How to Take Notes Effectively in Class (feat. OneNote) + Note-taking Printables

We’ve all done it. We’ve been late to a morning class, didn’t know what the lecturer was rambling about, and just talked with our friends and surfed the internet for the rest of the lecture.

But do you know that lectures are a very important part of our learning process?

By listening attentively and taking good notes, lectures can actually be very helpful for us.

In this post, I will cover:

  • What are lectures really for?
  • Some tips to help you take better notes
  • How I developed my note-taking system (using OneNote!)
  • And I am also giving you a free note-taking template printable!

If you are interested in how I use OneNote, you can also check out the post How I Use OneNote For Life And School Organization!

Now let’s get started!

Wondering how you can take good lecture notes? Here are some tips for you to take notes effective in class - including my note-taking system using OneNote!

What Are Lectures Really For?

The importance of lectures is widely underestimated by college students. In my first year, I thought that the whole point of college is that we are able to skip our classes.

I mean, what’s college without freedom?

And that’s totally right. College definitely gives us the freedom to choose whether or not to attend classes. There may be people who can do just as well without attending classes, and they can freely choose to do so.

But why should you attend your lectures?

Lectures are an essential step of your learning process as it gives you the insight and information that would aid your self-study and research. It usually gives you a brief overview and explains all the difficult concepts. Lecturers usually have an account of what is more important for you to learn, and the things that need further clarification as it may be difficult for students to comprehend. By listening to his interpretations and explanations of the knowledge, it would make self-studying much easier for you.

Wondering how you can take good lecture notes? Here are some tips for you to take notes effective in class - including my note-taking system using OneNote!


Lecture Note-taking Tips

Before we go straight into note-taking tips for lectures, there is one very crucial thing that we should all do before lecture starts (that many of us didn’t know about it).

And that is the thirty-second preparation.


#1: 30-second Preparation Before Class

What is a thirty-second preparation?

That means that when you sit down in the lecture hall, instead of just sitting around and chatting, we can take about thirty seconds to think about the following things:

  1. What do I want to learn in this class?
  2. How can I apply the knowledge I will learn in this class?

This would give you mental preparation for the class, and it will also spark your interest for the class so that you can better listen to the lecturer and extract the important points from the class.

But of course, if you haven’t done any preparation beforehand, this 30-second would not be sufficient. The only way for you to get the most out of your classes is to get ahead and prepare for them.

You can do that in many ways, and some lecturers actually kindly point out how you can prepare for classes each week (most likely in the first lecture – which also explains why you need to attend syllabus week)!

Some of the things that you need to do are probably doing the readings beforehand, making some notes based on them, reading the lecture notes/outline etc.

I have actually done a post solely on lecture preparation, so make sure you read that before going into the remaining tips!


#2: Sit in the Front

You have probably been told about this for a ton of time, but trust me, sitting in the front really helps. Remember all the times when you start to get distracted in the middle of the lecture? Well, I am going to promise you that sitting in the front would make all the difference.

  • You will be motivated to listen because everyone sitting around you are probably listening very attentively.
  • Since you are sitting in the front, your lecturer is likely to make a lot at eye contact with you. This will “force” you to listen attentively and interact during the lecture.
  • By sitting in the front you will also prevent yourself from not being able to listen to your lecture either because his/her voice is too small, or because the people at the back chat a lot.

The whole point is: make sure you focus and listen attentively during lecture (and sitting at the front would definitely help). That’s the main key for taking notes effectively in lectures.


#3: Record Your Classes

There are quite a lot of debates on whether one should record their lectures. Many claimed that this would actually cause the student to choose not to listen to the lecturer knowing that they have the recordings already.

My personal thought is that recording lecture may be a good idea. This is because we all tend to miss certain points no matter how focused we are.

Basically, recording lectures would ensure that you still have the content and information even if you:

  • Get distracted. And we all have this tendency of getting distracted no matter how hard we try. Our attention span (reasonably) does not last enough to stay focus for the entire lecture.
  • Don’t understand a certain point. I may not understand what the lecturer was saying, so I would need to go back to the recordings and listen to that particular point again to digest the information.

When you record your lecture, tell yourself that it is only for you to review a certain part of your classes. You will need to listen attentively for the first time so that you don’t have to waste your time at home listening to it all over again. Having made this clear to yourself, you won’t rely on your recording and not listen attentively when you are in the classroom.

This is how I marked the time when I don’t understand a certain point.

Make use of the recording function of OneNote

I love the recording function of OneNote. One great thing about it is that you can take notes while recording, and once you have stopped recording, you can go to a certain point and click the play button next to it. It will then play from the time when you type that sentence.

This is how I review my lecture. Once I get to a point where I think I need to add more information to it, I click the play button next to that point and see if there is anything from the lecture that I missed.

What to do if you get distracted?

When I feel like I am getting lost during the lecture, I will then use the Add Bookmark function and mark down the time that I am not listening, or that I don’t know what he/she is talking about.

When I am reviewing my lecture that day, I would then play from that time and listen to that part of the lecture again.


#4: Your notes should record the key points in your own words

When listening to lectures, your understanding is the most important thing. Being able to capture the information in your own words means that you are able to absorb the information and digest them.

While it may not be easy to understand everything on one go when listening to your lecturer, it is useful to put down, in your own words, some understanding and information you get from the lecture.

You should also put down your own ideas, thoughts, concepts, reflections, and questions on the side so to reflect your comprehension of the topic.

ACTION POINT: Try not to only write down whatever the lecturer says, but also write down your own understanding, thoughts, interpretations, and reflections. This would help to enhance your learning experience.

