How to Take Notes on Assigned Readings

In a typical graduate-level course, professors will assign 100+ pages a week, per course.

That’s a lot of reading.

Have you ever read an assigned reading and when it comes time for class, you don’t remember what you read or the point of it?

You are not alone.

This far into my academic career, I have learned how to navigate readings, record the important information and believe it or not, actually retained the learnings. Here are my how to’s for effective note-taking and reading techniques for your assigned readings.

There are many types of readings I have come across in my Undergrad, Masters, and Ph.D.:

  • Those that take me an hour to get through only a few pages, but are very informative theories
  • Ones that I love and want to read every page, sometimes more than once
  • Then there are others that I am highly critical of
  • And lastly, there are readings that I don’t even want to finish.



Each class and their readings are different, with different learning goals (typically outlined in the course outline/syllabus). Get clear on what these goals are for each class to assist in your notes but also your own learning goals to move away from a performance-based learning (getting good grades) to a learning-based education (actually learning new information).


Here are my 5 how to’s for effective note-taking on your assigned readings:




Think big picture – this might seem minimal but even if you can finish a reading with one or two sentences on the main purpose/theory/hypothesis, you are coming out on top.


Not every article, chapter or author you are going to agree with and that’s okay. It is still important to note of their point of view and not completely dismiss the article just because you don’t agree with what they are saying. It is also a good time to reflect on why you don’t agree with them, reflecting on their views and yours.


Taking notes on readings is key to retaining information. It helps you process what you just read and reiterate it on paper. I find it helpful to write in a word document on my initial thoughts, summarizations or questions for class (I usually use the comment feature to put my questions along the side). This tool especially helps when I am in class, and someone is discussing something in the reading, I can easily find my thoughts on it by using the search function.


In these same notes, I like to change the font if I think it will be applicable for one of the assignments in the course. This does mean that you have to be organized and aware of what your assignments are ahead of time. I find it super helpful when I am writing my papers and I can easily go back to the course readings and find what I want to reference for the assignment.


Like what the author is saying? Think some of the material might be helpful for other assignments or your thesis? Take a look at the reference list and either look into the authors and articles that stand out to you or keep a separate document of references that you want to further explore (on your spare time).


These tips can help you with your readings, the insights you bring to class, aid in your assignments and ultimately success in your academic career!

Hope you find the tips helpful!

How does everyone else organize their reading notes?

Until next time,

Christine xo



P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.

P.P.S Applying to grad school for the 2018/19 school year? Check out this FREE eBook on 5 steps to a successful grad school application.


6 responses to “How to Take Notes on Assigned Readings”

  1. Ram Gullapalli

    Sometimes we get a set of readings in a week which are tied to one topic. So I arrange them in a timeline from past to present. This gives me an idea of which paper is old and more classic and which paper is newer and fresh.

    1. Scholar Culture

      That is a great idea, Ram! I have never thought about doing that. By reading them in this timeline, it would give a good sense of the context and how the ideas were built on one another. I am definitely going to try that out – thank you!

  2. Katy

    I use Evernote and arrange my notes into two columns. The left column is the largest and contains bullet point notes on the assigned reading. The smaller right column I have divided into three sections: terms, names, dates. This layout helps me quickly reference information critical to history courses. I love Evernote because it also allows me to annotate by hand on my iPad on any pdfs.

    1. Scholar Culture

      This is a great way to organize your readings and quickly reference them! Evernote is awesome – thanks for sharing Katy 🙂

  3. This was incredibly useful; I struggle keeping my notes organized, and struggle to stay on top of my reading.

    Definitely going to try this, awesome guidance!

    1. Scholar Culture

      So glad you found it helpful 🙂

Leave a Reply