How to Write Lecture Notes


Visiting lectures is an integral part of student life. To date, a significant portion of students uses digital technologies for recording lectures. But we are sure that handwritten notes are much better than notes written on the laptop, because while writing notes in your notebook you stay more attentive and focused. However, notes in notebook often turn into a jumble of words and squiggles, where in a couple of weeks it is impossible to find the necessary information. So, our article offers you the top 10 useful tips and tricks which help you to make your notes more effective, visual and structured.

Find the Right Place

External factors play an important role in the process of concentration. Our consciousness easily accepts different distractions and it becomes much more difficult to stay focused on lecture’s topic when you need to overcome the influence of noisy friends, reflections on the projector screen or lack of lighting, for example. So, you need to choose the most comfortable place where you will get the opportunity to see the blackboard and hear the teacher clearly. Such conditions help you to pay all your attention to the subject material and create favourable terms for making good lecture notes.

Be “Active Listener”

One of the most common students’ mistakes is when they try to write the lecture word by word. The big secret is that even having a great amount of information in your notebook doesn’t mean that it will magically appear in your head. To become an active listener try to analyse the material and write down only the key points of what was said. Remember that your task is making notes, but not a transcribing of the lecture.

Avoid Continuous Text

One of the features of our mind is that it accepts structured information better than continuous text. When you write everything together, without dividing the lecture into paragraphs, subparagraphs, etc., in the end, you just get a mess of words. Try to find some information in such lecture notes in a month and you will see that it is a lost cause which requires a great length of time. But structuring of the material immediately makes your notes more visual. If you aren’t sure when it is the right moment to make new paragraph heed the teacher’s tone of voice. It could become a great tip.

Use the Highlighting System

Highlighting Notes

The other way to make the material more visual and structured is to use text highlighting. Using different colors breaks up the mass of ink on a page so you will be more likely to remember things.  You can underline, outline, and mark some parts of your notes with tiny stars or in any other way. Just remember that you need to highlight only the key points (the topic of the lecture, definitions, formulas, examples, etc.). It won’t be a good idea to turn your notebook into a rainbow.

Make a Table of Contents

At the top corner of every page put the date and the page number. Using such information will help you create the table of contents at the end of your notebook. There you can indicate not only lectures’ topics, but also the page numbers where you will find key information on the specific theme. You will surely appreciate this opportunity at the end of the semester when there will be a need to review the notes and refresh the knowledge.

Create Your System of Abbreviations

Try to make your own list of the useful and commonly used abbreviations. It means that you should create individual signs and symbols which can replace the most common terms and expressions. This skill will help you to make notes quicker without missing important moments. But do not get carried away, because the more intricate your abbreviations are, the more difficult to decipher them later. All your abbreviations, symbols and signs should be understandable and easy to remember primarily for you. Even if nobody knows what your signs indicate, you’ll still understand what was meant.

Leave Some Free Space

Do not be greedy! It may be surprising to some students, but it isn’t obligatory to cram the whole lecture into the one page. Leave some free space on every page. Later, you may add there some missed material. The more spacious your notes are, the easier it will be to read them and insert some additional notes, annotations and remarks. By the way, in such format, it is much easier to accept and memorize information.

Indicate Missed Information

Give a special indication of information that you didn’t understand or didn’t hear. Because, you know, in the future you may forget that you guessed the spelling of an important word or missed key definition. By using such indications you will surely remember that you need to recheck all the questionable spellings or discuss some confusing points with your teacher. It will also help you to avoid misunderstanding at the moment of exam preparation.

Use the Cornell Method

Cornell Notes

Cornell method restores order in chaotic notes and allows you to easily prepare for exams. To use it for your lecture notes draw a thick horizontal line 5 cm above the bottom edge, then add the vertical line at a distance of 6-7 cm from the left edge. You will get page divided into 3 sections (right is for notes, left is for the main thoughts and questions and the lower part is for the summary). While listening to the lecture take notes only on the right side of the page, also write down the questions that arise during the lecture. Then from the right section, select the main ideas or key facts and write their abridged versions in the left column. And finally, write your own summary in the lower part.

Different Notebooks for Different Subjects

Take a separate notebook for each subject. You may seem more convenient to have just one large notebook for all subjects; however, this means that you’ll have to always carry a bunch of paper, even if you need your notes only for one subject.

To sum up, good lecture notes can highly improve retention and comprehension of lecture material. By following our simple guidelines on how to take lecture notes effectively, you will surely develop your taking notes skill and relieve a lot of stress when it comes time to prepare for and take an exam. Good luck!

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