Effectively taking notes can be crucial to good academic performance. Your notes will also serve as the basis for test review.
Taking notes is more than copying down everything covered in lecture. You need to focus on the ideas and relationships, not necessarily the details that can be filled in later. Your notes should serve as a set of memory cues, enabling you to access the information contained in your own words.
Lecture notes may be the most difficult of all. You have no control over the speed of the presentation, organization, amount of information, or content. This page outlines a note-taking system you may use to make your lecture notes efficient and effective.
Preparing the System
Use a loose-leaf notebook.
Insert handouts and other papers in chronological order.
Date and identify your class on each page.
Divide your paper into a 2 ½” left column and a 6” right space. Some paper comes divided this way.
The left side of the page is your recall column where you write key words and phrases.
The right side of the page is used for the actual lecture notes
Look over the previous day’s notes before the next lecture.
During the Lecture
- Come to the lecture with a positive, open mind. Keep your personal biases concerning the subject or the lecturer outside the room.
- Evaluate the material being presented, and look for the main ideas. Be involved with the material.
- Keep your notes brief:
Record only the main ideas.
Use abbreviations when possible.
Don’t make your notes so brief they don’t make sense to you.
- Use the cues the instructor provides, such as repeating ideas, animated gestures, etc.
- Pay special attention to introductions and conclusions.
- If the instructor is taking the time to write something on the board, include it in your notes.
After the Lecture
- Read through your notes as soon as possible after the lecture.
Fill in any gaps. Write a two-to-three sentence lecture summary on the bottom of the last page of notes.
- In the left column jot down key words and phrases that will serve as cues for the information in your notes on the right.Cover the right side of the sheet.
- Use the cues on the left to quiz yourself.
- Recite the material out loud and in as much detail as you can.
- Compare your recollections to your lecture notes.
- Strengthen your cues as needed.
Before going to the lecture:
- Complete the assigned readings.
- Review the introduction, conclusion and headings of the readings.
- Get an idea of the lecture content from the syllabus.
- If the lecture is not well organized, create your own system. Use arrows, group similar information, etc.
- Review your notes before class so the subject is fresh in your mind.
- Use a pen and write legibly when taking notes.
- If something was unclear from the lecture, in your readings, or on an assignment, get clarification from the instructor or a classmate.
- Use colored paper. Yellow or light green paper is easier on your eyes, especially under fluorescent lights.
- Don’t recopy your notes. Use the system instead.
- Don’t tape lectures. You’ll pay less attention during the lecture, and will waste time listening to the same information later.
- Make sure you can read your writing.
- Take notes on your own words. This forces you to integrate the material into your personal experience and demonstrate your understanding.
- Write down any questions you have immediately. Some answers may be in the reading; for others, you may need to ask the instructor.
- Learn how to listen effectively.