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Taking Good Lecture Notes

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It has been shown that learners recall more information from lectures with purposeful note taking and active listening. Listening is essential for academic success, but most students come to college with poor listening skills. Research shows that individuals only recall 50% of what they hear.

You can train yourself to be an active listener by consciously listening to what your instructor is saying. Pay attention to qualifying words, such as sometimes, usually, rarely, etc. Notice words that indicate a change of direction – but, however, on the other hand, etc. Look for meanings and implications. Practice active listening and your note taking will become easier.

There are numerous reasons to take lecture notes in class:

  • Taking notes forces you to listen carefully.
  • Notes provide a gauge to what is important in the textbook.
  • Personal notes are usually easier to remember than the text.
  • Writing down information helps you to remember it.
  • Lecture notes are essential in preparing for exams.

Students should develop their own method of taking notes. The following suggestions might be helpful:

  • Keep your notes brief. Don’t use a sentence when a phrase could be used. Don’t use a phrase where you could use a word. Use abbreviations and symbols, but be consistent in their use. Record seldom used abbreviations and symbols in a key so you don’t forget what they mean.
  • Take most notes in your own words. Always note formulas, definitions, and specific facts exactly.
  • Use an outline form or a numbering system. Use indentations to distinguish between major and minor points.
  • If you miss something, write down key words, skip a few spaces, and fill in the information later.
  • Don’t use every line on every page. Leave room to write additional information from the text.
  • Date your notes and write the class name or number somewhere on them. You may also want to number your pages.
  • Don’t try to copy down everything that is said. Only note the important points. Some students spend so much time recording every detail that they lose the big picture.
  • Be dynamic in your note taking. Use arrows, graphs, and drawings – especially if you are a visual learner. Use a highlighter or color in general to make important points stand out.
  • Use the lecture as a networking opportunity. Talk with your classmates after the lecture about concepts you may not understand fully. These contacts could result in study groups later.
  • Keep notes in order and in one location. They can’t help you if you can’t find them.
  • After taking notes, go back and rework them. Do not rewrite them – this is a time waster. Just add any extra points or clarify unclear items. Remember, we forget things quickly. Schedule time to do this after each class.

When lecturing, your instructor will often indicate what is important (and what you should take notes on). Some things to pay attention to include:

  • Material written on the blackboard
  • Repetition
  • Emphasis – Both in tone of voice and gestures and the amount of time spent on a subject
  • Word signals (in conclusion, two points of view, etc.)
  • Summaries given at the end of class
  • Reviews given at the beginning of class
  • References to the text – jot down the page number in your notes so you can review later.

As you take notes in your classes, you will develop the skills necessary to select important material and discard unimportant material. The only way to develop this skill is through practice. Luckily for you, you’ll get plenty of practice.


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