A 10-step guide to taking better lecture notes
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!
You 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!
Top note taking tips
Don't write down every single word
This 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.
Use a dictaphone
If 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. Or, check out Soundnote on our list of essential apps for students for a properly futuristic take on the dictaphone!
Hi 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.
Highlight, underline and capitalise
By 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.
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.
Get rid of distractions
If 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 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.
Type notes up afterwards
Revisiting 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.
Share and share alike
If 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!
Make yourself comfortable
Although 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!