours to enhance their visual impact and hierarchy. Lines, symbols, icons... anything can be helpful to memorise this information." (...)

"Revolutionise your note-taking with 'Mind Mapping'," Vanessa Zocchetti, 03/21/2018, Madame Figaro website.


Mind mapping becomes more powerful when combined with drawings. This is what we call double coding.

Mind Map

Sketchnoting: drawing the essentials

Do you have a creative mind? Then choose to take notes while drawing!

"Sketchnoting is simply taking notes by drawing or using visual elements (for example, putting a word in bold and drawing a box around it to show it's an important idea), and especially by adding colour.", "Three methods for effective note-taking at work," from the website Les Jolis Cahiers.

Outline: colour and shorthand

Do you have a minimalist mind? Then a simple outline of your academic notes is enough to make you want to study. Yes, that's right!

Remember to make your titles stand out: in a box and/or underlined, they must be visible.

For content, go wild with colour: nice colour pens and highlighters will do the trick.

To prevent smudging, you might want to blow on your paper.  

To keep your notes short, there's nothing better than abbreviations.

Here are some examples:

  • ppl = people
  • res = research
  • natl = national
  • et al. = and the other authors
  • eg = for example
  • ie = that is
  • cf. = compare to
  • wrt = with respect to


Other abbreviations in the article “Note-taking Abbreviations,” from The University of Adelaide’s website. 2014.


The Cornell Method: aggregate useful information

Do you have a rational mind? Here is a complete method for note-taking that facilitates learning the course material.

You divide the page into 4 sections. During class, you write overall/general information and take notes. When studying, you distil the main ideas and write a summary. Each part has a specific purpose: 

  • The general information provides a quick overview to understand the subject matter of the document.
  • Note-taking is essential for learning the course material.
  • You can pull out study questions to facilitate learning. 
  • The summary distils the notes and acts as a study sheet.


To study, simply hide the "note-taking" part and try to answer the "study questions" to assess your understanding. « PRISE DE NOTES EFFICACE, RAPIDE ET UTILE ! LA MÉTHODE CORNELL », website Waladex, 03/10/2018.

Cornell Method

More sources about taking notes effectively

What tools can I use to make it easier to collect information?


Pen 🖊 or keyboard 💻 ?


Notes: paper or digital

Handwritten notes require only two tools: paper and a pen. Notes by hand don't need battery and rarely have technical difficulties. Lean toward handwritten notes if you want to draw interesting ideas, if you like to write and if you're more organised when using a pen.

Digital notes require only one tool: a computer or tablet.  Lean toward digital notes if you're writing down a link to a website, if you're pasting an image or graphic, or if you're doing additional research on a subject. You can take advantage of this by learning some keyboard shortcuts to save time. 

And why not both 🖊💻 ?

Depending on the subject matter, you may be more comfortable with paper or digital. You can alternate between handwritten and digital notes throughout the day, but it would be difficult to alternate within the same class.

Choose the note-taking method with which you are most effective.


Tools: software and application

Check out the benefits of these examples of software and applications, based on "The 7 best free note-taking software solutions" from the site pme-web.com, Matthieu Corthésy , 01/31/2019.


  • Available on all platforms
  • Advanced search in notes
  • Chrome extension

Google keep

  • Integrated with Google tools (Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar)
  • Easy to use



  • High-performance filing system
  • Perfectly integrated with Microsoft Office


Zoho Notebook

  • Integration with the Zoho office suite
  • Intuitive interface
  • Efficient mobile syncing

Note-taking is one of the first exercises students are asked to undertake. It allows them to distil the essential information in order to learn it and recall it during an exam.  

You now have all the tools you need to learn how to master this skill. Try out several methods until you find YOUR methodTake notes that fit your style.

By combining proactive listening during class with YOUR note-taking method, your grades will reflect the quality of your daily work.


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