This post is part of a series focusing on Time Management for Teens, Students, and High Schoolers. Get the complete online course here or order the book here!

How To Save Time And Get Better Grades In High School

In this high school time-management article we’re going over the use of handwritten notes to save time, get better grades, and prepare for the increasing demands of college classes after high school.

Handwritten notes might sound old-school but they’re an INCREDIBLY effective way of saving yourself massive amounts of time.

Plus, this is something that’s absolutely essential to daily life when you get to college, so it’s something you need to be good at BEFORE freshman year of college starts.

After we cover both the need to take notes and the awesome benefits of doing so, I’ll help give some suggestions and methods if you’re wondering HOW to be a better note-taker.

Taking Notes Is A Life Skill Worth Developing

Note-taking is something I’ve really come to believe in, by the way, after my six years of full time teaching with high school students at every level of academic achievement

(And by the way, contact us for help with SAT prep and ACT prep or college counseling!)

Anyway, I actually used to HATE taking notes, but over the years my own experiences have proven to me that this trick works for everyone on everything, every time.

From high school through college, in your career and in your personal life and independent personal projects… note-taking skills will help you save time and perform better.

In fact, just yesterday I was listening to a new song I liked and taking notes on it… because one of my top personal goals right now is to become a better music producer and composer.

Taking Notes In High School Saves You Time

Anytime you want to learn something - or HAVE to learn something - if you want to save time, you take notes… I mean for every high school class, every lecture, every reading assignment and every science experiment.

Take notes whenever you want to learn more, learn faster, and remember more.

In fact, taking notes on yourself isn’t even weird - it has a name… something we’ve brought up before in our time-management tips: it’s called journaling.

I mean, “take notes” is like a two-word universal message meaning “pay attention.” Have you ever stopped to think about what that phrase means?

Really - jause for a second and think about this: “You’d better be taking notes” essentially means “You’d better be paying attention.”

Do you want to be someone who went through their life without paying attention? Because personally, I know that sounds pretty awful to me!

When Should You Take Notes In High School?

So when should you be taking notes? Pretty much ALWAYS, right?


The great thing is, you have to be in class anyway! Taking class notes in high school adds ZERO time to your day and in fact it saves you a TON of time… which you’ll learn for yourself, if you try it out for a while.

I mean, who would not want to learn faster and better, and retain what you learn for longer?

It’s just better to be a good note-taker, all around.

You Need To Be A Great Note-Taker In College

Listen - you’re going to have to take notes when you get into college ANYWAY.

There’s basically no way at ALL to even do KIND of well in college, without taking notes.

You’ll look (and perform) like a total clown in most respectable colleges and universities if you’re not paying attention and writing things down from your professor’s lecture!

No one will be holding your hand in college and checking on a daily basis that you understand, yet you will be expected to know exactly what’s going on at all times in your college classes.

High School Teachers Support You More Than College Professors Will

See, you might not realize this until after high school and college, but here’s what I’ve come to understand about the difference between high school and college..

In high school, all the daily quizzes, homework checks, and the teachers calling on you are not because your high school teachers want to HASSLE you… It’s because they want to CHECK on you.

But, your college professors mostly will NOT do that sort of thing for you because they have so much going on in their own lives.

In fact, when you get to college, ask a few of your favorite professors for coffee and talk to them about how they manage their own time and what they have going on outside of the classes they teach.

Not only will this win you points with them but it will also open your eyes as to how incredibly busy they are!

In other words, high school teachers are focused 100% on you as their student and THAT is part of the reason they can seem kind of pesky and annoying sometimes –

Because your high school teachers are actually ALWAYS watching out for you and focused on you.

College Professors Are Busier And Pay Less Attention Than High School Teachers Do

College professors will be there for you if you seek them out, but they don’t just wait around WORRYING about their students the way that many of your high school teachers do.

College professors have a full schedule outside of teaching so you might just be getting 25% of their full attention.

College professors generally don’t spend nearly as much time checking on your daily and weekly understanding…

And when you combine that with the fact that most college courses move two to three times faster than high school courses, you’ll start to see why I’m so ADAMANT and serious that you MUST have good note-taking skills BEFORE you hit the ground in college.

