How To Take Notes While Reading

Read out loud

Have you decided to start preparing for an exam and need tips to take some notes? Of course, only reading will not suffice if you want to get the most learning out of the material.

Note-taking enhances the learning process while reading new information. Below, we provide you with the best tips for note-taking while you are reading.

Identify the reason for reading

Before beginning to read, decide upon the purpose of the reading. For exams, you will most likely be reading textbooks. Reading textbooks implies that you are reading to learn new material. Once you identify the purpose, choose a specific method of note-taking to serve it. As you read, writing down new content paraphrased in your own words is best for exam preparation.

Choose the style that works best

Depending on the style that is best for you, you can take notes in different formats. In general, when taking notes while reading textbook material, linear notes are the best way to go. Write down the main ideas. You should summarize the supporting subtexts in a few words. Write them under the central idea headings. The supporting details will be helpful as you review your notes. Details will provide more depth to your notes.

Take notes in the margins

If it is an option, write down ideas in the margins that seem essential while reading. Even summarizing each paragraph in a few words in the margins will be useful for the future. Returning to the reading to find details will be more comfortable this way.

Summarize each chapter

At the end of each chapter, take a moment to think about and digest what you have read. On a separate piece of paper, recall the main ideas. Summarize the main ideas and essential notes from the margins in a couple of bullet points. Try to complete this task without looking at the reading you have done. If you need to recall some details, try to use only the margin notes. Remember what you have read to write it down instead of referring back to the reading. The brain will imprint the new material and make the recalling process quicker.

Take the most notes after, rather than during reading

Try to write down notes at the end of a chapter instead of while reading. Taking down notes at the end will help you focus on understanding the material. You will not overanalyze it. Taking breaks to take notes while reading a chapter may interfere with your train of thought. Interruptions will harm the comprehension of the new material. It is better to write down quick ideas in the margins and leave the main note-taking to the end of each chapter.

Only write down the main points that you remember

If you need to recall minor details, use the chapter notes to return to the reading. Brief notes will be easier to go back to rather than a long explanation of each idea. In the notes at the end of chapters, focus on writing short bullet points. Summarize main ideas instead of writing detailed descriptions. 

Write down questions that arise while reading

When reading new material, questions might arise. Write down questions or ideas you need more clarification on as they appear. Please do not leave the unknown pieces until the end because you will forget them. Once you finish reading a particular chapter, refer to your sheet of questions. Try to answer them using what you have learned in that chapter. If you still are not able to answer them, search for clarification online or from an outside source.

Paraphrase notes

When writing down notes, paraphrase the ideas in your own words. Do not copy down word-for-word from the reading. Paraphrasing will make the recalling process easier. Write down what you have learned in your own words. It will help you better comprehend the material. Using the same wording memorizes the ideas instead of understanding them. Memorization makes the recalling process more difficult. 

Handwritten notes are always better than digital notes

When you write notes by hand, it will better imprint on the brain. Handwritten notes engage the brain more, enhancing the learning process. You will recall the information you are taking down better. This is because writing by hand involves deeper cognitive processing than typing notes.

Test out different note-taking methods

Each individual is different in the way they comprehend new material. The best way to find what enhances your learning is to take into consideration the tips you have read. Then, try out different note-taking strategies. In the end, you will find the one that suits you and the purpose of your reading the best.

Good luck!

ALISTAIR BROWN: As a writing and speaking examiner for more than 10 years, I bring a lot of experience. I have seen the frustrations that students have with IELTS from a career where I have actively guided and corrected students’ studies. I am looking for the most effective ways to teach IELTS as I understand students’ needs.