Taking Notes

*Note: The information in the following section is provided for both students who are taking notes for others and for themselves in order to provide guidance for engaging in effective notetaking process.

Prepping Before the Lecture

  • Do some preparation work before you attend the lecture so that you will be able to predict some organization of the lecture.
  • Review the course outline. Look to see if the instructor has listed the topic or key ideas that will be taught in the upcoming lecture. If so, turn this information into questions that may be answered during the lecture.
  • Make sure you complete all outside readings or reference assignments before the lecture. This way the lecture becomes a review of the material which you have already engaged in.
  • Review your notes from previous lectures to trigger your memory of the course content.
  • Print outany slides or notes that may be provided for you by the instructor in advance.

During the Lecture

  • Sit as close to the front of the room as possible to avoid being distracted.
  • If there were no slides or notes to print out in advance, make sure you copy everything that is written on the blackboard or projector.
  • Listen carefully to the introduction – this is where the instructor will outline the material for the day which will help prepare you in anticipating what notes you will need to be taking.
  • Do not be tempted to write down every single word.
  • Summarize your notes in your own words. Remember – your goal is to understand what the instructor is saying.
  • Try to identify main ideas by identifying signal words that indicate something important that should be noted. For example, “First, Second, Next, Then, Thus, Another Important Point, etc.” are all considered signal words.
  • Make sure that you jot down examples that the instructor uses to explain any ideas. Give special attention to topics not covered in the textbook.
  • If there is a summary at the end of the lecture, pay close attention to it. You can use it to compare your notes. If your notes seem disorganized, copy down the main points covered in the summary and then after class go back and review your notes by comparing them to the summary notes.
  • Don’t rush your notetaking. Be attentive; listen and take notes from the beginning to end of the lecture.

After the Lecture

  • Revise your notes as soon as possible while the material is still fresh in your mind.
  • While revising your notes, incorporate any notes you may have taken when reading from the textbook/courseware.
  • Review your lecture notes at least once a week to ensure you understand the material.

General Tips

  • Remember to write a date and the course name or number at the start of each set of notes.
  • Use abbreviations wherever possible. (Keep track of your abbreviations by making a list that you can refer back to).
  • Mark ideas which the instructor emphasizes with an arrow or special symbol. Want to be able to draw your attention to the idea when reviewing your notes.
  • While most of your notes should be in your own words, make sure you copy directly from the lecture material when it comes to
    • Formulas
    • Definitions
    • Specific Facts
  • Use an outline form and/or a numbering system when taking your notes. Indention in your notes will help you distinguish major from minor points.
  • If you miss a statement or point, write the key words you managed to get and skip a few spaces where you can go back and fill in that information at a later time.
  • Practice taking notes. Learning to concentrate and listen actively is an important skill for learning. Practice will improve your notetaking ability over time.
  • Err on the side of writing down too much. Writing also helps you pay attention, so that you do not miss important information.
  • Remember that notes are an aid to study and to memory and not an end in themselves. You will need to review them to get the maximum benefit, preferably within a day of gathering them. It is also imperative that you do your readings as these supplement your notes and provide you with an overall understanding of the material being taught.
  • When taking notes for others, keep in mind that extra context might be required for comprehensive understanding. For example, using key terms (e.g. jargon) or abbreviations may confuse students accessing notes that are not their own.
  • When taking notes for others, ensure to add dates and any identification of materials used during the class.