Knowing how to take notes in nursing school is an absolute must. In this post we’ll go over two methods, depending on whether or not your instructor provides the lecture slides ahead of time. If they do, then you are in luck! If they don’t…no worries, you will be fine!

Method #1 for taking notes in nursing school

If your professors provide the lecture slides in advance, then count yourself as super lucky! You have a couple of options here. Do your professors allow laptops in class? Then what you will do is take that PowerPoint file and open it up. View it in “outline” format, which converts all the slides into an outline. Copy this outline by selecting the entire thing and using “control-C”. Next, you want to paste this outline into a Word document. Now, as you sit in class and the professor goes through the slides, you can take notes right into the outline you’ve created.

If the professor doesn’t allow laptops in class, no problem! Just print out the slides (about 4-6 to a sheet) and take notes directly onto this printout.

Whichever method you use, your notes are going to be a mess by the time you leave class. That’s fine, because you’re not done, yet! You are NOT going to try to study off these disjointed PowerPoint notes. That would be a disaster. So, later on that day if possible (or the next day…but try not to wait too long), you are going to RE-DO your notes. Yes, you read that right.

You are going to go back through your notes and type them up into a beautiful, organized format that you can use to study for exams. Fill in incomplete thoughts, supplement with additional information, augment things you didn’t quite understand, and add examples.

What you will end up with is a thorough study guide…and guess what? Re-writing those notes is a form of studying as well. This method will help  you retain key information, understand difficult concepts and feel confident when it comes time to take the test.

Method #2 for taking notes in nursing school

So, what if your professor doesn’t send out lecture notes or provide slide handouts in class? Well then buckle up…it’s gonna be a bit bumpy! If you can type quickly, and the proffessor allows laptops, then just type type type your heart out. You’re going to have to go back and re-do this as they will be a giant mess!

You can also handwrite notes, and to do that I highly recommend the Cornell method. In the Cornell method, you draw a line down the left side of your page to create about a 2.5 inch margin on the left. You’ll write your notes on the larger section along the right, and then use the area on the left for labeling the specific topics.

Here’s an example of how I used the Cornell method to take notes and study!

The nice thing about the Cornell method, is that if you can write fast enough, you may not have to totally re-do your  notes. After class, go back through them and add key information and expand on concepts as needed. Write those cues in the left-hand column, and you should end up with serviceable notes you can use to study from. Simply cover up the right-hand side of the page and go through each topic listed along the left-hand side…when you can talk through all the concepts thoroughly, you’ve got the material down!

One tip for taking quick hand-written notes is to get proficient at using abbreviations and symbols, like these shown here:

Write notes like a rockstar!

Taking your nursing school notes to the next level

Once your notes are beautiful and you’ve used them to study for awhile, you’ll notice you’re reviewing information you already know. This is a giant waste of time and we’re going to stop doing it, mkay? Instead, we are going to focus on studying the information we are still struggling with…and that’s when the next level of notes comes into play.

Get an 8.5×11 piece of paper and write the topic at the top. Now, take your key concepts and write just a few key words or reminders about each one…keep the details to the information you don’t know. What you will end up with is a VERY distilled down form of your notes containing JUST the information you need to review in the days before the exam. Here’s a sample of one of my study sheets…they are all one page, even the difficult ones!

notes in nursing school

Using this one-sheet study guide made a HUGE difference in my ability to relegate information from short term to long-term memory. Give it a try and I guarantee it will help…heck, it may even Change Your Life. Ok, maybe not…but I do feel strongly about this method!

A note about highlighting

It’s imperative that you establish a good system for highlighting. For starters, don’t highlight everything…otherwise it loses its impact. A helpful tip is to use various colors of highlighters for different types of information…blue for signs/symptoms, green for interventions, orange for meds…you get the idea.

For even more tips, check out my book! Want to see what other have to say? Our testimonials speak for themselves!

Do you have an awesome note taking tip to share? Let us know in the comments below!


The information, including but not limited to, audio, video, text, and graphics contained on this website are for educational purposes only. No content on this website is intended to guide nursing practice and does not supersede any individual healthcare provider’s scope of practice or any nursing school curriculum. Additionally, no content on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.