#5:  Develop your own note-taking system

Everybody has a different note-taking system, but it will be very beneficial if you choose to stick to one throughout the entire course. Usually, at the beginning of the semester, I would make use of the syllabus week to think about what note-taking system should I use for each course.

In this semester, I have used OneNote for the majority of my classes. I use the Cornell note-taking system on OneNote, and use my color-code system consistently for all my classes (e.g. Blue for cases, red for important points, Sharp green for definitions etc.).

This is my Cornell note-taking system on OneNote
One of the most important thing in every note-taking system is that you have to give yourself the room to take additional notes and jot down your thoughts on the topic.

I once used the outline note-taking method, and I find it very difficult to just put down my own understanding and thoughts of the topic because I don’t know where should I add them in the notes.

However, with the Cornell note-taking method, I can easily add them on the side and mark them for my reference. I no longer feel constraint by my note-taking format. This is essentially the most important thing when it comes to note-taking.

Another thing I recommend you make use of is the tags on OneNote. Again, you can easily do this on your regular notebooks by making a key of symbols.

What I do, for example, is use the “highlight” tag for things that I need to follow-up and review, and “question” tag for any question that I may have or the lecturer poses.

As you can see on the left, I use the tags to mark some important points and questions I may have.

ACTION POINT: You can develop the following:

  • Note-taking system
  • Tag/symbols key
  • Key for any abbreviation that you may want to use for your notes


#6: Pay attention to content that’s not on your lecture handouts or textbooks

It wouldn’t make sense to copy everything your lecturer says, right? So you may ask, what should I take notes of?

You will definitely need to have on your notes things that you don’t already know or have with you.

This also explains why you should prepare for your classes. This will allow you to decide whether the things your lecturer says is covered in the textbook/reading materials or not.

I have had experiences when I didn’t prepare for class. As the lecturer goes on and on about a certain principle and some facts, I kept thinking that they would all appear on my textbook anyway and didn’t take notes on them.

And, yes, you guessed it. Nothing said during the lecture was in the textbook. And now my notes don’t have them as well.

In order to prevent this from happening, you will need to prepare for your classes in order to know what you need to pay specific attention to.

#7: Before you leave the classroom…

Ready to pack your bag once your lecturer says the class is over? Wait a minute before you do so!

Remember how we did the 30-second preparation before the class starts? At the end of the lecture, you can also take 30 seconds to think about the following:

  1. What are the main things that I have learned today?
  2. What are some things that I need to review after class?

This would help you to sum up the lecture. It also allows you to point out things that you need to study after class. You can write down these things in the summary section of your Cornell note-taking system.


Wondering how you can take good lecture notes? Here are some tips for you to take notes effective in class - including my note-taking system using OneNote!That’s it for Now!

But that’s not the end of it! Good note-taking doesn’t just end here. I bet you are wondering how you can better focus during lectures so that you can take good notes! Next Monday, I will go ahead and explore a bit more about getting the most out of lectures!

Let’s summarize everything now:

  • The lecture is an essential step of your learning process! Make sure you try to attend all of them if possible!
  • The first step to taking good notes is good preparation. One way to do that is to take around 30 seconds to 1 minute and think about what you want to learn from the class, and how you can apply the knowledge you are going to learn.
  • Sitting in the front is also a great way to help you focus during lecture!
  • Recording the lecture can help you fill the gaps you may have. You can add bookmarks to the part when you do not understand or get distracted.
  • Understanding the lecture is the most important thing. Blindly copying everything won’t help as much as you really pay attention to the content of the lecture. This can be done by taking notes in your own words and writing down your own thoughts, ideas, reflections etc.
  • Having your own note-taking system is very important. This can make your note-taking process much more effective. Try developing your own set of note-taking methods, keys for symbols and abbreviations.
  • There may be some things that your lecturer talks about that aren’t covered in your handouts or textbook. These are the important details that you want to take notes of.
  • Before you leave the classroom, take around 30 seconds to review what you have learned about and what you didn’t understand.


Remember to also download your copy of the free note-taking printable!

Wondering how you can take good lecture notes? Here are some tips for you to take notes effective in class - including my note-taking system using OneNote!


Here are some more posts on note-taking you will love!


  • Thankfully I was always really good at "school" – otherwise, I can't imagine having to put forth this much effort just towards note-taking. :( On a similar note, so happy that my college days are looooong behind me. :)
  • These are such great tips! I wish I had them when I was in school, but I'm going to pass some off to my students today, who are preparing to take a big test in a few weeks. Great read!
  • These are all great tips! I need ot utilize all these tools and advice for my grad school classes. Greta |
  • Your notes are amazing! This is something that I'm definitely going to implement this semester!
  • I took literally every class I could online so I wouldn't have to get out of my pajamas. It was a pretty effective way to make sure I was able to take notes at leisure!
  • Knowing how to take good notes is so essential. I am in grad school right now so being efficient with that is definitely key.
  • So happy I don't have to take notes in school anymore! But I still do take them when I am on work calls and stuff, it helps me stay focused on what the person is saying and allows me to circle back to my thought Rachel | The Confused Millennial
  • I need to follow these! I use one note for my notes but have so much trouble not getting distracted on my computer.
  • Great tips. I always found it helpful to preview the lecture material and take some notes, then add extras from the lecture onto the notes.
  • These are such great tips!! Now i wish I was back in school to use these.
  • Great tips! And reading the material before class is essential! It helps so much! I wish I would have learned that earlier in my college career.
  • I've never used OneNote but I've heard about it and the way you have it organized looks awesome! You make me want to try it! I try to sit in the front often, it helps me concentrate so much more! Kayla |

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