Personal Note-Taking Method for College Class

My College Note-Taking Method

So, after being in college for nearly three years now, I feel as if I have finally figured out a note-taking system that works for me. I’ve tried all the “traditional” systems. Outline, Cornell, typing onto powerpoint slides, but they just weren’t cutting it. My note-taking system is dependent on the class and way the professor not only teaches but how he does his exams.

This note-taking system works well for my Mammalogy class. My professor teaches through powerpoint and his quizzes and exams are typically based off of the slides. He does sometimes add extra information and that is why this system is perfect for his specific teaching style.

My method combines some of the traditional ones with a personal twist. I also prepare my notebook for class before taking notes. Here are my steps and tips for successful note-taking.

Preparing the Notebook

The first step is to prepare your notebook for taking notes. Now you may be thinking, why would I need to prep my notebook? By doing so it helps me find information faster while studying. It’s also useful if someone needs to see my notes because of an absence. My notes are neatly organized and it’s easy to find what they’ve missed.

Create a Table of Contents

STable of content in notebook for notestart by leaving a few empty pages in the front of the notebook. This will be your table of contents. Here you include the title of the lesson, date or dates the notes were taken and the pages they are on within your notebook.

Create a Vocabulary Section

This step depends 100% on the type of class you’re taking. If it is not heavily term-based, you may not need this. Personally, I don’t currently use this for my classes, but I have in the past. Leave blank pages after your table of contents. This section is pretty self-explanatory, just with down your terms with definitions on these pages. You may also find it useful to put the page number that the term is discussed in your notes.

Number the Pages

Numbering pages in notebook for note-takingYes, I number my notebook pages. Why? It makes it much easier to locate the specific information I need fast when all I need to do is check my table of contents and flip to the page number it lists.

Before Class Notes

Copying powerpoint note into notebook before lecture class in collegeIf you have the option, I find it extremely helpful to copy my notes down before class. My professor emails the powerpoint, so I copy it down in outline form. Handwriting my notes really helps me retain the knowledge and during lecture, it will be reinforced by going over it again.

During Lecture

If you had the opportunity to copy your note before the lecture, you’ll save time during lecture. Also, you won’t feel rushed and will be able to keep your notes neat and tidy. If you could not copy them before, this method can still work for you, just copy them down during class.

During the lecture, I annotate my notes. Often times my professor will say important facts that were not on the powerpoint but may appear on the exam. This is where my annotation method comes in handy.

Note-taking method annotation

First, add a numbered superscript to the word or phrase being discussed. Each word will have a different number and these should go in numerical order and restart the count on each new page.

annotation in margin for notes

Next, add your note within the margin. Be sure to number it to know what is being referenced. These notes can vary from definitions to examples or important details.


That is the basis of my personal note-taking method, but there is an additional step. The next step simply makes notes more appealing to the eyes and allows certain words and phrase to stand out for easy locating.

After Lecture

If you’re anything like me, you want your notes to be pretty. After lecture is where color-coding your notes come into play. By color-coding, it makes it easier to see important terms and separate sections. There are many different color coding systems, but I’m going to share with you the one that I’ve been using for a few years now.

Color-coding notes

My system goes as follows:

Vocab Term – underlined in purple (violet)

Main Section Headers – Orange Highlight

Sub-Section Headers – Pink Highlight

Annotation Numbers – Green Highlight

Important Facts – Yellow Highlight

Additional Tips

  1. Use sticky-notes for references or small sketches.
    • Often times the powerpoint with be referencing a picture and if I find it important I will make a small sketch of it on a post-it note and insert in within my notes to make it easier to reference. note-taking adding tabs
  2. Add tabs to keep sections organized.
    • I do this for just about all of my classes. It makes it easy to flip to the right page and also makes my notes look pretty.
  3. Keep your class schedule handy.
    • I cut mine out of the syllabus and glue it to the inner front of my notebook.
    • This allows me to know what to expect for class and is an easy reference for exams and other important dates.

syllabus in front of notebook

While this note-taking method works well for me for certain classes, it may not suit you. It’s important to find a system that works for you and not worry if it’s like anyone else’s. Tell me your favorite tips or about your note-taking method in the comments.

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