styles vary greatly from speaker to speaker. Some
lecturers are beautifully organized, some ramble, some
present an hour of anecdotes and leave the student to
determine their significance.
imperative that you figure out a lecturer's style. In the
case of the rambler or story teller, you may find
yourself at the end of an hour with only a sentence or
two written down. Check with other students, but don't be
surprised if it works out that your sentences do, indeed,
represent the crucial points of the lecture.
- In order to take
efficient notes, the student is forced to listen carefully and
critically to what is being said.
- Taking notes aids
comprehension and retention. Personal notes in one's own writing
are easier to understand and remember than texbook
- Lecture notes
should represent a concise and complete outline of the most
important points and ideas, especially those considered most
important by the professor.
- Lecture notes
clarify ideas not fully understood in the text or elaborate on
things that the text mentions only briefly.
- Lecture notes
combined with notes from textbook material are an excellent source
of review. They provide a gauge to what is important in the
A frequent complaint
of students is that they are unable to determine during the lecture
what is important and what might just as well be left out. These
students may attempt to write down every word uttered by the
professor, combining page after page of isolated facts and details
but missing a more general understanding of the material, as they are
too busy writing to listen. The following are some suggestions to aid
the student in taking efficient lecture notes.
The single most
important thing you can do is to read or skim the text
prior to attending the lecture. This will enable you to:
- Get the general
overview of main ideas, secondary points, and important concepts.
Listen with understanding and determine what is relevant and
- Identify familiar
terms with unfamiliar terms and concepts.
- a. Look up the
terms before class.
- b. Listen for
an explantion during the lecture.
- c. Ask the
professor or TA for an explanation.
- Note portions of
the material which are unclear.
- a. Listen for
an explanation during the lecture.
- b. Develop
questions to ask in class.
- Look for other
gaps in information which should be clarified or filled
- Structure and
Each student should develop his own method of taking notes,
however, the following suggestions may be helpful.
- Keep a
separate section of your notebook or binder for each course. If
there are several types of notes for one course, such as
lecture notes, notes on outside readings, and computation of
problems, you may want to arrange them on opposite pages for
purposes of cross-reference.
- Notes for each
lecture should begin on a new page. This makes for a greater
legibility and allows for more freedom in
- Date your
lecture notes and number all pages.
- Make your
- a. Never
use a sentence when you can use a phrase, or a phrase when
you can use a word.
- b. Use
abbreviations and sumbols wherever possible.
- Put most notes
in your own words. However, the following should be noted
- c. Specific
- Note your
lecturer's chief pattern. S/he may be summarizing the text and
highlighting important points, or trying to draw relationships
between new and previous understandings. S/he may expect you to
get the textbook material on your own while he discusses
related outside material.
- a. If s/he
is highlighting the text, take down explanations and
examples. Seeing a concept stated in more than one way can
help you understand it.
- b. If s/he
draws relationships and asks questions, note the questions
and answers. If s/he doesn't give the answers, try to find
them after class.
- Don't worry
about outlining, but use indentations to distinguish between
major and minor points. Numbers and letters may be added later
if you wish. However, if the lecturer says s/he will make four
or five points, list four or five causes, etc., be sure to use
numbers as a check on having taken them all down.
- Note down
unfamiliar vocabulary and unclear areas. If the lecturer
discusses something you don't understand, take it down as best
and as completely as you can. Then you can check with the text
or at least know what questions to ask if getting help from
someone else. If your instructor knows just what you
don't understand, s/he's in a position to help you.
- If you should
miss something completely, leave a blank space and get it
- Use margins
for questions, comments, notes to yourself on unclear material,
- Develop a code
system of note-marking to indicate questions, comments,
important points, due dates of assignments, etc. This helps
separate extraneous material from the body of notes and also
helps point out areas which are unclear. Margins are excellent
places for coded notations. Some suggested codes are:
- ? - not
clear at time of lecture
- Imp. or ! -
- Q -
- * -
- C -
- Attempt to
differentiate fact from opinion.
- Notes should
include all main ideas and enough subordinate points to clarify
- All formulae,
rules, definitions, and generalizations should be
- Inclusion of
the speaker's illustrations and examples may help clarify
concepts when notes are reviewed.
- Marginal notes
facilitate speedy location of specific items.
usually give clues as to what is important to take down:
- a. previews
- b. material
written on blackboard, other visual aids
- d. vocal
questions asked of the class
- f. word
clues: four causes of; four aspects of; therefore; in
conclusion; and so we see; hence; in a like manner; on the
other hand; however; cause-effect; relationships;
- Go over your
notes as soon as possible after the lecture.
See below for
an example of "mapping"
- Clear up
illegibilities in writing, check for errors, fill in further
facts and examples while the lecture is still fresh in your
mind. At this point you should clear up misunderstandings or
fill in missing information by consulting the lecturer, TA,
classsmates, the texts, or addtional readings.
review is essential to retention. Unless you review
within 24 hours after lecture or at least before the next
lecture, retention will drop sharply and you will be
relearning rather than reviewing.
recopying notes without thinking about or revising them does
not necessarily aid retention. A more helpful practice is to
manipulate the material by reorganizing it and putting it in
your own words. For a well-organized lecture, an outline can
suffice, but in the case of material where important ideas and
relationships are scattered throughout, there is a technique
called mapping which can be very useful in restructuring and
putting together the relevant points. The use of this technique
forces you to critically evaluate material in terms of main
ideas, secondary points, and details, and to structure this
content in an organized and coherent fashion. Relationships
must be observed and established, irrelevant material may be
excluded. This can be one of the most efficient means of
immediate review for optimal retention.