Otherwise you’ll get nailed with the end-of-term college exam and realize that you actually don’t have any record of what’s been covered in class, and it’s basically a NIGHTMARE because you only have a few options at that point and they all suck.

Option 1 is to go begging your classmates for notes.

Keep in mind you probably won’t know your college classmates nearly as well as you know your current high school classmates…

So it’s harder to know at the last minute WHO to ask, WHERE they are at the moment, and IF they will be so incredibly nice that they’ll share their semester-long binder of notes with a student that they probably see as a competitor for grades.

Option 2 is go beg your teacher for notes.

You can try and track down your teacher or college professor the day before the test for all the info that you SHOULD have been taking down on your own the past few months of class.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier your teacher or professor will be incredibly busy…

Plus it’s the end of term so it’s even MORE busy for them by far….

And probably it won’t make them too happy if you’re banging on their office door pleading for sympathy, because you’ve put in less effort all semester than the top students in their class have.

As a full-time teacher myself, I really don’t think I would react well to this request for last-second notes because there’s not much I can do for you at this point.

In my mind, you should have checked in with me MUCH sooner if you were struggling in class.

And, it’s also unfair to the harder-working students in my class that I should have to devote additional time to the less-organized students who put less effort into taking notes.

The best thing I could probably do as a professor is hold a big study session for EVERYONE all at one time just before the test, so if I were you I would just PRAY that your professors will do something like hold a study session and that it will be ENOUGH for you to do well on the upcoming test.

But, my experiences personally suggest that you’d be lucky to come out with a grade like a B- using this last-second strategy.

I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt - don’t want to do it again.

No thanks, I’ll take good class notes the whole way through so I DON’T have to embarrass and stress myself out asking the teacher for help at the last second.

Option 3 if you don’t have notes for an upcoming test is “Cross Your Fingers.”

Your final option is simply not to do anything about the fact that you have no class notes.

This is terrifying, because many final exams are worth an insane amount of your whole grade for the semester, and college finals are usually two to three times more important (and more difficult) than high school finals are.

Now, each of these (bad) options for non-note-takers could also be said to apply in high school…

But, the stakes are higher in college, tuition more expensive, and there are fewer guardrails. You’ll find that what you could “get away with” in high school will no longer work for you in college.

So, even though you can “get away with” not taking notes in high school, it’s something you’ll pay for anyway by the time you get into college.

What Are The Benefits Of Taking Notes In High School?

Well, those are the negatives of NOT taking notes.

But, let’s not to be TOO doom and gloom… What are some of the upsides of note-taking in high school?

Well let’s hit the highlights of taking notes that occur to me, and I’m sure there are many others:

  • Your memory and recall go up.
  • You’ll actually learn more and remember more details for the rest of your life.
  • It takes less time to study for tests and quizzes.
  • You’ll feel less last-minute panic.
  • Every homework assignment in class gets easier and faster.
  • Any pop quizzes will help you instead of hurt you.
  • You have better study material for major tests and finals.
  • You’ll get better SAT and ACT test scores.
  • You can use notes to build up goodwill with other students.
  • You can lead study groups for additional benefits.
  • Your teacher gets a better impression of you.
  • Best of all, with a binder-full of notes you’ll never have to beg classmates or teachers for help and instead can approach them as equals.

How To Take Notes In High School

So, what about the specific METHODS of taking notes?

Well, it’s not hard. If anything, most students tend to OVERTHINK it and OVERESTIMATE the time commitment this will require.

First off all, make sure you have something good to take notes in and it should incorporate some kind of simple organization or filing.

Whether you use durable spiral notebooks, 3-ring binders or a laptop, make sure it’s durable!

We’ve already talked about the importance of good journaling materials and calendars since they can help enhance your time management.

Taking Notes By Hand Is The Best Method

Personally, I think taking written notes by hand is the best method overall.

Its the most real-time, it allows a free-form style for your note-taking and it also connects your brain to your body through your arms, hands, and eyes, which believe it or not tends to increase your memory.

