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Learning skills: Note-taking in class

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Note-taking in class

When you're sitting in a lecture and the information is coming at you quickly, it's important to know which information to write down so that you can remember it at another time. The key to effective note-taking is to be prepared: complete all pre-readings before the class so that you are already somewhat familiar with the topic and can make knowledgeable notes. Information presented in the lecture that repeats the content of the readings doesn't need to be written down; what you want to capture in your notes are the extra explanations or examples provided by your instructor. For great advice on taking notes in a classroom lecture, as well as information on active listening, please refer to the University of Guelph's Guide for University Learning, and in particular, the section on "Learning from lectures". You'll find links to a PDF or HTML version of the information at the bottom of the first page of the resource.

 

Practical tips:

  1. Prepare for lectures by completing readings ahead of time and bringing print-outs of PowerPoint slides or lectures notes to class.
  2. Be an active participant in lectures: ask questions in your head, watch for verbal cues, listen for key phrases and take note of what the instructor writes down.
  3. Visually format your notes by skipping lines, indenting words, using bullets, drawing arrows, creating concept maps, sketching diagrams and leaving lots of space between topics.
  4. Even if your professor posts lecture notes, don't miss class. Most professors give examples, details, and additional explanations in class to help you understand the material better.
  5. In Arts & Social Science course lectures pay attention to content that isn’t covered in the readings as this will be the only time you hear of it!
  6. Problem-Based courses rely heavily on written notes, mathematical problems & diagrams. Ensure you jot down all the steps of the problem.
  7. Commerce courses rely heavily on case studies. Do the assigned questions before class and participate in discussions.
  8. Science courses rely on understanding the basics first and then building upon those basics.
  9. Don't try to record everything the prof says. Listen for and try to understand the basic concepts, then make notes.
  10. A laptop can be a useful tool for taking notes. Try using OneNote (Win) or Notebook Layout in Word (Mac) to record, format & store your notes in a highly organized manner.
  11. Don’t forget to follow up the lecture by reviewing your notes, rewriting messy parts, filling in gaps, and discussing with friends. Reread your notes to help remember course material. 
    (Source: University of Guelph, Learning from Lectures)

Also:

  • Review your notes before each class.
  • Use the margin or draw a column to note key terms or questions you may have.
  • Ask your instructor to clarify points you don’t understand.
    (Source: Roberta Mason, RRU)

 

More information

Creative Commons

Information within this guide was adapted from the University of Guelph's "A Guide to University Learning" and from information provided by Roberta Mason, Associate Vice-President, Student and Academic Services, Royal Roads University. These materials are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States License.