Thompson Rivers University

Tips on Lecture Note-Taking

July 5, 2018

by Natalie Stewart

Lecture notes are essential to academic success. They can help you recall information for tests, and understand the course material and textbook. Here are some tips for getting the most from your lecture notes:

  • Don’t use a laptop
    Many students are faster at typing than writing; however, typing notes on a computer has major disadvantages: your typing speed can cause you to simply transcribe the lecture without understanding it, and the option to switch tabs to check social media can be distracting. Lastly, writing with a pencil has been shown to forge stronger memory than typing.
  • Don’t transcribe the lecture
    You won’t be able to write down every word the teacher says. Instead, listen closely and try to identify the key concepts from their lecture. When possible, write down your interpretation of what the instructor says, instead of quoting them word for word.
  • Participate
    Most instructors allow questions during lectures. Raise your hand politely when you are confused. If your question is not answered, write it down and ask the instructor later. Some instructors give extra marks for participation.
  • It’s okay to be messy
    Don’t worry about writing neatly. Cross words out, write in the margins, and underline and circle important points. Don’t limit yourself to words only: Diagrams, graphs, and pictures can sometimes record complex information more effectively than writing. Write double-spaced so you have room to go back and add additional comments later.
  • Prioritize speed
    Avoid switching between different pens and highlighters: it may make for more organized notes, but doing so can distract you from hearing the instructor. Be sure to bring a spare pencil (or pen) in case your pencil breaks.
  • Avoid distractions
    Even if the lecture is boring, avoid the temptation to doodle or check social media.
  • Use slides strategically
    If slides are available after the lecture, focus on getting the main points now, and fill in other details when you are organizing later. The slides may be confusing without hearing the lecture, and any time you spend making notes from them is time you won’t have for other activities.
  • After class, look at your notes
    Make plans to address unresolved questions, and fill in missing details while your memory is still fresh. If you have time (and if necessary), type or write out your notes in a cleaner, more organized format.

Finally, if you miss class, try to identify a good note-taker, and ask for their notes. It is a good policy to make a new friend in every class, so that you can each provide the other with notes when absent.

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