However, taking notes on a computer or some other device does have a few advantages over hand-writing them: it’s definitely fast, and the data is more durable if you backup.

Also, your notes will be easily searchable on a computer!

You might be able to find apps that help you take notes, alarms to remind you to write stuff down, or other hacks to enhance your note-taking.

On the other hand, you can do most of the same stuff by hand, and you have even more control and freedom when working on paper in “the real world” than when you’re working through an electronic screen.

How To Organize Your Class Notes In High School

When it comes to some kind of organization system for your notes… you need a good personal system.

The classic is using Roman Numbers I, II, III, et cetera for the BIGGEST sections, and Capital Letters A, B, C, underneath those for major sub-headers within each section.




Under that you do normal Arabic numbers 1, 2, 3 and so on for key points under each main header.








Often times, people who use this system will INDENT each sub-point further and further into the page so that there’s kind of an upside-down “tree” of information with each main header having multiple small branches of info underneath it.













You can ultimately use mini bullet-points for any tiny details that belong underneath each key point.

This organizational method works really well because it’s simple and natural, plus it’s worked for many other students in the past.

There are no real disadvantages, other than the need to move quickly as the lecture goes on….

Because this can take a lot of time if you let yourself go down the rabbit hole of deeper-and-deeper, super-specific notes.

Try to avoid going to deep when taking notes in a real-time class – hit the key points for reviewing (and adding further details) later.

Feel Free To Design Your Own Note-Taking System

If that system is a little too “rigorous” or tightly-organized for you, try coming up with your own system!

But, try to incorporate some consistent system of organization since this will help move faster and remember more.

A couple other ideas are using colors for color-coding, in the form of highlighters or sticky tabs to mark multiple important spots in a textbook….

Or, many students also take notes directly in their books, which is incredibly efficient… although it means you probably can’t sell that book back to the bookstore for as much money later, at the end of semester.

Taking notes INSIDE the book or textbooks is actually one of my preferred methods since it’s so convenient and fast - but, there’s not a whole lot of space to work with so you have to be efficient.

Develop A Personal Shorthand To Take Notes Faster

In just about any note-taking situation, you’ll need to develop a personal shorthand over time that saves you time and effort.

This can be abbreviations, organization, or the materials you use to take notes.

As you practice your note-taking skills, you will naturally get faster and better at finding the most important info and cutting through the fluff.

Don’t Tune Out of Class When You Take Your Notes

Finally, don’t tune out of class or reading just because you’re taking notes.

You need to split your attention 3 ways: Listening to your professor and classmates, understanding what they’re saying, and taking notes on the most important points.

It’s a difficult balance that takes practice, effort, and constant attention - but you will be REWARDED for your efforts with less study time AND higher grades.

If you’re ever not sure what to write your notes about, just raise your hand and ASK your teacher or professor what the most important points to note down would be.

This will help your classmates, make you look smart and interested, and give you better notes to work with.

Plus, when test time comes around, everyone in the class will want your advice and you can earn a lot of goodwill with your classmates.

Quick Review of Note-Taking in High School

To review:

  • Note-taking in high school seems like it takes more time, but it actually saves you time.
  • Since you’re in class already, it doesn’t add any extra time to your schedule.
  • It’s like, you have to do that reading assignment anyway, so you might as well take notes so you don’t have to read it a second time when you realize you don’t remember anything right before your final exam.
  • Keep things organized and in some kind of durable filing system.
  • And, never “tune out” the lecture just because you’re taking notes. Remember to ask the professor all your questions and don’t just get caught up writing non-stop.
  • If you take notes, you’ll rapidly find yourself in the top 10 to 20% of students.

Promise me something - just TRY IT OUT - you have nothing to lose. And it may change your life.

Do You Take Notes In High School?

Do YOU take notes in school already? Has it worked for you so far?

What sort of methods do you have that work well for you?

Take a moment to leave your best advice about note-taking in the comments section below.

And, if you have any questions about note-taking for me or your fellow students, go ahead and ask them now!

I’ll see you in the next post 🙂

Make this year your most productive year ever! Get the complete Time Management for Teens Online Course or order the book on Amazon today.

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