How to Take Psychology Notes

Good note-taking skills are important if you want to do well in your psychology courses. While your professor may assign a variety of required and supplementary readings, you should assume that at least half of all exam questions will be pulled directly from content covered in class lectures and discussions. As one of my own psychology professors once declared, "If I talk about it in class, just assume that it will be on the exam."

The following are just a few tips for taking great psychology notes. It may take some time, but you can make these strategies part of your regular academic habits with just a little effort.


Be Well-Prepared for Class

Student taking psychology notes Images

In order to get the most out of class discussions and lectures, it is absolutely essential to go to class prepared. Before a class session, read all of the assigned materials. Make note of important concepts from the chapters and write down any questions you may have about the readings. In many cases, you will be able to answer these questions yourself after the lecture, but you can also ask your instructor for further clarification if you are still confused by particular concepts.


Bring the Tools and Supplies You Need

Part of being prepared to take notes involves assembling the tools you need before you arrive in class each day. Basic supplies such as pens, pencils, and paper are essential. Decide how you want to organize your notes. Use a basic three-ring binder with loose-leaf paper or get a separate notebook for each of your classes.

Some students prefer to take notes using a laptop or tablet, while others prefer to record lectures and transcribe their notes after class. While technology can be a valuable tool, don't let your notes fall victim to data loss. Back up your data every day so that you always have a saved record of all your psychology notes. If you decide to record a lecture, remember to always get permission from your instructor first.


Follow the Instructor's Directions

In some cases, your class instructor may require a specific format for your psychology notes. Some professors ask students to turn in their notes periodically. If your instructor does require a specific format, be sure to follow their guidelines.


Always Write Down Key Points

When taking psychology notes, it is important to remember that you do not need to write down every single thing that the instructor says. Instead, focus on making a record of the main points. You should also write down key terms and any questions or concepts that you are still struggling with.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if something is important, so if you are in doubt, write it down. As you become more experienced at taking psychology notes, it will be easier to determine what information is "noteworthy."

One important thing to remember—if your professor writes something down on the board or shows it on an overhead projector, you should definitely write it down.


Keep Your Notes in Sequential Order

As you begin to collect more psychology notes, it is important to make sure that you keep your notes in order. By studying your notes in the order they were given, it will be easier to connect related concepts. In some cases, the exam may even follow the same basic order as your class notes. Perhaps the easiest way to keep your notes in order is to write down the date of every course lecture at the top of your notes.


Ask Questions

Sometimes, students fail to ask questions during class because they are afraid that they will look stupid. Don't be nervous about asking questions! There's nothing wrong with being confused or uncertain about different concepts. In fact, many of your classmates probably have the exact same questions but are just unsure about asking them. Posing questions about the class lecture is also a great way to show your instructor that you are actively engaged in the discussion.


Try to Take Neat, Legible, and Accurate Notes

Even if you have sloppy handwriting, invest a little extra effort in making sure that your notes are legible. Leave plenty of space in your notes so that the writing is not cramped. Try to break up the material into a basic outline, highlighting the main points and including supplementary notes to help deepen your understanding of the concepts you are learning about. Most importantly, strive for complete accuracy in your notes. If the information in your notes is inaccurate, then your understanding of the concepts will also be faulty.


Use a Highlighter

After you have compiled your psychology notes, use a highlighter marker or pen to emphasize only the most important points. This might include main ideas, definitions, or anything that your instructor placed special emphasis on during the lecture.


Review Your Notes After Every Class

Don't wait until the night before the big exam to break out your notes and start studying. Instead, spend at least five to 10 minutes after every class going over your notes. Good study habits are one of the keys to success in any class. This will help cement the information in your memory and ensure that you are well prepared for the next class lecture.


Don't Be Afraid to Personalize Your Note-Taking Habits

Each student is unique, which is why it is so important to find the note-taking style that works best for your unique needs. As you gain more experience taking psychology notes, focus on discovering the strategies that help you learn effectively.

A Word From Verywell

Learning to take great psychology notes is an essential skill that all students should learn. While it can at times be time-consuming, your notes are one of your greatest study tools. Not only is the process of writing your notes an excellent way to help learn the material and commit it to memory, but the notes you produce also allow you to look back and study the information you have learned.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jansen RS, Lakens D, Ijsselsteijn WA. An integrative review of the cognitive costs and benefits of note-taking. Educational Research Review. 2017;22:223-233. doi:10.1016/j.edurev.2017.10.001

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."