After the Lecture

  • At the end of the lecture, ask questions about points that you did not understand.
  • If the speaker begins to get off topic by telling a story, write it down anyway. Stories help people remember. The story might be related to what you are learning, and may even be on the test.
  • If it becomes apparent that he or she is trying to stress or emphasize something, be sure to get it down, maybe even a couple times.
  • Obviously, the teacher/professor will not write down everything he/she says. Listen for key points and important details that are not written down.
  • When students ask questions, write down the questions and the teacher/professor’s answers. This additional information might answer questions you have as well.
  • Revise your notes as quickly as possible, preferably immediately after the lecture, since at that time you will still remember a good deal of the lecture. Also it is a good idea to reread your notes within 24 hours of the lecture. It may be a good idea to rewrite or type your notes to make them clearer and more organized.
  • Revise it with a class mate or two. Two students see and hear more than one. Your notes will have different gaps than that of your class mates.
  • Review the lecture notes (again) before the next lecture.

During the Lecture

  • Listen carefully to the introduction. By knowing this outline, you will be better prepared to anticipate what notes you will need to take. Decipher this outline by listening for: A topic for each section and supporting points or examples for the topic.
  • Copy what’s written on the whiteboard, or overhead projector, especially the outline. To make sure that you get everything, get in the habit of skipping words like “the” and “a” and make use of shorthand and abbreviations. Summarize your notes in your own words, not the instructor’s. Remember: your goal is to understand what the professor is saying, not to try to record exactly everything he or she says.
  • Recognize main ideas by signal words that indicate something important is to follow. See the tip on signals below.
  • Jot down details or examples that support the main ideas. Take down examples and sketches which the lecturer presents. Indicate examples with “e.g.” Give special attention to details not covered in the textbook.
  • Come up with symbols for words used often that you can remember easily.
  • Take detailed notes if possible.
  • Draw diagrams for concepts you can’t remember easily or don’t understand.
  • If there is a summary at the end of the lecture, pay close attention to it. You can use it to check the organization of your notes. If your notes seem disorganized, copy down the main points that are covered in the summary. It will help in revising your notes later.

Prepare for the lecture

Doing so will ensure that you will be more likely to predict the organization of the lecture. Check the course outline to see if the lecturer has listed the topic or key ideas in the upcoming lecture. If so, convert this information into questions, or structure your notebook according to the headings provided in the outline. If no outline is given, try to structure the presentation yourself when you revisit the notes later.

Note taking Strategies

Here are some tips for effective note taking strategies:

  • Summarize your notes in your own words, not the instructor’s. Remember: your goal is to understand what the professor is saying, not to try to record, exactly, everything he or she says.
  • Mark ideas which the lecturer emphasizes with an arrow or some special symbol.
  • When the teacher looks at his/her notes, pay attention to what they say next.
  • Make your notes your notes. Take advantage of how you learn (visually, orally, or actively) and write/draw your notes according to that style.
  • Consider splitting your notes into two columns keep lecture notes on one side, and write questions that come up during the lecture on the other side. This will ensure that you don’t forget any unclear points or questions that come up during the lecture, and will enable you to associate the answer with the relevant material when you find it later. Also, if you go to office hours, your professor will notice that you were paying attention in class, which will pay off in the long run.
  • Copy what’s written on the blackboard and transparencies, especially the outline. To make sure that you get everything, get in the habit of skipping words like “the” and “a” and make use of shorthand and abbreviations.