In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Note-Taking

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Use of Note-Taking in Classes
  • Functions of Note-Taking
  • Links Between Note-Taking and Students’ Grades
  • Note-Taking Interventions for General Education Students
  • Note-Taking Interventions for Students with Disabilities
  • Note-Taking and Second Language (L2) Learners
  • Technology and Note-Taking

Education Note-Taking
Joseph R. Boyle, Gina A. Forchelli
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0110


Note-taking aids student learning by allowing individuals to process and retain large amounts of information. Note-taking influences learning by helping students to attend to information and allows them to personalize the information they learn. Also, note-taking during lectures increases students’ attention and facilitates encoding of information to long-term memory. Several studies have shown that review is an important function of note-taking and aids in recall of lecture content. Note-taking is closely linked with one’s cognitive abilities, such as working memory, and facilitates learning and growth. Note-taking is often first introduced as a tool for learning in the academic setting and can be generalized in both personal and professional pursuits. Due to disparities in development and learning, note-taking is not an innate ability and may need to be explicitly taught. This is particularly important for individuals who have difficulty acquiring skills, such as students with learning disabilities. The use of technologically relevant interventions is appropriate for helping these populations access this crucial tool for learning.

General Overview

Note-taking is a skill that is used by individuals almost every day and in different situations. Writing down information helps individuals to remember information and serves as a permanent record or external memory (see Benton, et al. 1993; Cohn, et al. 1995, both cited under Use of Note-Taking in Classes). At a minimum, people often jot down notes or information they want to remember or that serve as reminder of something to do later (Hartley 2002, Hawkins 2010). Initially, note-taking is presented as a academic tool for learning (Howe 1974). Kiewra 1987 highlights barriers to good note-taking skills and why it is important for students to overcome these. It allows the individual to record and retain information for later use. However, King 1992 states that note-taking should be paired with good study techniques to enhance learning. The skill sets developed, then, generalize to more professional settings. Note-taking is required for efficiency in an individual’s professional life (Kistin, et al. 2013; Langewitz, et al. 2009) and can also impact individual’s perception (Biesanz, et al. 1999). Notes serve different purposes depending upon the person, situation, or reason for recording notes (Bonner and Holliday 2006; Van Meter, et al. 1994).

  • Biesanz, J. C., S. L. Neuberg, T. N. Judice, and D. M. Smith. 1999. When interviewers desire accurate impressions: The effects of notetaking on the influence of expectations. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 29:2529–2549.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1999.tb00124.x

    Provides an example of note-taking’s influence on processing of incoming information. In particular, this article looks at how note-taking facilitated a more unbiased view of an individual in a mock interview.

  • Bonner, J. M., and W. G. Holliday. 2006. How college science students engage in note-taking strategies. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 43:786–818.

    DOI: 10.1002/tea.20115

    Demonstrates that college students utilize notes during the majority of class lectures, lecture speed, and previous knowledge of topic affected their ability to take notes and they attempted to organize their notes during the lecture. This is consistent with Van Meter, et al. 1994. However, it contradicted Van Meter’s theory in finding that they had conscious awareness of writing notes verbatim or to paraphrase.

  • Hartley, J. 2002. Notetaking in non-academic settings: A review. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16:559–574.

    DOI: 10.1002/acp.814

    Hartley synthesizes quantitative and qualitative research surrounding note-taking in a few non-academic situations: legal/jury duty, mental health/medical care, personal memory aid for older adults and brain-injured individuals, and occupational support. He argues that note-taking has the potential to aid recall of objective information in multiple settings.

  • Hawkins, M. 2010. Help them retain what you train. Training 47:12.

    This shorter editorial article provides information on eight principles to increase memory retention. He argues that one must “invest” or come to lectures with a “retention mind-set.” Hawkins states that an individual must take notes, synthesize or organize the notes into a framework, reflect, and discuss information with others. One must actively apply learning, practice what was learned and teach what was learned to enhance retention. While informative, there is no research presented to support his argument.

  • Howe, M. J. A. 1974. The utility of taking notes as an aid to learning. Educational Research 16:222–227.

    DOI: 10.1080/0013188740160310

    Howe is one the seminal authors on the importance of note-taking. This work will provide an understanding to the initial attempt to go beyond note-taking as a practice of mindless record-keeping to note-taking as a catalyst to learning, where the lack of strategy leads to failure to thrive in the educational setting.

  • Kiewra, K. A. 1987. Notetaking and review: The research and its implications. Instructional Science 16:233–249.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00120252

    Kiewra is another key figure in note-taking research. This particular article provides an overview of the barriers students may face in the attempts to take good notes and how instructors could (and should) take an active role in its remediation.

  • King, A. 1992. Comparison of self-questioning, summarizing, and notetaking-review as strategies for learning from lectures. American Educational Research Journal 29:303–323.

    DOI: 10.3102/00028312029002303

    Provides support for the necessity of strategy behind note-taking. Students who were trained in empirically supported study strategies after note-taking were better equipped to approach exams and therefore enhanced their learning during lectures.

  • Kistin, C. J., A. Barrero-Castillero, S. Lewis, R. Hoch, B. L. Philipp, H. Bauchner, and C. J. Wang. 2013. Maternal note-taking and infant care: A pilot randomised controlled trial. Archives of Disorders of Children 97:916–918.

    DOI: 10.1136/archdischild-2012-302289

    Provides support to note-taking aiding the recall of medical information in young mothers. Mothers of newborns who were allowed to record notes on infant care were more likely to report remembering instructions (e.g., correct sleeping position for the infant) from the training at a two day follow-up.

  • Langewitz, W. A., Y. Loeb, M. Nubling, and S. Hunziker. 2009. From patient talk to physician notes: Comparing the content of medical interviews with medical records in a sample of outpatients in internal medicine. Patient Education and Counseling 76:336–340.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.pec.2009.05.008

    Offers an example of the use of note-taking outside the classroom. Randomly selected patient-doctor consultations were reviewed to investigate the quality of recording and documenting verbal information. Correlations were found between patient involvement and input in the consultation and quality of information recorded; however, overall, doctors only recorded a small percentage of verbal information provided in the consultation.

  • Van Meter, P., L. Yokoi, and M. Pressley. 1994. College students’ theory of note-taking derived from their perceptions of note-taking. Journal of Educational Psychology 3:323–338.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-0663.86.3.323

    Self-perceived note-taking strategies were examined in college students in this article. It suggests that students are selective in what they code into notes, favoring important information over details, and use a variety of organizational tools (e.g., outlines, bullets, arrows). The students also identified contextual factors that affect their note-taking ability, namely lecture style and speed and previous knowledge of the lecture’s content.

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