How to Take Useful Notes during Lectures

Helpful notes can transform lectures into useful learning experiences that can improve your understanding of a subject. Good note-taking is about developing active listening techniques and a knowledge of when and how to jot down information.

Preparing to make notes during lectures

Lectures will be more useful if you approach them as an active learner, rather than a passive listener. Think about your expectations of the lecture and what it could provide, and then match these against the reality. You’ll already have a framework for new information and this will help you to locate and remember the important points. This technique will help maintain your concentration during not-so-inspiring lectures.

Before each lecture, look at the title for a couple of minutes and jot down what it suggests to you. Consider what you already know or think. Formulate questions which you expect the lecturer to answer. Identify any gaps in your knowledge.

Using lecture materials to help your understanding

Many lecturers provide copies of handouts or slides of their presentation to accompany the lecture. Handouts can be useful summaries of the main points of the lecture, but don’t let your attention focus on these at the expense of listening to the lecturer. Add your own comments to the handout, so that you can keep your lecture notes in one place. It allows you to spend less time writing and more time to be an active participant.

Paper or laptop: Weighing up ways to take good notes

You can make effective notes using either method – the choice usually comes down to personal preference. The main advantage of paper is that you can write more creatively, by making drawings or symbols. Developing a personal shorthand can be a valuable timesaving device.

For quick typists, laptops can allow you to make more notes during the same time (though quantity does not necessarily go hand in hand with quality). Having word processed work can allow to easily incorporate your notes into other written work later on.

Knowing what and when to write

The single most important aspect of the lecture for you to note is the lecturer’s considered opinion on a subject and the main reasons for his argument. He’s likely to introduce the topic with the main points, and then go on to explain these in depth over the course of the lecture. The conclusion should summarise his arguments. Handouts will probably contain key facts and references to reading material.

Pay attention to the lecturer when he’s speaking. Subtle gestures and facial expressions can pass you by if you’re constantly making notes. Don’t try to take down too much information: This will simply overload you and stop you from making important mental connections.

Knowing how to record information

Linear note-taking is the process of writing down information in the order you receive it. Time, order and page number can help you check something at a later date. If you don’t find this interactive enough, you could use a non-linear style of note-taking which focuses more on developing links between information and revisiting information as the lecture progresses. You may be able to develop a more complex understanding of how structure and arguments fit together by the end of the lecture.