Better lecture notes in 10 easy steps

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By in Extra Guides. Updated April 2015.

At university you want to achieve the best degree result you can and a big part of this is making the most of lectures.sleepykidSeeing as lectures only happen once, you want to get all the information that will be useful to you in the future. And yes, this does mean you have to turn up.

At first many students find it hard to write down all the information they need when taking notes. It’s a bit different to school and the lecturer won’t wait for you to catch up.

There are, however, certain things that you can do in lectures when taking your notes to save yourself loads of time and effort in the future.

Yep, you’ve guessed it, we’ve written them all up in a list for you (because we enjoy being helpful like that).

Top note taking tips

  1. Print lecture notes before the lecture

    TextScreenLecturers will usually upload the notes onto your university system to help you revise in the future.

    It’s always useful to take a print out of these; it’ll help you later on to keep your notes organised and know which notes go with which slide.

    Giving them a read through before you go to the lecture, if you can, is also a great way of preparing. You’ll have a better idea of what’s going on and can concentrate on the finer details.

    Don’t take this as an opportunity to skip class though; uploaded notes only give you the basic framework and won’t have any deviation from the script!

  2. Don’t write down every single word

    Student taking notesThis is a mistake that most of us have made at some point when taking lecture notes, so don’t fall for it!

    If you try and write down every word that’s said, you’ll miss important information. Only write down what’s relevant and useful.

    That being said, don’t write down what’s on the screen. You can always get a copy of the slide later from your lecturer or university system.

  3. Use a dictaphone

    Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 21.05.23If you’re a slow writer or aren’t good at making notes, using a dictaphone works as a good back up for things you might have missed.

    You can re-live the fun and listen to your lecturers dulcet tones later on and make more notes instead of trying to fit everything in in an hour.

    Don’t use a recorder as a replacement for note taking though; taking notes helps you process and sift through useful information. Simply pressing record is not an excuse to go to sleep.

    Many smartphones come with recording facilities these days or you can buy a dictaphone on Amazon.

  4. Don’t lose concentration

    0310_james_franco_sleepingHello? Are you still with us? Even if you’ve got the “magic 8 hours sleep”, it’s easy to lose concentration in a boring lecture.

    If you do, it’ll mean more time catching up later on or being frustrated because you don’t understand it. By keeping yourself focused in lectures, you’ll feel better knowing you don’t have to catch up later on.

    A strong coffee might work for some where as a simple apple or bottle of fruit juice work better for others. Get to know your concentration techniques like a deadly lecture note taking ninja!

  5. Underline and capitalise

    packing-listBy underlining and using CAPITALS, it’s easier to make out key points in your lecture notes.

    If your lecturer is stressing something important, underlining will help you remember how important it is. Even if that means underlining the word 50 times in a doodle fashion (but don’t get too distracted).

    Colours and highlighters are also known to do the trick as well as making your pages look generally more exciting.

  6. Use abbreviations

    abbreviationThese are your notes, they aren’t going to be marked. You can shorten words if you want to, use 2 instead of to, too, two, da for The, w/ for with etc. Whatever you feel like.

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

    Make sure that you can understand them though. During a lecture may not be a great time to add a new abbreviation to your writing repertoire.

    After all, you might not see these notes until the end of the year!

  7. If you miss something out then leave a gap

    gap-792205If you miss something out in the lecture then make sure that you leave a gap to add the information later.

    Not only will this keep your notes nice and neat but it will also ensure that you don’t miss anything out when you come back to them at the end of the year.

    No one wants to open six month old notes only to find the key information just isn’t there!

  8. Type them up later

    monkey-typingIt’s always good to read through your notes after the lecture and typing them up is a great way to make this productive too.

    Typing up your notes will also make it a lot easier to read them when you come back to revise  and also reduces the chance of you losing them somewhere in your bedroom.

  9. Share and share alike

    friends-fingersIf you’re good mates with the people on your course then there’s no harm with sharing around your lecture notes afterwards.

    There’s every chance one of you has picked up something vital the others have missed or you’ve come up with a brainwave you’d like to share.

    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.

  10. Make yourself comfortable

    spider diagramDon’t forget that everyone’s style of working is different. You may have a friend at university who actually likes to write every single word but then there are some who map out the lecture in a massive spider diagram with coloured pencils.

    Find a method of note taking that works for you and stick to it; it doesn’t matter what the guy next to you is doing.

    It can depend a lot on your way of thinking but if you follow all of these tips then you can’t fail in taking good lecture notes.

Using a computer or tablet?

Over the last few years’ there has been a massive rise in students taking notes on their laptops or tablets.

While we wouldn’t recommend doing this, it’s much easier to get distracted and you can always type up notes later, we have put together some basic tips if you do want to do it that way.

  • Decide which programme to use: Programmes such as Evernote for Macs or OneNote for Windows are designed especially for taking notes and allow you to add in all kinds of media, including powerpoint slides. Check out our list of free software to find something that works for you.
  • Turn the WiFi off: Having your internet connection on is a tempting distraction when a lecture gets a bit dull. Switch it off and keep temptation at bay. There’s no point being there if all you’re doing is playing Tetris.
  • Ask permission: As with a voice recorder, always ask permission before setting up with a laptop or tablet. Some lecturers really aren’t fans, so take some pens and paper too just in case.
  • Sit at the back: Sounds counter intuitive, but having an open laptop screen will only distract those behind you both visually and audibly, so be considerate.
We hope these tips are useful to you in getting the best information from your lectures. The main tip we can offer is to find your own style of making notes in lectures.

Don’t stress too much or you’ll lose focus. You can always ask your friend to borrow their notes if you feel you’ve missed something. You’ll be fine!

If you have any tips of your own or any quirky ways of taking notes then please add them to the comments below and we would love to add them to this article! Everyone has a different way of working/thinking.

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6 Responses to “Better lecture notes in 10 easy steps”

  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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