Planning, reading and taking notes

At university, there is a lot you are expected to familiarise yourself with, whilst at the same time, you are responsible for planning and completing the tasks required of you. This section presents some strategies you can try, adapt, and develop to become more effective in your studies.

Developing your planning, reading, and note-taking strategies involves finding out, among other things, where and when you work best and how you get the most out of what you read. You can also use these strategies to prepare for the tasks that you need to do and to become more active during lectures and seminars. 

Planning strategies

As a university student, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all the literature you need to read and all the tasks you need to carry out and complete at specific times. It is, therefore, a good strategy to make your own plan for the course or semester.

Here's how you can set up a strategic plan for your studies:

  • Get an overview of the course or semester schedule.
  • Find out which course literature needs to be read and by which date.
  • Familiarise yourself with examination assignments as early as possible and plan for submission dates.
  • Identify periods when your studies may be more intense, for example, just before sitting for exams or submitting your assignments, and make sure not to book too many other things then.
  • Find out where and when you work most efficiently.
  • Avoid things that can disturb your concentration and let those around you understand that you are busy.
  • Schedule reading sessions, writing sessions, and breaks.
  • Remember to set aside time for revision (before sitting your exams) and editing (before written submissions).
  • Read and write consistently and set small, realistic goals for your study days.

Reading strategies

It is strategic to read texts in different ways, depending on how you use them in your coursework. When you have a large amount of literature to familiarise yourself with, you need to find out what you need to read more thoroughly and what you just need to be familiar with. 

Academic reading is facilitated by knowing the basic structure of scientific texts. These texts can look different and have different purposes, but typically scientific texts have a clear, overall structure with an introduction, body, and conclusion. Another common feature is that the content of each section is structured with the help of paragraph division and topic sentences, conjunctions, and a common theme or argument.

A basic prerequisite for reading effectively is to clarify what the goal of reading is. Reading in preparation for a sit-down exam to remember most of the content differs from getting an overview of a text to orientate oneself in a topic. This, in turn, differs from reading purposefully with a focus on a specific issue, for example, when writing an essay.

Different ways to read

Note-taking strategies

Taking notes is a strategy that you can use in many situations during your studies. Your notes can make it easier to remember what you have read in the course literature or listened to in your lectures and seminars. Taking notes also helps you formulate what you are learning, in your own words. So do not wait to start writing rather, start taking notes while you read or listen. 

If you take notes while reading, you probably have a written record of detached words and phrases when your reading session is over. Try to gather and structure your notes by:

  • capturing the main content
  • identifying keywords, key concepts, and themes
  • reflecting on what you have written.

Summarise the notes that you have taken. Make sure you indicate where each idea is stated or described in the text you are summarising. You can use this summary to prepare for an exam or write a draft for an assignment.

Make a habit of noting the references of the texts that are the basis for your notes. Also, mark if you have quoted a source or if you have made a summary in your own words. It makes it easier for you to correctly cite your work when you later use the notes, for example, when writing an assignment.

Take notes before, during, and after a lecture

Try to use these note-taking strategies when attending a lecture or seminar.

Before: Read the literature in advance and write down any questions or comments that you may have. Find out what is expected of you, for example, during a seminar. Take notes that make it easier for you to contribute to the discussion.

During: Taking notes whilst listening can make you listen more actively. Use your notes to ask questions and make comments.

After: Summarise the content of the lecture. You can, for example, use the following phrases:

"The lecture was mainly about ... but also addressed ..."
"Initially ...", "Then ..."
"The lecture ended with ..."
"What I mainly take with me from this lecture is ..."
"I still wonder about ..."
"I need to read more about ..."

References and reading tips

Blomström, V. & Wennerberg, J. (2021). Akademiskt läsande och skrivande (Andra upplagan ed.). Studentlitteratur.

Dysthe, O., Hertzberg, F. & Løkensgard Hoel, T. Skriva för att lära: Skrivande i högre utbildning (2., [rev.] uppl. ed.). Studentlitteratur.

Rienecker, L. & Stray Jørgensen, P. (2018). Att skriva en bra uppsats (Upplaga 4 ed.). Liber.