The Ultimate Guide to Note-taking Tips

Girl, Child, Schoolboy, Student, Taking Notes, Note-taking Tips

Note-taking is a major tool for solidifying material in a student’s brain. Unfortunately, it’s also an area where many students struggle! This is especially true for students who may struggle to stay organized outside of the classroom, too. Let’s begin by exploring the reasoning behind taking notes. Be sure to keep reading for A Grade Ahead’s favorite note-taking tips!

Is Note Taking Necessary?

The simple answer is yes: taking notes is an important aspect to being a successful student. As for the reasons why, the case gets a little more complicated.

In the classroom, notes help students focus and concentrate. Taking notes requires a student to stay engaged in the lesson enough to write notes that are sensibly interpreted from the information. Students must use critical thinking skills to decide what is important enough to write down, and then they must determine how it is related to other information. In the few seconds it takes to do this, the thought processes have gotten complex enough to help the information be retained. The generation effect is a widely studied memory phenomenon that allows humans to better retain information that they have generated themselves (i.e. personal notes taken in class) rather than information simply received (i.e. listening in class). Thanks to these studies, we know that taking notes is a great way for students to better retain information.

After class, students are able to make sense of the information more easily because they are the ones who took the notes. Notes give students a permanent record of central ideas from the lesson. Yet, to reap the rewards of note taking, purposeful strategies are key! Explore all of our best note-taking tips to help your students below.

The Best Note-taking Tips to Help Your Child Succeed

There are specific note-taking tips to follow before, during, and after class to help your child get the most out of his or her notes. We know you can’t be with your child in class, but you can help them build the skills and focus needed to succeed!

Before Class

Stay organized

Notes won’t help if your child can’t find them. Be sure to encourage your child to practice organization inside and outside of the classroom.

Build the skills

Taking notes means being able to identify main ideas and important information. These ideas are central to comprehension whether the information is taken in through reading or listening. There are many reasons why comprehension skills may be lacking: try reading this post about comprehension struggles or our teaching tips for parents in everyday life. If you’re worried about your child staying on track for success, explore enrichment programs to determine if one is right for your child.

Try color-coding

Consider using a simple set of colored erasable pens or highlighters to differentiate ideas throughout notes. Your child will find information more easily and may even enjoy taking notes! Many students are encouraged to take notes if they can approach the task creatively.

Talk about plagiarism

Many students end up using class notes to complete assignments like essays. Plagiarism, or using another’s words or ideas without proper credit or permission, is a major detriment to student work. The harsh consequences for plagiarism are not worth it! Be sure that your child understands paraphrasing and direct quotes and when to use each. A Grade Ahead practices these skills in multiple grade levels because we know how important these skills are.

Practice responsibility

Of course, note taking and using those notes wisely require a certain level of responsibility from your child. Try practicing responsibility with these tips! Consider setting a routine for your child, especially when it comes to homework, preparing for school the next day, and participating in any educational enrichment.

During Class

Stay focused

If a student isn’t paying attention, the generation effect doesn’t even have a chance to occur. If your child is having trouble staying focused in class, first consider why. For example, if the class is in the mid-morning, and your child can’t focus from hunger, try prioritizing a more filling, nutritious breakfast.

Listen carefully

Careful listening goes beyond just staying focused. Many teachers will (purposefully or not) emphasize the information that is important for tests and assignments. Encourage your child to listen for any inflections or emphasis in the teacher’s voice. Being able to recognize key information is an important skill that extends beyond school. It’s part of comprehension skills, and our English enrichment programs even practice gathering information from audio!

Make note of repetition

Repeated ideas are often important ones! Your child may naturally take note of this information, but placing a star or other symbols next to repeated ideas in class is an easy way to remember emphasized ideas.

Paraphrase, don’t quote

This is a common student error when taking notes. Unless your child is an expert transcriptionist, he or she will not be able to write every word the teacher says. Almost all of the time, paraphrasing is the better option. If your child often needs to write direct quotes for future use in assignments, consider contacting the teacher to see if there are online resources of the lesson notes available for you to download to help your child.

Use Abbreviations

Shorthand, or using abbreviations and symbols to quickly write information, is a great way to take notes on a lot of information quickly. If your child is feeling overwhelmed trying to keep up with information in class, help him or her find a system that works. For a huge list of common abbreviations, check out this resource at the Oxford English Dictionary!

After Class

Review notes

To be sure that your child retains the information, add a note review to each daily homework session. Reviewing notes within 24 hours is ideal, so the frequency may change based on how often your child takes notes. Of course, younger grades won’t be taking notes, so this also depends on the grade level. Consider having your child verbally summarize the class to you or a sibling to review.

Encourage spaced out learning sessions 

If your child needs to review a large chunk of his or her notes for an assignment or test, make a schedule that involves shorter study sessions of all the material over a longer span of time. The spacing effect tells us that spaced out study sessions are more effective than one large cram session, so be sure to keep this in mind when you’re helping your child balance schoolwork.

Get help

If your child is reviewing notes and struggling with a certain topic, suggest that he or she ask questions about that material! Before or after class is a great time to ask specific questions, but some teachers even start class by inquiring about student understanding. By reviewing notes, your child will know what topics to ask about, and this will help him or her take a proactive step in learning!

Fill in gaps

No one is perfect — that means that sometimes information is missed in class! Encourage your child to find “note buddies,” friends or classmates who take reliable notes and can help fill in any gaps that were accidentally missed.

Do homework and enrichment work

Note taking is a great tool for learning, but it helps to reinforce the material by completing all of the assignments as asked. If your child has chapters to read or PowerPoint presentations to review, verify that this work is completed. And, if you feel like there isn’t enough reinforcement for your child’s work, there are options to help remedy that.


Remember, there is not one “right” way to take notes; you and your child can work together to find the best system that fits his or her needs and abilities. Hopefully, these note-taking tips can help you and your child on finding that system!

Have you helped your child develop a note-taking system? What was the result? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below!

Author: Brenna Waugaman, Curriculum Writer at A Grade Ahead

Updated Author: Susanna Robbins, Teacher and Curriculum Assistant at A Grade Ahead

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