We take notes for many different reasons when we study: in lectures or seminars; when reading and researching; for revision or to remember something crucial. Making notes is an individual process, so reflect on what works for you and experiment with different styles for different purposes. 

Scroll down for our recommended strategies and resources. 

Be active

Copying down large sections of text or transcribing a lecture is unlikely to be effective. Instead, put the information into a format that summarises and organises it more clearly for better understanding and recall. See if some of these different note-making styles suit you:

For assignments

Before making notes for an assignment, think about your purpose and what you need to find out. This helps you be selective and avoids wasting time noting down a lot of information that isn’t directly relevant. Watch this short video on how to be focussed and critical when taking notes:

In lectures

Lectures involve a lot of multi-tasking. You have to listen, understand, and try to take notes at the same time. Make life easier by having a simple system and by reviewing your notes afterwards for any gaps. See this short guide for more lecture note-making tips:

From recordings

The temptation when watching recorded lectures is to try to note down everything as you can pause the recording and go at your own speed. However, this is very time consuming and it doesn’t help you understand the material. Instead, think about your purpose for watching and what you want to find out. Make brief notes relating to your purpose only. An efficient tip is not to keep stopping but to note down the time signature for anything you don’t understand so you can skip back to it later.

Note your own thoughts

As well as noting down the key information relevant to your purpose, have a system for capturing your own thoughts and questions about the information. You could use a different colour, annotate the text, or divide your page so part is for the content and part is for your thoughts. Noting your own questions and thoughts in response to a text or lecture is an important part of critical thinking, and it also helps you identify what your own stand-point or argument might eventually be. 


Some people find it quicker to take notes online. It can also make it easier to keep notes filed and organised. Try programs like:

Reading and note-making

The efficiency of our note-making is often connected to how we approach our reading. See our page for strategies for reading academic texts.

Note your sources

Don’t forget to capture all the details you need to write your references later. Include page numbers as they can be vital if you want to find a specific piece of information again quickly. Also make sure that you have a system in your notes to ensure you know which parts are you summarising in your own words, and which parts are direct quotations from what you have read. 

Further resources

If you would like to find more strategies for effective note-making, see this resource and book list created by Brookes Library: