Taking Quality Lecture Notes

Here’s a how-to guide full of tips and personal experiences about taking quality notes during a lecture.

Taking notes requires paying attention. To be able to pay attention, you should get plenty of sleep and make sure you aren’t hungry during class otherwise your mind will wander to far away places. Once I was almost falling asleep the entire class and when class was over, I found myself with a page full of doodles instead of notes and equations.

1. Get a nice notebook. In the past  I would forget to bring a notebook and take my notes on a separate sheet of paper. You know what happened to that paper? Neither do I. It’s gone forever. Having a notebook makes it easy to keep track of your notes and unless you lose the entire notebook, you wont misplace any information.

2. Find your note-taking style. There are multiple ways to take notes. There are linear notes, where you write the main topic, the key points, and then describe the key points of each topic (This is my favorite kind). There are also Cornell notes, where you write main points that are written in a column on the left, add descriptions of those points on the right, and summarize the page at the bottom. You can also choose to write in a web pattern; here, you write the main ideas in the center and branch off with the smaller ideas and details. There are even more styles of note-taking; you could even create your own. I’d recommend trying some out and find out which one works best for you.

3. Slides and guides. Your professor may use slides during their lecture and some of them post the notes from class online. Many students, including myself, print these slides and bring them to class. You can easily add anything important that you go over in class to the slides, plus half of the notes are already written down. Sometimes the professors will breeze through the slides, so this method makes sure that you don’t miss a thing. If you remember information better by writing out everything, then I wouldn’t recommend this approach.

4. Attend class. Going to class makes all the difference. You can’t take the notes from the lecture if you weren’t there. If perhaps, you absolutely had to miss class or some freak accident occurred, get the notes from a friend in the class.

5. Work together. Talking about getting notes from a friend in class reminds me of a good point. You should go over your notes with your friends later and help each other out. One of you may have missed something that the other one didn’t.

6. Focus on the new stuff. If you are going over something that has been drilled into your mind, don’t waste time writing every single thing down. Just write down a few refreshers or equations that are important.

7. Make sure your notes are noteworthy. If you can’t read what you wrote after class you have a problem. The notes won’t do you any good before a test if you cannot understand what you wrote. Make sure your notes are legible and concise; taking too many notes can be an issue because you won’t be able to pick out the important information that could be on an exam. Write your notes in such a way that you will want to read them later.

8. Save time and work. Abbreviate when possible, but only use abbreviations that you will understand the meaning of later.You don’t always have to write down every single thing the professor says to understand the main idea of the topic. Focus on the important things and make your notes count.

9. Review. Look over your notes before the next lecture to refresh your mind about what you discussed last time. This will help you to understand what is going on in the next lecture. Go back and highlight key points to remember them better. Sometimes a teacher will say something like “This might be on the exam,” which means this will be on the exam so you better know it! If a professor mentions something like that, make a note of it.

Ask your teacher if using a laptop to take notes is alright. If they say yes, make sure you don’t type too loud and distract your other classmates and stay off of Facebook! I have never taken notes this way, but if this style is more suited to you, try it out!
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3 responses

  1. If you can use a laptop/Chromebook, then you could try something very different. “Post by email” to a free WordPress.com site. If allowed, you can also “post by voice” (record audio via phone, lecture) to the site. If allowed, take photos of notes on a board, or handwritten notes & attach to your posts. Or scan materials and post. By putting them on a WP site, they are available (while the Internet is working) to any device (Android/iPhone, iPad, Chromebook, laptop, PC, etc.). If you learn how to use “categories” in WP, you could use one WP site and post notes for multiple courses. An RSS feed is created for each category, and that would mean your notes are chronologically available (newest to oldest) for each course.

    1. Thank you for your suggestions! Many of the professors here do allow laptops, ipads, etc. to take notes with.
      I believe that these suggestions could definitely aid many students who have trouble taking notes or who retain more information through mediums other than the old-fashioned paper and pencil. Thanks for the great comment!

  2. […] your shorthand on future review doesn’t come easily for most. Yeah, you could study up on some Note-Taking 1.0 tricks, but since traditional lectures are dying, what’s the […]

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