Say This, Not That by Ilana Kukoff and Jessica Huddy

Note-Taking for Finals

Dear Ilana and Jess: I’m a college freshman preparing to take finals for the second time ever. I didn’t do so well during my fall semester. I have back to back review sessions in class this week and I want to make the most of them. How do I take good study notes? — Katie

Dear Katie: To start, let’s define “good study notes.” It’s not about writing down every single thing you hear or read. Most of the time, that’s impossible. All of the time, that’s counterproductive. Good note-staking is about knowing what information to jot down, and what to disregard. Things that shouldn’t make the cut: filler words like “took place on,” (just put the date), and details that don’t make a point. For example, if you’re in a class about British literature and your professor reveals one of Dickens’ quirky habits, you probably don’t need to write it down; unless you plan to use it as a mnemonic device, but, we digress.(In case you don’t know, a mnemonic device is a technique for memorization. We’re sure you’ve heard of using acronyms to remember key words and ideas, like using “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally,” to remember PEMDAS. Always a good trick!)

Practice note-taking on your own. Start by reading a paragraph of a book (any book) and rewrite it in your own words. Try again after reading two and three paragraphs, then an entire page. To practice writing while someone else speaks, try watching a news segment. On your first round, write the anchors’ dialogue. For the next segment, write down the subject matter and main topics instead. You can also try this with a podcast that uses a lecture format, like This American Life on NPR.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have a diagnosis that makes it difficult for you to take notes, you’re entitled to academic accommodations. While it may be too late for this semester, it’s a good idea to set yourself up for success in the fall. Talk to your school’s disability service center about the required paperwork; typically, you’ll need a mental health treatment provider to fill out a school-provided form. From there, you may be assigned a notetaker, who will do exactly what their title suggests. If you have difficulty writing, you might also consider asking your professors about taking notes on your laptop and/or recording their lectures.

Compare notes. Ask a classmate or friend to compare notes. That way, you can both see if you’re missing something and fill in the gaps for one another. If they seem to be better at note-taking, ask them for some helpful tips.

Best of luck on your finals!

Say This: “[Professor], to help me keep pace, I was hoping to record lectures and/or bring my laptop to class to take notes during review week. It would also be very helpful if I could obtain a copy of your notes. Please let me know if I may exercise these options. Thank you.”

Not That: “Can I bring my computer to class?”

Say This, Not That is based on the work of Cognition Builders: a global, educational company headed by Ilana Kukoff (Founder & CEO) and Jessica Yuppa Huddy (Chief Learning Officer). Everywhere from New York City to California to Shanghai to Zurich, the Cognition Builders team is called upon by A-list entertainers, politicians, CEOs, and CFOs to resolve the conflicts that upend everyday life. When their work is done, the families they serve are stronger than ever. With their new book, Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter Kukoff and Yuppa Huddy have selected the most common conversational mistakes parents make, and fixed them. For more information, please visit: To purchase Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter visit: