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How To Read Better, Listen Well, and Take Note

Updated on April 3, 2013

Why It's All So Important

Whether you're in high school or college, reading, listening and taking notes are essential to any classroom environment. Not only in the sense that it helps you pass a class, but it also can serve to help you retain information and become more involved in the subject you are studying (but mostly, it helps you pass the class!).

All of these elements go hand in hand, and all are equally as important as the other. They're also very simple, and hopefully this Hub will teach you how to take advantage of what you already know about them and better your abilities.

That being said, everyone has their own way of doing these things, and there is no right or wrong way. I'm going to simply give you one option that has worked for me for years. I hope it helps you out, too!

I just added something new for you all to look at -- me! Haha! No but seriously; at the very bottom of this hub is a new video. I've never done a how-to video here or anywhere, so I know it's not the best. I hope it's at least a little bit helpful though. If you have any tips/suggestions let me know.

Also, I'm adding a poll hub directly after this introduction. Please let me know what else you'd like to see for videos if you can. :]


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Reading is more important than you think. Textbooks and articles can be a bore, but they're pretty essential to passing your class and retaining the information you're going to need to know. Reading is also great when you need to write papers, and it's generally a good skill to know for when you get a job and when you're out in the real world dealing with things.

It's a pretty basic concept we all learned at an early age: I'm assuming if you're on Hubpages you know how to read, so we don't have to cover that!

However, when dealing with an academic environment, there are ways to read that optimize on time and that get you the information you need without all the fluff that you don't. Your mind can only hold in so much information, so it's beneficial to learn what to retain and what to throw away. While in part this is something that comes with experience, there are some tips I can offer you that might help you along a little bit.

Don't highlight EVERYTHING! Highlighting is undoubtedly important when reading. Not only does it allow for quick reference when you need to go back to the books, but it keeps you at attention so your mind doesn't drift off as you read. Which means you're reading, but you most likely don't remember a thing you just read (which is a waste of your time). However, many students have the problem of highlighting too much, and they suffer because of it. If everything is highlighted, how are you supposed to pick out the important stuff? There's no way that everything on that page is important. So learn to highlight well.

Here are some things to highlight:

  • Dates
  • Names
  • Movements
  • Definitions
  • Important documents
  • Major political conflicts
  • Political groups
  • Major social/economic conflicts

Keep in mind when highlighting things like movements, political conflicts, political groups, and social/economic conflicts that you should really only highlight a brief description of each. Again, some of it comes with experience, but a good rule is to highlight as little as possible. That means that when you go back, only the most important information is there to leap out at you and you don't have to waste your time re-sifting through the book.

If you don't understand something, read it again. Believe me, I know it's a pain to have to read again. You really just want to get out of the book and start to have fun. But it's to your benefit to go over something again if you don't quite understand what's going on. If you just brush over it and it ends up being an important part of a test or paper, you're going to have to read it again anyway. And if it's a word you're stumbling on, just look it up in a dictionary or online so you know what's being said. That way, you can improve your vocabulary as well!

Take notes. I'll cover this more in-depth when I go into note-taking, but it's a good idea to take notes after you've read. This is with the highlighting. So after you've finished your reading assignment, take out a notebook (I suggest possibly having two sections: one for notes in class and one for notes on reading) and go through the reading again, looking mostly at your highlights. It might also be beneficial to write down page numbers so you can quickly go back if you can't read your handwriting or something doesn't make sense. This step is important, because it adds yet another layer of retention. If you've read something, and had to highlight, you're retained more already. Having to write down what you've highlighted means you're retaining it a second time, and there's no harm in that!


Okay, so you've read the assignment and you know everything there is to know for that next text, right?


Even though a lot of what your teacher will lecture about might be the exact same as what you just read about, they sometimes have useful off-the-books information that might help you along. Also, they know what your test is going to be, so they might give you little bits of knowledge that'll be specific to that class. What you might assume is important based off of the reading might be of little consequence to the teacher, and they'll babble on about how the textbook doesn't cover so-and-so as much as they'd like, so they'll lecture about it.

Most college professors, I think (or at least in my experience), have powerpoints prepared to go along with their lectures. This is helpful. Use them. I take notes on my laptop because it allows me to go back to a section to edit it if a teacher jumps around. Handwritten notes are just as good though, if you can read your handwriting.

One of the difficult things about teachers is that they talk really really fast. And it's hard to keep up. While you might assume that everything a teacher says is important, it's not. Teachers are people and they tend to ramble or go off on a tangent every once and a while -- you don't have to worry about writing these down. Here are some tips for what to write down and what to maybe keep in your head:

Write down everything that you would have highlighted. Those dates and things. Write those all down again so that you have that new level of retention that you can refer back to. It never hurt.

