We take notes all the time. We’ve taken notes in class or even at meetings. We note down things, in a way to help us remember—like making a shopping list before going to a store.

Making notes comes in handy when we’re planning things, too.

Though making notes might not be rocket science, there are five different established methods to do so! Who would have thought!

In most situations, we can pick, choose and tailor our note-taking methods to suit a particular purpose.

When it comes to the TOEFL, it makes sense to improve your note taking style a little! Try these strategies; it should give you practice and improve your note taking skills!

The Basics

We’re going to get section specific in a minute, but before we do, we’re going to share a few general pointers to go by.


If you’re into sports, you’ll know about something called highlights. Highlights are basically a collection of parts of the match that matter most—turning points, important scores, etc.—you get the gist.

Through highlights, you can take in a picture of an hour-long match in a matter of minutes. It’s the same when taking notes for your TOEFL.

Note down only key and crucial points. Figure out what is important and put down just that. Try to discern before writing as opposed to jotting down everything you hear!

Clean and Clear

We’re talking about your scratch paper and what you write on it.

  • Make sure your hand writing is at least somewhat neat and legible (keeping in mind that you will be writing as quickly as possible).
  • Try to ensure that you put down your points in an organized systemic way. The reason for this is that the neater you keep your notes; the simpler they’ll be to read when you’re reviewing them.
  • Logically organize them.

Save Paper

Saving paper saves trees. In your TOEFL iBT, it also saves you time! This works in two ways. One, you save time spent asking an official for new paper and receiving it.

Two, you don’t have too many pages to sort through when reviewing your points! Try and get as much as you can on one sheet or one sheet face. Be careful, however, not to prioritize sheet utility over clarity! In other words, don’t get so caught up in saving your sheet that your writing becomes too small to read!

Keep it Short

Don’t write full sentences! Don’t even write complete words if you can manage it. Save your time, attention and paper space by writing in short hand, using abbreviations and even symbols where possible.

On to the Specifics!

The points above are good to get you going and will apply to all parts of your TOEFL iBT. We’re now going to proceed to share some tips you can apply to your note taking for specific sections.

The Listening Section

Note taking is arguably most crucial for the listening section. This is because the content you will be questioned on is provided to you in long spoken passages or conversations.

There will be different pieces of information you might have to follow and remember and note taking helps with just that.

Here are a few ways to make your note taking for the listening section more efficient!


People sometimes feel listening to a lecture or speech first and taking notes later is the way to go. Though this might hold true in a live classroom setting where you can ask questions when the lecture is over, it’s a little different here.

Writing notes once the audio recording is over means you risk forgetting relevant and key points.

Furthermore, you’re cutting into time that is meant for you to answer questions! The best way to go about taking notes is to multitask. Take your notes as you listen. Remember, you don’t need entire sentences. Just the important stuff!

Zero In

The audio clips you receive will always have a core topic. The core topic or the topic you will likely be questioned on is in most cases stated in the beginning of the recording.

This can be simpler when it comes to lectures as a narrator usually introduces what is going to be discussed before the lecture begins.

It can be a little trickier for conversations as there is no clear-cut introduction. That being said, speakers usually introduce content in the form of a directed statement. Zeroing in on what the recording is about will help you be able to come up with the relevant points when answering the questions.

Stay Sharp

Stay alert and keep a sharp ear out for what is being said. In the case of lectures, certain terms might be referred to. In other cases, concepts might be introduced and emphasized upon. It is imperative that you try to remember these as you will be likely asked about these later. When it comes to conversations, another important thing to be mindful of is who is speaking. You might be asked a question referring to a speaker, and if you do not know who said what, it would be a shame!

The Speaking Section

Note taking in the speaking section is particularly tricky due to time restraints. That being said, it isn’t something to worry about. The points made above apply just as well to the listening bit of the speaking section. There is, however, an additional tip or two you might be able to use!

Multitask Again

We’re not going to get into too much detail here as we already have earlier. Just remember reading/listening and taking notes simultaneously saves you precious time and helps with accurate recall!

Jot the Juice

You just have about 15 seconds to plan your answer in the speaking section. Don’t waste time. Write down three to four critical points that you will need to formulate your answers. Speed is the key here.

The Writing Section

Your TOEFL iBT writing section will consist of two parts. Making the right use of your note taking privileges is the final thing you will need to secure a higher score!

Plan your Work

Make sure you create an outline for both your essays. A basic outline gives you a sense of how you will begin, what information your main body might include and how you will end your essay.

In other words, be clear on your introductions and conclusions, and have a sense of how your essay body will be ordered.

Manage Time

Plan. You have a total of 20 minutes for each section in which you need to both plan and write. 3 minutes is the maximum amount of time you should spend on your planning. Push it to 4 if you’re a fast writer, but no more!

Skip the Reading Notes

You don’t need to take notes for readable information or provided texts. You can access these as and when you need, unlike the recordings; so save time here if need be!


There you have it! An informative, accurate and meticulous overview guide to taking useful, accurate and efficient notes in your TOEFL iBT.

As we said before, a great way to sharpen your note taking skills like anything else is to practice! Take a few TOEFL iBT practice tests and see where you stand.

If you get stuck, don’t panic. We have free online resources and study guides you could refer to! Remember, when it comes to your TOEFL test preparation, do all you can do as every little thing counts!

uMasterExam endeavors to support students appearing for their TOEFL iBT by allowing them access to numerous essential preparation resources.

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