How to Take Good Academic Notes While Reading

Do you usually copy down pages of notes when you read but still find it challenging to recall what you read? Are you also guilty of reading texts without taking notes while paying half attention? You may highlight or underline your writing, but feel that you’re not getting the most out of what you’re reading.

Likely, you are not maximizing your reading experience if you fall into one of these categories. Fortunately, you can use this post to learn how to take good notes while reading and try different strategies and formats.

The Benefits of Good Notes

Academic success in college depends on taking good notes while reading. For instance, it might make the difference between you writing an informative essay that captivates and delivers its purpose or not. Studying for success and comprehending the material can be difficult if you don’t take good notes and read well.

You can benefit from taking good notes from your reading if you:

  • Utilize the text’s ideas and information to organize your thoughts
  • Read with focus and engagement
  • Try making a note of what you’ve read so you can easily find it again
  • Read critically and reflect on what you read
  • Concluding and identifying the text’s central ideas
  • Prepare for class by building a foundation
  • Prepare for exams or assignments with solid study materials

Note-taking Challenges While Reading

It is generally easier to take notes while listening since both hands and eyes are free. It will interrupt the reading flow when you switch from reading to taking notes.

There is a trade-off involved in this interruption. You lose the powerful cognitive benefits of note-taking if you take too few notes. The more you take, the slower your reading speed becomes.

How to Take Effective Notes While Reading

Taking notes while reading is not a one-size-fits-all activity. Finding effective strategies and using them is the most important thing.

You may also want to use different formats or strategies for other classes since various texts require different approaches. Here are some examples to get you started:

Memory-based notes may be useful

When students worry about taking good notes, they miss out on digesting the information from their text instead of understanding the content. If you have a minute, read a paragraph or two of your reading. Take notes based on what you remember — likely a paragraph or two or up to a page. As a result, you will focus on the main points rather than getting bogged down in details.

You can read or create a Word or Google Doc for each article or textbook chapter. Summarize the main points of each reading without referring to the text. If you cannot recall everything you need, consult the task for details.

It’s okay if you don’t remember everything you read. Focus on the main points, then refer to the text to fill in the details. This method’s value includes reading comprehension, although it may take a little longer.

Marking directly on the text

You can use a pen or pencil for print versions that allow it. There are digital programs that will enable you to comment, highlight, and annotate online texts. Students who need to focus may benefit from underlining, circling, or highlighting keywords and phrases.

Besides symbols, abbreviations, or summaries, add your comments to the margins. It is still possible to record your thoughts, keywords, and summaries using this method if you are reading an online text. Take a plain sheet of paper, write the text and chapter or page numbers, and leave out the book.

Organize information visually

Establish a clear distinction between primary and supporting ideas through a concept map, table, flowchart, hierarchy, timeline, or Venn diagram. The text can have a lot of visuals, timelines, etc., for example, a science or history text. Create your study guide or Q&A.

Identify headings and keywords to help you formulate questions. When you have finished reading, seek answers. Will you be studying for a test requiring a lot of visual identification? You can organize image-based notes by creating a Pinterest board.

Other Helpful Tips

Here are other helpful tips you might find useful:

  • Don’t copy information from the book, but write your notes.
  • Be careful not to over-highlight. Since highlighting doesn’t actively engage the brain, it’s not the most effective strategy. Furthermore, too much highlighting can prevent you from concentrating on the main points.
  • Try to summarize what you read in your own words rather than copying what’s on the page as you read.
  • Notes don’t need to be lengthy — keep them focused and brief.
  • Check the chapter’s text features before reading to get an idea of what the chapter is about.
  • Keep the main points in mind.


You are ultimately responsible for writing and organizing your notes. Besides having different reading preferences for assignments, lectures, and general reading, it is a very personal choice. However, whatever you decide, the above strategies will ensure you get the most out of your education.