Guidelines for Taking Notes

Taking good notes is essential for succeeding in your college courses. Here are some expanded explanations and tips to help you.

  1. During the lecture, take notes on the right-hand side of the paper. Leave a wide margin on the left.

  2. Write down complete phrases and statements, rather than single words.

  3. Star, highlight, or underline points the instructor emphasizes.

  4. As soon as possible after the lecture, complete unfinished sentences and fill in material you didn’t have time to write. The next time you study you will turn your outline into test questions. Each lecture will usually supply you with five to seven good exam questions. Write them in the left-hand margin.

  5. Leave the back of each page blank. Use it later for taking study notes and writing questions from other sources such as your textbook or assigned reading.

This procedure will help you organize lectures into questions and answers. Plan to come out of each lecture with several questions and answers. They are likely to be on the next test!

Outline Style:

Below, you will find a skeleton of an outline as well as a sample:

Title/Date: The major topic or subject.

  1. Major division or category within the topic.
    List important statements.

    1. history, facts, experiments, first researcher
    2. second researcher, other experiments.
      1. Supporting facts and details
  2. Second major division in the topic area.
    1. facts, new perspectives, research

Sample – Outline Form:

If your notes are neat and as close to outlined as possible, you’ll have a much better chance of turning them into a good set of questions. These notes were taken at an introductory psychology lecture. The topic was learning.

Intro Psych – November 17


  1. Behavior Modification – First researcher B.F. Skinner
    1. Main principles:
      1. Experimenter must wait for a behavior to occur.
      2. Behaviors reinforced tend to increase (Note: Term is reinforcement, not reward)
      3. Behaviors ignored tend to decrease
      4. Behaviors punished may be temporarily suppressed but may
        increase, punishment can be reinforcing!
    2. Tracking positives plan:
      1. Specify the desired observable behavior.
      2. Choose an effective reinforcer.
      3. Measure current level of desired behavior.
      4. Watch for slightest increase in the desired behavior.
      5. Give reinforcer as fast as possible.
  2. Classical Conditioning-First researcher Ivan Pavlov
    He noticed dogs salivating when a bell rang that signaled feeding time.

    1. Focus on automatic reflexes.

Summary Method:

Here is a sample of the above information in summary form:


B.F. Skinner, working with pigeons, was the 1st researcher to use Behavior Modification. He said that the experimenter must wait for a behavior to occur & then reinforce that behavior. Without reinforcement, behaviors tend to decrease, but punishment may increase the behavior since it is reinforcing. Mostly, the desired behavior needs to be reinforced as quickly as possible.

Ivan Pavlov was the 1st researcher to study Classical Conditioning. He noticed that the dogs in his lab would salivate when he rang a bell, even w/o the presence of food. CC focuses on automatic reflexes.

Mapping Method:

Finally, a brief sample of the above information in the visual, mapping form:

Mapping note taking sample picture

From notes such as these it is easy to develop practice questions that come close to what the instructor will ask.

Note: Using your own abbreviations for frequently repeated words can be helpful. Just make sure you can remember what they stand for! (A master abbreviation list may be helpful to create ).