Collaborative Note-Taking in Grad School

Emily Coleman
Emily Coleman
ELL academic support specialist; Ph.D. candidate in Strategic Leadership and Administrative Studies with Education concentration
Grad student writing in a notebook

What is Collaborative Note-Taking?

Graduate school can be a rude awakening for many who have been out of school for a while. The amount of reading and note-taking can come as a shock and might seem overwhelming for some students – especially those who are also working full-time.

However, there are a variety of study skills that students can implement to help them overcome any challenges during grad school. One in particular has become increasingly popular over the past several years – collaborative note-taking.

Collaborative note-taking is exactly what it says it is. Students in the same class work together to create one comprehensive set of notes for a class. You can work in small groups, or an entire class can contribute to one set of notes. The key to collaborative note-taking is to ensure everyone understands their role in the construction of these notes. With the uptick in apps like Google Docs and EverNote, collaborative note-taking is easier than ever.

What are the Advantages of Collaborative Note-Taking?

Creating your own study group is nothing new in the world of education. Classmates have seen each other’s strengths in class and will often reach out to one another to study before tests, complete group assignments, or to review class notes.

With the shift in learning to online classes or a hybrid structure (both online and face to face class meetings), collaborative note-taking is becoming increasingly more popular. There are many advantages to collaborative note-taking. Students are able to share their knowledge with each other and work together as if they are in the same room – even when they are not.

Online and hybrid learning may be new to some students. Hence, they might struggle with understanding how to take notes in this type of format. Collaborative note-taking will help these students immensely.

Additionally, collaborative note-taking assists students in summarizing and synthesizing complicated information and readings that they are working on in class. Students can engage with each other through the collaborative note-taking and get clarifications from one another. Students take more responsibility for their understanding of the content because they are sharing with their classmates.

The sharing of knowledge also heightens comprehension. Students learn in different ways. Therefore, one student may pick up on something that another student might have missed. Using collaborative note-taking boosts a student’s grasp of the topic or reading at hand.

Note-Taking Strategies

Small group, pairs, or whole class?

If your professor is not requiring collaborative notes, it is up to you to decide and organize your student group. You need to remind yourself what type of group works best for you. Do you want to work with just one person? Do you work well in small groups? Can you count on your entire class to contribute equally?

Assign Roles.

Organization is a top priority when constructing collaborative notes. By assigning roles from the beginning, everyone will know what they should focus on, and the notes will end up being very comprehensive. For example, one person can focus on key terms and another person can make connections to previous readings. The type of course and content will help guide you in creating and assigning the necessary roles.

Choose the best platform.

There are many different tech applications in the cyber world. Be sure to discuss with your group which one will work best for everyone. Some students may be unfamiliar with an app that you like. Take the time to show and explain how it works if you really feel that that application will be the best. Students do not have time to waste in trying to figure out complicated tech. Choose the best and most efficient application for the note-taking that you will be doing throughout the semester.


Even though you may not be working face-to-face, your group should be encouraged to talk with one another. Questions can be asked in online note-taking platforms. Clarifications of complex topics can and should occur. Active learning can only happen if students are interacting with the content. The same goes for collaborative note-taking.


Counting on another classmate to provide high quality notes can be nerve-wracking. Therefore, students need to address the idea of accountability at the beginning of the semester. All students need to be held to the same high standard and promise that they will provide a comprehensive set of notes. If one student fails to do his/her part, the notes will not be complete, and the entire group will suffer. When one student is not doing his/her part, it needs to be addressed immediately.

Collaborative note-taking can be complex to get started, but all it takes is great organization from the beginning of your graduate program. Assigning roles and holding group members accountable will undoubtedly result in a positive experience for all involved.

graduate program favicon

Looking for a graduate program?