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How to Make Reading and Taking Notes Easier

by Maggie McCormick, studioD

Taking notes while reading your class material is essential to understanding and remembering the material. Unfortunately, it can also slow you down and take a lot of time. When you prepare to take notes and find the tricks that work for you, you'll have a much easier time with the process.

Prereading and Reading

As you read the text, everything may seem important enough to take notes about. It's not until you've finished the text that you see that a lot of what you wrote down isn't necessarily relevant. Before you actually write down the notes, skim the pages you're about to read, noticing chapter headers or bolded information to form ideas of what you will be reading about. Then read though the text in full before you take any notes. According to the MIT Center for Academic Excellence, you only need to take notes on big-picture concepts, highlighted information and points or facts that the writer repeats.

Selective Highlighting

Using a highlighter pen means that you don't have to write everything down. However, it's easy to go overboard by highlighting everything that seems important. When highlighting, you should only highlight the key concepts -- the parts that will jog your memory about the major points the author is making. Rather than a sea of yellow, your book should only have a few highlighted sentences or phrases per page.

Margin Notes

It's your book, and you can write in it. Rather than keeping a separate notebook for your notes, you could simply write them down in the margins on the book. This way, when you're reviewing the information, the relevant sections of the book are right before you if you find something you don't fully remember in the text.


Different formats of notes work better for different people. Many choose to take notes in an outline form, although some will use mind-mapping techniques or write notes in a list form. In the Cornell notetaking method, you will have a main section for notes, then write additional notes in the margins to help you understand. Regardless of which method you use, it's usually helpful to rewrite your notes, organizing them into a format that will make it easier for you to study from.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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