The best way to be prepared to take notes is to keep up with the reading for the topic before it is covered in class.
Formulate questions, and actively listen or read the lecture.

A recommended strategy for taking notes is the Cornell method. The notebook paper is divided into a main ideas column about two inches wide on the left, and a details column on the right. The lower part of the paper is sectioned off horizontally, leaving about a two inch space for reflecting and summarizing. When reading or listening to lecture, write in the details column. Later, like in the game, "Jeopardy", you review your notes and formulate a question that the notes on the right would answer. Write this question in the left hand column.
Sometimes a keyword or phrase with important names and vocabulary words will be more fitting to record in the
main ideas column.

Cornell 6-R Notetaking Method

The Cornell 6-R Notetaking method breaks the process down into components, but it is really an ongoing, dynamic process. The value of taking notes this way is that it organizes information and prepares you for tests from the very beginning, and saves time.

Write down important facts, names, dates, concepts, theories, procedures and other information in the column on the right.

Summarize the main ideas with key words or questions and write these in the column on the left.

Cover the details section, and ask yourself the question in the main idea column, or formulate a question based upon the concept phrases in the left column. How well could you remember what you wrote down? Keep track of what you need to learn.

Reflect upon the ideas in the notes, including how they are applied, the implications of conclusions or data, and the meaning of examples or cases discussed. Search for connections between ideas. You give meaning to what you are learning by reflecting upon it. Record your thoughts, observations, questions and unresolved issues in the lower section of the page for the summary.

Review your notes again immediately after taking them. If the notes are from lecture, fill in any blanks, clarify any missing or partial information. Recite and reflect again to test yourself. Plan spaced time for review of your notes each week.

Summarize what you have gone over in your notes again. Write a summary of each page of notes in the lower section of the page. This will help the information to be stored in long-term memory.

Cue Words
Professors will use cue words that tell you what to expect.
-- "This is important", "you need to know", "to emphasize" highlight important information.
-- "The topic is", "first of all the next", "in conclusion" cue listeners or readers to a sequence.
-- Writing words on the overhead or board, speaking in a different tone or speed, changing body posture are cues to indicate something of importance should be noted. Online written lectures lack non-verbal cues so it is especially important to pay close attention to the verbal cues of emphasis and organization in the readings.
Devise your own abbreviation codes tailored to each discipline.
Generic examples
w/ = with, ind. = individual, & = and, ? = question, info. = information, e.g. = for example, gov't. = government, i.e. = such as, ref = reference, diff. = difference.