24 May 2009

Why and how do students take notes in class?

Most students take notes in class so that they can review and memorize the information just before the final exam.  Students take notes so they do not forget what they believe is important for later "cramming".  While most instructors would hope that they reformulate and interpret what has been taught, rather than just copy and regurgitate later, most students tend to do the latter.  Students also pick up certain cues from the instructors when they should take notes.  These include when instructors:

  • write on the board
  • dictate the information slowly
  • write a title of a section or a list of information
  • write out the definitions or catch phrases
  • write or draw macro-textual planning indicators that organize and structure the classes

There are also inhibiting indicators when students do not take notes.  These occur:

  • during discussions of material that do not contribute to the organization of what has been said
  • when the instructors interact with the students such as during responses by the instructors to students' questions
  • when there are hesitations in instruction, which the students take as signs that what is being said has not been planned
  • when the instructors put aside his or her notes, or walk around the classroom

In general, if students perceive that the information is not  planned or not written, they do not think that the information is important.  Students tend to put more effort in learning (also in notes taking) when the information learning process involves understanding and transformation operations.  A matrix structure or concept map structure seems to be more beneficial to the students than an outline structure, or a linear structure.  Students also benefit most in notes taking if they reflect and rework the notes to reinforce the structuring of knowledge after the lectures.


Boch, F. and Piolat A.  (September, 2005). Note Taking and Learning: A Summary of Research. The WAC Journal. Volume 16.

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