TOEFL Note Taking Strategies

Note taking refers to writing information down in very brief form for future reference.

It is a very important skill in the formal learning environment. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) requires note taking as a well developed skill.

Note taking is not actually tested in TOEFL, however, it is an important practice in the reading, listening and integrated task sections, since the information received is too much to remember!

Moreover, not taking is an important skill even in real life when receiving instructions or attending lectures.

Below are ten strategies that can help in TOEFL note taking.

1) Abbreviations

Abbreviations are short forms of words. TOEFL training will reveal some general abbreviations regularly used in English, such as eg, etc, ie and ibid.

But not all words have common abbreviations.

This means that the individual will have to develop his own set of abbreviations to use.

Short forms of words are easier to write and will speed up your note taking.

Examples include because shortened to coz and character to x-ter.

The important thing if you shorten a word is to remember what the abbreviation means.

A student once shortened constipation to cst, unfortunately she also used cst for customs. The end result was that she was confused by her own notes. In her case cnstpn could have worked better for constipation, while cstm would replace custom.

It is also quite important to use the same abbreviations regularly so as to get used to them.

2) Put Your Notes into Columns and Outlines

Organize your notes in to columns, separating the subjects.

It should look like this:

toefl note taking

3) Omit Words

TOEFL note taking is not a matter of reproducing everything read or heard. One can only make notes by omitting certain words which are not as crucial in remembering the piece of information given.

When taking notes from a speech for instance, the person talking will be moving too fast to keep up with while writing. The notes therefore only get the gist of what is said, rather than everything said.

Generally, words such as articles and some verbs can be left out.

A cow is a domestic animal; can be changed to; cow domestic anml.

The two articles a and main verb is, are left out while animal is shortened. Tim had arrived, can be changed to; Tim arrvd. The auxiliary verb had is left out and the last word shortened.

4) Leave Points Hanging

If the person speaking has moved ahead, there is no need to struggle to complete the line currently being written. Instead, it is better to leave it hanging and get on to the point the speaker is on.

It is easier to remember the point that was left hanging, than the next point that was entirely missed.

Notes are meant to get the overall idea about everything, rather than every tiny detail about only part of it.

5) Don’t be Meticulous

Taking notes has nothing to do with proper grammar and construction. Notes are simply reminders of what was covered. Thinking about punctuation, verb agreement and proper paragraphs only wastes time and adds no value.

The main essence of taking notes is to write as much as possible, using as few words as possible, within the shortest time possible. Being meticulous, even about handwriting, will not make the notes any better.

6) Practice Constantly

Note taking is a skill which needs to be sharpened. It is therefore important to use recorded speeches or lectures to take notes. Recorded matter is better to use because it can be later replayed to see the crucial points that were left out.

Usually, it is easier to make notes from written text, since back reference can be made instantly. Nevertheless, practicing with recorded audio will help the note taker to sharpen the summary and word shortening skills.

7) Avoid Backtracking

One habit that inhibits good note taking is backtracking.

Some people have no confidence in what they have written, so they keep looking back. This really wastes time especially when listening to a speech or lecture.

The time for taking notes is no time for going over them. The opportunity may be missed to make notes on subsequent points while looking at what is already written.

There is always ample time to look at notes later.

8) Use Symbols

In some cases, symbols are used instead of words, so long as they carry the intended message.

In any case, words are themselves just symbols that carry meaning. Where it is possible to use a symbol, such as + for advantages and – disadvantages, it is advisable to use them.

9) Revise

It is important to go through the notes after the session is over, to add all that is necessary.

Those points left hanging for instance can be completed while the information is still fresh in the mind. Leaving it all for later may mean the whole point is lost as it cannot be remembered.

However, all this can be done under no pressure, when the original note taking work is already done.

10) Take Notes in Your Own Language

There is no reason you should not take notes in your own language if it helps you. The point is to be able to write down as many key points as possible, and if doing this in your native language works best go write ahead!

You are not being graded on your notes, just on your answers.


 Being able to effectively take notes is vital to getting a score on the listening section of the TOEFL.

There are many practice sites for this, and make sure you are comfortable with this skill before signing up for the test. You won’t regret it!


Do you know of any other strategies for note taking? Let me know about them in the comments below.

Good luck!