How to Take Lecture Notes
- Good lecture notes record the meaning of the lecture, its general
direction, and points for further study.
- If special presentations are made (e.g., film, audio,
DVD, overhead, or PowerPoint presentations), take especial care to
take thorough notes.
(Yes, the taking of notes will affect the enjoyment of the
presentation, but your grade isn't usually based solely on how
much enjoyment you derive from the presentation.)
- Classroom preparation should be thought out in advance.
- Sit as close to the front of the room as will make you
slightly anxious, yet not too uncomfortable.
- Sit on the right-hand side of the class if the teacher is
right-handed—especially in language, mathematics, and science classes.
(You can see the blackboard as the teacher is writing; on the left-hand side the
presence of the teacher obscures the board.)
- If you cannot initially see, hear, or concentrate, immediately move to a
place where you can.
- Generally speaking, a right-handed teacher tends to call on students toward the
back of the class on the teacher's right, and a left-handed teacher tends to
call on students at the back of the class on the teacher's left.
(To escape notice, it sometimes works to sit toward the front of the classroom at the left of a
right-handed teacher and vice-versa for a left-handed teacher.)
- If you can afford a course planner, by all means, use one.
In any case, begin all lecture notes with the record in the
left-hand margin or at the right-hand top:
- Be ready to start taking notes before the teacher enters the class.
- The major difficulty in lecture classes is that you must listen,
select, and write at the same time. Most students will have to
overcome twelve years of classroom experience where they have
become accustomed to passive listening. Initially, you will
have to dedicate yourself to the attempt--after about two or three
weeks, most note-taking difficulties are overcome.
- Doggedly try outline form; it's better to write down too
much than too little, at first. Studies have shown that even
good listeners remember only about 25% of the spoken word immediately
after class—and next to nothing a week later.
- Select the main heading for your outline form by…
- the logical structure of the lecture announced by the teacher,
- the basic principles drawn from assigned readings,
- definitions, and/or
- new topics.
- Do not write out verbal illustrations or examples—jot down only some key words
to remind you of the examples later. If possible, fill in the left-out steps
immediately after that class.
- Leave four or five blank lines between major topics and subject-points so you
can supplement with book notes or other references later.
(Error on the side of leaving too much white space.) If you have an
acquaintance or friend who also wishes to do well in a course, it's a good idea
to compare notes not only to supplement your own notes, but also to obtain
concrete tips for improving your own note-taking skills.
- Look through your lecture notes at the earliest opportunity after class for
corrections and amplifications. Usually, these revisions are best done
immediately after class while the material is still fresh on your mind—even if
you only have a few moments between classes.
- On days when you do not feel like doing anything (and there will be days like
this), keep track of the subject in key words only, or think of this class as an
opportunity to improve your handwriting skills. As Aristotle pointed out, usually, your actions
determine your state of mind, rather than your state of mind determining your
actions. By "pretending" to take notes, you will often be surprised to find
yourself actually taking notes.