Write down what's bulletpointed on the powerpoint. The teacher spent time putting together the powerpoint, so assume that most of what's on there is important and needs to be written down. Sometimes there are powerpoint slides with long paragraphs -- use your newly acquired reading skills to quickly take the most important elements and write those down instead of trying to write down the whole paragraph. It saves you time and stress.

Don't ignore the teacher just to write what's on the powerpoint. Some teachers use their powerpoints as references to jump from. This means that they have other things to say that aren't typed out for you. So pay attention to your teacher and write down what's on the powerpoint when they mention it.

If your teacher doesn't have a powerpoint, write what's on the board. If your teacher uses a white board, it's a safe bet to write down whatever they write down. It takes them time to write something, so it's probably important. If they start making charts and things, take out a piece of paper (if you're using your laptop) to get these notes. Charts can be important and are visually easy to read and remember. You can try to make a chart on your computer but it might take too long. Remember, teachers move fast; they have a lot to cover.

When a teacher says, "write this down", write it down. This is the obvious one, but do it.

Taking Notes

Here's where it all comes together: reading and listening both require taking notes, and this is how I do it. It might not be the best way, but it works for me, and has worked since 9th grade.

Here is how I structure things:


Subsection 1 (EX: Allied forces)

Subsubsection 1 (ex: France)

Subsubsubsection 1 (ex: Phoney War)

Here's the breakdown of each section.

SECTION 1: This section usually won't have any bulletpoints. It's mostly a way for you to divide your notes for quick reference later, so you're not searching a wide range of notes for everything on WWII. You can just jump right to that section!

Subsection 1: This might include a header like "brief history" or "overview" as well as larger subjects like the "allied forces". Relatively general notes on these subjects can be found here. That might include important names, dates, locations, influences, etc.

Subsubsection 1: This is the more specific part of the subsection. So if you had a subsection of "allied forces" one of the subsubsections might be "France". This would involve important information that specifically refers to France as a part of the allied forces and also might include general dates, names, etc.

Subsubsubsection 1: This is the most specific you'll probably ever have to get. This is if you have more than 3 or so bulletpoints on a specific movement: it might be a good idea to make it a subsubsubsection because it is probably important and would need to be easy to find.

As you can see, each section is indented into its main section. Indentation is another way to visually tell them apart, as well as changes in bold to underline to italic. Bulletpoints for each section/subsection, however, should not be indented from its section. Too much indentation might cause issues. You'll know the information relates to that section because it's underneath it, and you'll know when you've moved on because you'll get a new header.

For example:

subsubsection 1:




subsubsection 2:




Everyone takes notes differently. This is one suggestion. If you're a little less anal about your notes, a section and a subsection might be all you need. But I do highly suggest that you have at least those two. The more you break up your notes into sections, the easier it is to identify important information quickly to review the notes when you're studying. If it's going to take too long to format your notes, however, indentation is the second best option. Using spaces between main sections also helps to visually set it apart.

If you have time on your hands and you really really want to pass, a good idea is to go back through your notes and highlight what's important within what you thought was important. Like with reading, this helps you retain the information better and when you review, you have an even more refined reference point.

You can also rewrite your notes. This is a less popular option, but it's super effective. Writing it down again and again and again means you're going to remember it better. I remember for my AP Art History test I wrote down all of the important information in a chart about 5 times. It took hours, but it worked. I suggest, however, handwriting these. Legibility isn't as important because you're just rewriting for retention and not for reference.

And Finally, the Conclusion

Like I've been saying all along, everyone has their own style of learning and taking notes and reading and listening. There is no wrong or right way. There are countless strategies out there there that have been developed by teachers and academics.

There's nothing like getting it from someone who's currently a student, though. My note taking strategies might not be for everyone, but I've been using them since 9th grade (in minor variations) and it's worked pretty well for me so far.

Like everything, there's no true easy way out if you want to get an A and really learn something from your class. While it takes me a little longer to do assignments, perhaps, it cuts down on study time because I've already prepped everything I need. It also cuts down on time if I have to write a paper, because again, I have everything I need and I can find it quickly so I don't need to go back and search for something through pages and pages of unhighlighted text or unorganized notes that make no sense.


I encourage you to try this method out, make adjustments, do variations, whatever helps you be the best student you can be.

Good luck!


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    • A Karpinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Karpinski 

      5 years ago from Minneapolis

      I'm glad that this might help you!

      It is oftentimes difficult to decide what is too much and too little in really anything in life. There is a lot of trial and error involved, but once you've got your method down, it's pretty fool-proof.

    • kellyteam profile image


      5 years ago from Michigan

      This pretty useful. I think sometimes I probably over highlight and then sometimes underhighlight. I think these tips can be very helpful to someone that is serious about retaining the information. Just reading for me don't work. thanks for sharing. thumbs up and useful.


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