Taking Notes in Lectures

Note taking is a task which is one part of an integrated system of study. Note taking is also one of a number of ways of actively engaging with the course material.

There are three parts to lecture preparation and presentation of notes:

Pre-lecture

Forewarned=forearmed! Warm up your mental muscle.

  • Preview relevant materials such as study notes, chapters, readings, and powerpoint slides within twelve hours before the lecture.
  • Consider the lecture title.
  • Question yourself, e.g. What is the lecture's relevance? Where does it fit into the course and/or assessment? What is its likely purpose? What is it likely to cover?

During the lecture

  • Take any powerpoint slides- you can also annotate them.
  • Make sure you can see and hear the lecturer and see any visuals that are used.
  • Note the lecturer, title of the lecture, and date.
  • Concentrate: talking speed (125 wpm) is far slower than mental processing of words (400 wpm) so fill in the time lapse. For example anticipate what will be next; do a quick mental review/summary of what's been covered so far; consider other points for/against or additional points; form some judgements; or write questions.
  • If you miss something during the lecture leave plenty of note space and follow up later with your lecturer or fellow students, in tutorials or through reading.
  • Be on time. The first few minutes of a lecture can be very important. The lecturer may review/summarise the previous lecture, make important course announcements, or introduce the purpose and a brief outline of the current lecture. Similarly, the end of the lecture can contain a summing up, reminders about important points, and perhaps an indication of what the next lecture will cover.
  • If you are recording the lecture (with the lecturer's permission) still take notes: this is being pro-active, it sustains concentration, it enhances learning/memory, and the act of note-taking keeps your mind alert and on the job.
  • Listen (Monash University) for the lecturer's cues: expressions such as 'firstly', 'three steps/stages', 'on the other hand', 'similarly', 'always/not always/never', 'in particular', 'however', 'also/in addition', 'remember/note/look out for'. Pay attention to transitional or linking words and phrases.

Post-lecture

Scheduling regular times for reviewing your learning can help you understand your work better and improve your memory of it later- by up to 80%! Consider using the 'review times 4' process which involves reviewing your lecture notes:

  • 15 minutes after
  • within 24 hours
  • in one week: test yourself by doing a summary or mind map (James Cook University), then refer to your original notes to fill in any gaps
  • in one month: similar to the previous one, but briefer.

Develop a filing system for your notes from the different courses' lectures. Loose leaf binders or manila folders (which can be colour coded) allow you to add pages with additional information and ideas later, as well as assist with easier/faster access for reviewing/revising.

Presentation of notes

  • Use plenty of A4 paper and space, including a wide left margin for additional notes, your commentary, and questions.
  • Write only on one side.
  • Devise your own note style/script.
  • Generally avoid writing complete sentences which is too time consuming, unless writing a definition, explaining a concept/theory or making an observation.
  • Use abbreviations/symbols, such as e.g, i.e., @, +, =, etc.
  • Use underlining, headings, numbering/lettering, asterisks/dot points, highlighting, different coloured pens. There are various ways you can layout a page for note taking.

The University of Wollongong offers additional resources on note taking.