Sara Klimek

One of my most distinct memories in high school was learning how to take notes.  I had countless teachers tell me to include subheadings, write legibly, and write fast.  It wasn’t until I went to college that I learned not everyone can take notes in the same way, especially when it requires mindful retention of information.  


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In fact, there are several ‘types’ of learners:

  • Visual: If you are a visual learner, you retain information and learn best when you can see it in front of you.  Colors typically attract your attention.  Visual learners typically favor films and PowerPoints.
  • Auditory: If you are an auditory learner, you learn best when you are exposed to sounds.  Some auditory learners need things repeated, either by themselves or by other people.  If you think you may be an auditory learner, I suggest looking into recording devices in order to play notes back (out-loud) when you need them.
  • Reading/Writing: If you are a reading/writing learner, you typically need to write and rewrite notes to remember things.  Reading things on paper and receiving physical paper copies work best for you.
  • Kinesthetic: If you are a kinesthetic learner, you thrive when movement is involved.  For example, if you are learning about the process of mitosis in cells, reenacting the movements with your pencil or with a friend can help you visualize processes.

While most of us are a combination of the learning types above, not all learning environments are equally suited for each type of learner.  I personally learn best by writing notes on a piece of paper and by using bright colors; many university environments are designed for students to learn this way.  On the other hand, some auditory learners may want to record their professors’ lectures, but a professor may feel uncomfortable with being recorded.

If you were like me in school, you struggled to take notes like all of your friends did.  Here are seven ways to maximize your note-taking experience, no matter what kind of learner you are.

1) Avoiding reacting to dialogue when note taking.

Sometimes, you hear something really exciting or weird when you’re listening to someone talk.  Your immediate reaction is often to raise your hand with a question or make a facial reaction to a comment.  However, this action often contributes to a shift in focus from the speaker to your emotions.  You’re less likely to remember what the speaker was saying at that point in time because you were preoccupied with how you felt.  Try to contain that emotion and focus on the tone and points of the speaker.

2) Write down questions that you may have on paper.  Ask these only when the speaker is finished talking.

Not only is it more polite if you save your questions and comments for later, but it reduces your tendency of focusing on the subject matter within the question.  I typically ‘star’ or make marks on my paper where I have questions so that I can get the most out of each question that I ask.

3) Invest in a good highlighter.

I can’t be the only one here that loves using highlighters, right?  You can choose a variety of colors to represent different things in your notes (e.g. green for vocabulary, pink for deadlines, blue for key concepts).  This way, your notes will be organized better for later when you have to review them.  Sharpie highlighters are my favorite brand in terms of longevity and brightness.

4) Annotations?  Fear not.

Annotations are not as bad as they sound.  An annotation can be as simple as underlining something in a reading, scribbling a note on the corner of the page, or using a sticky note to mark your page.  If you are a visual learner, you’re more likely to remember things that are emphasized (and stick out) on a ‘monotone’ piece of paper.

5) Bring several writing utensils with you.

One of the most frustrating feelings is when you’re about to start writing and your pen dies.  Carrying an extra pen or two can be helpful when you need to scribble something down quickly.

6) Bring a fidget tool with you as needed.

Long classes can entail some unneeded anxiety at times.  Take breaks as needed.  You’ll be more productive and more apt to remember things if you give your brain a chance to process.  Many of my kinestic-learner peers bring putty to play with during class so that they can subconsciously play with it in one hand and write with the other.


Shut your electronic devices off.  Seriously.


7) Shut your electronic devices off.  Seriously.

Yes, I mean every single one.  I have an Apple Watch, Mac, and iPhone, all of which are synced to the same notification cloud.  I throw my devices on ‘Do Not Disturb’ before every class to eliminate the risk of one going off in class or focusing on a notification rather than my notes. If you have trouble shutting down, try ‘Forest.’  As one of the most helpful and stress-relieving apps I have, it allows you to set a timer for how long you’d like to focus for (so if you have a one hour class, you can set it for sixty minutes).  

Your goal is to keep your plant alive, thus earning you coins.  If you click off of the app, your tree dies, along with every other tree you’ve worked so hard to grow.  You can donate your coins to a real-life charity that plants trees in the developing world or purchase different types of trees to grow on the app.  If you’re looking for a more competitive aspect, you can sync your forest with your friends and if one of you kills a tree, all of your forests burn.

In short, note-taking is a practical and important skill to have in your education and in your professional life.  By adopting some of these skills and trying to stay as mentally present as possible, you can better retain information and become a better listener.


Sara is a freshman at the University of Vermont in Burlington. She is currently studying Environmental Studies in the school of natural resources and is preparing for a future in Environmental Policy or as a journalist. She is currently a Editorial Intern at bSmart.

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