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Getting Smarter through Language

Intermediate Reading Course. Section 2: Study Skills in Reading

Note-Taking and Annotating as Study Skills

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Taking notes simply refers to writing down and organizing information. You take notes when you read, attend a lesson or lecture, watch a video, listen to instructions or directions, and so on so that you can remember and use the information later.

Here are a few reasons taking notes is an important study skill:

  • Taking notes forces you to focus on the information you are reading, so you understand and retain it better.
  • You cannot write down what you do not understand; therefore, taking notes helps you assess your understanding.
  • Writing information down besides listening to or reading it engages multiple parts of your brain, thus improving retention.
  • When you take good notes as you study large amounts of materials, you can review your notes instead of having to review all the materials.

How to Take Notes Effectively When Reading

Taking notes requires a great deal of practice. The less familiar you are with the information you are learning, the more difficult it is. Below are a few recommendations on how to take effective notes.

Taking notes effectively

Write the source material in your notes. When you review your notes later on, you may need to refer back to the source, especially if you feel your notes are not clear enough.

It is also a good idea to keep your notes and the source material together.

When reading from a digital source, make sure you will be able to go back to it if needed. For example, if you read an article on a webpage, write the URL or enough information about the source (e.g., title, author, website name) so you can search the material.

Before you start reading, familiarize yourself with the material by skimming over it to have an idea what the passage is about and how the information is organized. Your notes should have the same organization as the text.

Use headings and subheadings in your notes. Use the same headings as in the passage.

Read actively and purposefully. Engage with the material by asking questions, relating the information to previous materials or your prior knowledge about the content.

Notes do not have to be neat as long as you capture the important information and are able to read your own notes later.

So you can write faster, develop your own abbreviations and symbols for common words or concepts. Use them consistently in all your notes. Math symbols can be helpful.

Here are some examples, but you should use your own:

  • for “reading and writing,” write “rdg + wtg
  • for “because,” “however," and “without,” write “bc,” “hwr,” and “w/o
  • for “therefore,” use the math symbol
  • for “different from” or “not equal to," use the math symbol
  • for “A causes B,” write “A → B

Use drawings, diagrams, and graphic organizers. Organizing the information visually forces you to understand the information well. It also helps you visualize information such as processes or procedures.

Taking notes on paper rather than using a tablet, laptop, or computer unless you have a note-taking app or program. It is fast and easy to use the page vertically and horizontally and to draw when taking notes on paper.

When you are done, review and revise your notes. The longer you take to review your notes, the more information you will forget, so do it as soon as possible while the information is still fresh in your memory.

When you revise your notes, you can clarify information, write in more complete sentences, and add information you may have left out.

Organize your notes so that it is easy for you to go back to them. To improve understanding and retention, review your notes frequently—rather than, for example, just before a test.

It is a good idea to review your notes not more than one or two days after completing them. Then review them repeatedly at longer and longer intervals.

At some point, you will realize that you have retained all of the information, so you do not need to keep reviewing your notes..

Related Lessons

Effective Note Taking as Reading and Study Skills is a separate reading lesson on this topic. It covers more information than this lesson and includes information on study notes, the Cornell Method, and links to videos.

Reading Purposefully. Learn about reading purposefully so you can understand what you read more easily.


When you annotate, you write directly on the reading material. As with taking notes, annotating helps you engage with the reading material and helps you focus on and retain the information being presented.

How to Annotate Effectively

Below are a few recommendations on annotating effectively.

Annotating effectively

Highlight or underline key information. Be careful not to overdo it, though. If everything is highlighted, nothing will stand out as important.

Engage with the material by writing down your questions, comments, or ideas as you read. You can do that on the page or paragraph related to them.

Use abbreviations, arrows or other symbols to point to important information on the page.

For example, let’s say you read the definition for “engagement” in a paragraph. You can write “def → engagement” where the definition appears. This way, you can quickly find information when you review the material later on.

Effective note-takers often take notes and annotate what they read. Consider when you should do the same.

Up Next: Outlining the Text as a Study Skill

Go to the next lesson to learn about outlining reading materials as a study skill.