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10 ways to take better lecture notes

We hate to break it to you, but turning up to your lectures is only half the battle – listening up and really nailing your note-taking skills is key to getting the degree grade you're aiming for.

Colourful notebooks and woman at desk taking notes

Credit: Marina Rich, Rido – Shutterstock

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 that if you're not making the best use of your lecture time, you might as well have just stayed under the covers.

100% lecture attendance means nothing if you spend the duration deciding what to have for dinner. And while listening intently is definitely useful for getting a first, taking decent notes that you can refer back to when writing essays and revising is even more crucial.

We've put together a few tips on how to take the best possible lecture notes.

Do you struggle to stay on top of all your deadlines and assignments? Find out how to become more organised with our handy guide.

Top note-taking tips

These are the best ways to take lecture notes:

  1. Write concise notes

    Bruce Almighty typing fast

    Credit: Universal Pictures

    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 it time to 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 the lecture slides, which should be made available once the class is over.

  2. Record lectures on 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, making more notes in your own time instead of trying to multitask during class.

    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 it.

  3. Pay close attention

    dog with glasses on computer

    Credit: Kalamurzing - Shutterstock

    Hi there! Still with us? Even if you've managed the magic eight hours of sleep, it's easy to lose concentration in a boring lecture.

    Beware that zoning out in class just means more time catching up on what you missed later on, or becoming frustrated because you don't understand something. By staying focused in lectures, you'll feel better knowing that you don't have so much to catch up on later.

    A coffee before class might work for some, but you should always make sure you're feeding yourself the right brain fuel to keep you going.

  4. Highlight, underline and capitalise your notes

    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 will best help you remember it – 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 generally making your pages of notes look more exciting), but it's probably best to add these after class when you're reading over your notes again.

  5. Use abbreviations

    text message on excel spreadsheet

    Credit: Columbia Records

    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. So, take some time to work out whatever shorthand code you're comfortable with and roll with it.

    Shorten words like using '2' instead of 'to', 'too' and '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 shortened down or contain spelling mistakes.

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

  6. 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'd recommend taking notes by hand, 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 that you're not sure about, but believe us – now is not the time.

    Just take note of what you want to research and save the browsing for 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 prefer to use 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.
  1. Leave gaps in your notes

    mind the gap warning at tube station

    Credit: Álvaro Millán - Flickr

    If you miss something that was said or find something a bit confusing (or were too busy thinking about your dinner again), just jot down what you can and leave a gap so you can add more information later.

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

  2. Type your notes up after lectures

    Revisiting your lecture notes soon after class is always a good idea. Reading through your notes helps to solidify your knowledge, and typing them up is the perfect way to make sure you understand everything.

    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 among a pile of magazines somewhere.

  3. Share your lecture notes with friends

    friends characters hugging

    Credit: Warner Bros.

    If you've got some helpful mates on your course, there's no harm in sharing 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 that 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 some good karma and means you're reprocessing the information as you read other people's notes.

    But remember that not everyone likes sharing notes, so if a classmate turns you down, don't be offended!

  4. Learn which note-taking style suits you

    Although the above advice is all top-notch, it's also true that everyone works differently when it comes to learning – it's just a matter of seeing what works best for you.

    Mastering the art of taking lecture notes can take a bit of trial and error – particularly if you've arrived fresh from school, where the style of teaching will likely be very different.

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

Did you know you can now make money from Instagramming your revision notes?

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