Lather, Rinse, Repeat

“I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.” ~ Robert Gammage

So, what do I mean by lather, rinse and repeat? I am speaking about note taking and reviewing those notes. There are many different ways to accomplish this and you need to determine the best method for you. Use the Suggested Reading list below to start your journey. And remember:

Whatever approach you use to make notes during a class session, remember that you must still engage in actively learning those notes as soon as possible. Collecting even excellent notes for several weeks and expecting to learn them right before the exam is a recipe for failure. Learning, like exercising to stay fit, cannot be done all at once!


This is taking notes preparing for class, during class or during self study. Some points I like from the suggested references below include:

  • Record questions and thoughts you have or content that is confusing to you that you want to follow-up on later or ask your professor about.
  • If you want your notes to be concise and brief, use abbreviations and symbols. Write in bullets and phrases instead of complete sentences. This will help your mind and hand to stay fresh during class and will help you access things easier and quicker after class. It will also help you focus on the main concepts.
  • Be consistent with your structure. Pick a format that works for you and stick with it so that your notes are structured the same way each day.
  • Leave space between main ideas and when you miss an idea.


This is the first review of your notes, i.e., rinsing off the “extra” information and finding the main points – figure out what you need to remember. Some points I like from the suggested references below include:

  • Review and edit your notes to identify misunderstandings and fill in missing information. If missing details, Clear up misunderstandings and fill in missing information by consulting the lecturer, classmates, the text, or other reference materials (see Repeat).
  • Elaborate on your notes. Compare the information to what you already know. Write additional information from the text into notes.
  • Be sure to allow time to think about your notes. Experiment and find out what works best for you. Reviewing without thinking about (or summarizing) notes does not necessarily aid retention. Manipulating the material by reorganizing and putting it into your own words, however, does lead to better retention.


This is the ongoing review of your notes. Some points I like from the suggested references below include:

  • Conduct short weekly review periods. Once a week, go through all your notes again. Put reviews on your calendar and make it a habit.
  • Reviewing and recalling important material several times over a number of days, using what is called “spaced repetition”.
  • Use other books on the same subject and websites to clear up anything you do not understand. This site was designed to help you in this regard. (Personal note: In some college classes I used other textbooks to understand the mathematical concepts being presented. The professor and the book being used did not clearly explain the mathematics involved. This was before the internet and websites existed.)

The Cornell Note Taking System

One thing lacking in the educational system today is a class on how to take note! I am not sure how I learned to take notes but the way I developed over time has worked for me. I continue to read websites on the subject of how to take notes and have refined my approach considerably. One approach that I really enjoy is The Cornell Note Taking System.

The Cornell Note Taking System


  1. Record: During the lecture, use the note-taking column to record the lecture using telegraphic sentences.
  2. Questions: As soon after class as possible, formulate questions based on the notes in the right-hand column. Writing questions helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish continuity, and strengthen memory. Also, the writing of questions sets up a perfect stage for exam studying later.
  3. Recite: Cover the note-taking column with a sheet of paper. Then, looking at the questions or cue-words in the question and cue column only, say aloud, in your own words, the answers to the questions, facts, or ideas indicated by the cue-words.
  4. Reflect: Reflect on the material by asking yourself questions, for example: “What’s the significance of these facts? What principle are they based on? How can I apply them? How do they fit in with what I already know? What’s beyond them?
  5. Review: Spend at least ten minutes every week reviewing all your previous notes. If you do, you’ll retain a great deal for current use, as well as, for the exam.


After class, use this space at the bottom of each page to summarize the notes on that page.

How did you take notes at university? Did you read the textbook before lecture and take notes and then take more notes during lecture?

I read textbooks before lectures and other books. I have piles of books I checked out from the library laying around on my dorm floor because my desk and the little bookshelf didn’t have enough room. ~ Feifei Wang

Before class, I studied the course materials thoroughly. To give you an idea of how thoroughly I read and highlighted my assigned readings, I’ve shown you a picture of one of my textbooks below. Most of the pages in the book look like this. And yes, the highlighting is color-coded.

During class, I paid close attention to the discussion and took careful notes.

After class, I reviewed the readings and my lecture notes, and used them to create a written course outline. ~ Alice Baker

Suggested Reading

“An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking – Verbal To Visual”. 2021. Verbal To Visual.

Reconnect to making marks by hand as you learn to use text, layout, imagery, and color within your notes to engage your visual brain and reach your full creative and professional potential.

“Doodle Notes”. 2021. Math Giraffe.

A Brain Based Interactive Visual Note-Taking Strategy

“Effective Note-Taking In Class – Learning Center”. 2021. Learning Center.

Do you sometimes struggle to determine what to write down during lectures? Have you ever found yourself wishing you could take better or more effective notes? Whether you are sitting in a lecture hall or watching a lecture online, note-taking in class can be intimidating, but with a few strategic practices, anyone can take clear, effective notes. This handout will discuss the importance of note-taking, qualities of good notes, and tips for becoming a better note-taker.

“Notetaking Strategies: Before, During, And After Class | Student Skills Workshops”. 2021.

Here are some general tips to improve the quality of your notes in every class.

“Seven Ways To Retain What You Read”. 2018. ACUITY.

Experts say the trick to remembering what you’ve read is to practise recalling it on demand.

“Visual Note-Taking”. 2021. Take Great Notes.

There are many different ways to take notes. You can use words–either in sentence form, in a list, or in an outline–to help you remember things. But words are not the only way to remember information. Pictures and visual arrangements can be useful too. Visual note-taking is simply the exercise of using images (or sometimes a combination of images and words) to convey or summarize information. Examples of visual notes include a map, flow chart, or diagram.

“When Taking Notes, What’s Worth Capturing? – Verbal To Visual”. 2021. Verbal To Visual.

When it comes to taking notes, a question that doesn’t get enough attention is this: how do you decide what to actually capture? To help you answer that question, I encourage you to create a filter for yourself so that no matter what type of information source you’re taking notes on, you’ll be able to decide what goes on the page and what can fly on by.

Comments are closed.

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: