A 10-step guide to taking better lecture notes

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By in Extra Guides. Updated October 2016.

This might be hard to hear, but turning up to your lectures is only half the battle. Listening up and acing your note-taking is key to pulling it out the bag at uni!
sleepykidYou might be tempted to give yourself a big pat on the back just for hauling yourself out of bed and making it to class, but the reality is if you’re not making best use of lecture time, you might as well’ve just stayed under the covers.

100% lecture attendance means nothing if you spend the duration pondering about what to have for dinner, and whilst listening intently is definitely the track to success – taking decent notes so you can refer back to them when essays and exams period come around is even more crucial.

Here’s a few tips from us on how to master the art!

Are you as organised as you could be at uni? This guide could save you a whole lot of time and effort in the long run.

Top note taking tips

  1. Don’t write down every single word

    writing lecture notesThis is an easy mistake that most of us have made at some point when taking lecture notes.

    Not only is attempting to get everything down on paper pretty much impossible, but it also means you won’t really be listening to what’s being said or giving yourself time to let it sink in.

    The key is striking a balance: listen up and jot down particular phrases you think are important. You can then back these up with lecture slides that should be made available once the lecture is over.

  2. Use a dictaphone

    use a dictaphone in lecturesIf you’re a slow writer or struggle a bit with taking notes, using a dictaphone to record lectures is a good back-up in case you’re worried about missing anything.

    You can re-live the fun and listen to your lecturer’s dulcet tones later on and make more notes instead of trying to multitask.

    Don’t use a recorder as a replacement for paying attention or taking some notes, though – a bit of note-taking helps you process useful information. Pressing record and settling down to catch a few Zs isn’t how it works!

    Most smartphones come with recording features these days, but failing that you can find some pretty cheap dictaphones on Amazon.

  3. Pay attention

    sleeping in lecturesHi there! Still with us? Even if you’ve managed the “magic 8 hours sleep”, it’s easy to lose concentration in a boring lecture (as you can see from the pic above, it can even get a bit much for James Franco. We’re only human, after all!)

    Beware that zoning out in class just means more time catching up on what you missed later on, or being frustrated cause you don’t understand something.

    By keeping yourself focused in lectures, you’ll feel better knowing you don’t have to catch up later on.

    A coffee before class might work for some, and make sure you’re feeding yourself the right brain fuel so you have the energy to get through.

  4. Highlight, underline and capitalise

    taking better lecture notesBy underlining and using CAPITALS, it’s easier to make out key points in your lecture notes.

    If your lecturer is stressing something important, drawing attention to certain words or phrases in whatever way you see fit will help you remember how important it is – but don’t get too distracted with your artistic creations.

    Using different colours and highlighters are also known to do the trick (as well as making your pages of notes look generally more exciting) but highlights are best added after class when you’re reading over your notes again.

  5. Use abbreviations

    use abbreviations in notes These are your notes – they aren’t going to be marked and the only person who needs to be able to read them is you. Therefore, you can work out whatever shorthand code you’re comfortable with when taking notes.

    Shorten words like using ‘2’ instead of to, too, two; ‘da’ for the; ‘w/’ for with, etc. Whatever floats ‘ya’ boat!

    As long as you can understand your notes, it doesn’t matter if they’re spelled incorrectly or shortened down.

    Make sure you really can understand them though! Remember you’ll have to consult them again at exam time, so don’t go too overboard with it.

  6. Get rid of distractions

    facebookpleaseIf you’re using a laptop or tablet for your note taking, make sure you get rid of any possible distractions before class starts (generally we would recommend taking notes by hand at the lecture stage, but some people do prefer to type).

    Close all other tabs or programs you have running and turn the wifi off so you’re not tempted to check social media or get distracted by notifications.

    You might think it’s useful to have wifi on in case you have to look something up you’re not sure about, but believe us – now is not the time!

    Just take note of what you want to look further into and you can have a browse after the lecture. Otherwise, you’ll end up off on a mad wikipedia tangent and have no idea what’s been going on for the last half an hour.

    If you’re someone who prefers using a laptop or tablet when taking notes in class, we have some great note-taking programs in our list of the best free software for students.
  7. Leave gaps

    leave a gapIf you miss something that was said or find something a bit confusing (too busy thinking about your dinner again), just leave a gap so you can add the information later.

    This will draw your attention to certain areas that need closer attention, and leave you some extra space to delve into them a bit further later on.

  8. Type notes up afterwards

    write valuable blog contentRevisiting your lecture notes soon after class is a great idea. It’s always good to read through your notes to solidify your knowledge, and typing them up is a great way of making sure you read through properly.

    This method also makes it a lot easier to read through your notes when you come back to revise, and reduces the chance of you losing them amongst a pile of magazines somewhere or in the bin.

  9. Share and share alike

    fingersIf you’ve got some nice mates on your course, there’s no harm with sharing around your lecture notes afterwards or asking to see someone else’s.

    There’s always a chance that one of you has picked up something vital that the others have missed or you’ve come up with a good way of simplifying something that’s quite complex.

    It’s also a nice thing to do, which earns you good points with karma, and means you’re reprocessing the information as you read other people’s notes.

    Not everyone likes sharing notes though, so if a classmate turns you down don’t be offended!

  10. Make yourself comfortable

    chilloutrelaxdogAlthough the above info is all top dollar, it’s also true that everyone works differently when it comes to learning, so it’s just a matter of seeing what works best for you.

    Try a few different methods, and once you’ve worked out your your own style, stick to it!

Mastering the art of taking lecture notes can take a bit of time to see what works best for you, particularly if you’ve just arrived fresh off the boat from school where they do things differently. Give these ten steps a try and you’ll find your jam!

Got any great tips on how to take great lecture notes you’d like to share? Fill us in below – sharing is caring!

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6 Responses to “A 10-step guide to taking better lecture notes”

  1. Ras

    04. Feb, 2014

    I think asking permission to use a laptop is a bit much. I’ve used a laptop in pretty much every lecture I’ve been in and it suits me much better.

  2. Taylor

    20. May, 2013

    I type all my notes up after a lecture. Doesn’t take too long and it’s much easier to use as research or to revise from. I could take my laptop to my lectures but I find doing it this way helps me remember them and it means it doesn’t matter how messy my notes are from the lecture! Also I use it to put things into my own words if i was just copying down what the lecturer said

  3. D.I.Why

    02. Oct, 2012

    You should concentrate on what the lecturer says (unless they are repeating exactly what the slides say) and write down what they say. Very often they will say things that aren’t in the books or slides, or anywhere else, which means sometimes you can use their wording of things in your essays without plagiarising!!

  4. PhoenixFortune

    06. Jan, 2012

    The best tip I can think of is: If you think you’ve missed stuff on the slides/what the lecturer has said, leave space on your page to add more notes later.

    My friends think it looks weird, but when you come to revise and want to fill in the gaps, you will actually have gaps to fill in, rather than trying to squeeze notes in minute writing into the margins!

  5. SarzWix

    06. Jan, 2012

    LOSE!!! Loose = your clothes after you LOSE weight! Sheesh, and you’re supposed to be educated… 😛

    • Jake Butler

      06. Jan, 2012

      Just to prove we are only human ;). Thanks for the spot though.


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