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How to Take Useful (To You) Lecture Notes

Posted on September 24, 2020

Taking useful notes begins before you step foot in the classroom. A little prep work before you get to class will go a long way!

Before Class

  1. Review your notes from the last lecture (5 min)
  2. Flip through the assigned reading (10-15 min)
    1. Read headings and subheadings,
    2. review graphs and pictures, and
    3. read the end of section/chapter questions

Reviewing the last lecture and the assigned reading will remind you where the last lecture left off and what topics to expect in today’s lecture. You may even be able to identify information that your instructor adds that isn’t in your textbook.

During Class

During class, concentrate on the lecture and rewrite the points in your own words. Don’t try to write every single word that your instructor says. A few ideas to make your notes shorter

  • Be selective – write the major ideas and important points in your own words
  • Use your own or common abbreviations (write new abbreviations at the top)
  • Leave out unimportant words – you don’t have to use complete sentences
  • Don’t worry about spelling and grammar

Learn your instructor’s lecture style. This will help you figure out what your instructor thinks is important and predict what will be on the test.

Have a few options for note-taking based on your professor’s lecture style:

  1. Cornell style works well with linear organized lectures
  2. Boxing method works better for lectures that jump around and digital notetaking
This module from Cornell University assesses which note-taking method will work best for you.

After Class

Review your notes when the lecture is still fresh in your mind, add anything you missed or clarify anything that is confusing. Because you will also need to take notes from your textbook and other assigned reading, let’s take a moment to focus on academic reading.

Active Academic Reading

Textbooks are not novels, blogs, or new stories and they should be read differently. But how? There are 3 steps to academic reading:

  1. 1. Pre-reading
    • review headings, pictures, figures, and end of section/chapter summaries and questions;
    • predict the content; and
    • write your own questions based on section headings.
  2. Reading
    1. lookup the definitions of important and unfamiliar terms;
    2. check your predictions; answers the questions you wrote; and
    3. connect the text to what you learned in the lecture.
  3. 3. Post-reading
    1. summarize the text after each section in your own words without looking at the book (these summaries are your textbook notes);
    2. answer your questions without looking at your notes or the book; and
    3. reread parts of the text that you didn’t understand or can’t recall.

Watch this video from College Info Geek for more Ideas on how to read your textbooks more efficiently.


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