STEPS FOR TAKING LECTURE NOTES

BEFORE CLASS

Do the reading on the topic before class.  You can get more out of the lecture if you are already familiar with the topic.  Review lecture notes from the last class, as it provides continuity for the lecture you are about to hear.  Attend all classes and always take notes.  Notes from friends are rarely as meaningful as taking your own.  Also, you may miss points that the instructor has emphasized and would not have as good an idea of what the instructor considers important.  Be on time, be ready.  Oftentimes, the first few minutes of a lecture can provide the main theme of what is going to be presented.  Missing this may make it very difficult to fully understand the ideas of the lecture.  Sit toward the front of the lecture room, close to the speaker.  This reduces the distractions created by others in the room and helps you be more attentive and able to concentrate on what is being said.

DURING THE LECTURE  

1.  LISTEN FOR THE MAIN TOPIC, THE KEY POINTS, AND THE ORGANIZATION OF IDEAS.
Watch for clues from the instructor that help you pick out the main ideas.  The clues include words like "First..., Second...," voice emphases, pauses afterwards, writing on the board, and/or repetition of the idea.

2. RECORD LECTURE NOTES THAT HIGHLIGHT THE MAIN IDEAS AND THAT WILL BE  CLEAR  TO YOU WHEN YOU REVIEW THEM AT A LATER TIME.

a. Format. A large loose leaf binder is best.  Each sheet is divided vertically 2 1/2 inches from the left edge, notes are recorded to the right of the line.  The larger the binder gives ample room for notes and allows for easy organization (e.g., insert handouts, etc.).  The wide left margin is for later summarizing the main ideas and points in the lecture.

b.  Recording your notes. Record your notes legibly as complete ideas in outline, sentence, or paragraph form, or any other organization which highlights main ideas.  Fill in any gaps when you review notes later in the same day.  Convert the recorded information to focused summaries in left margin.  Legibility and completeness of ideas is necessary to be able to understand your notes at a later time.  Organized material such as main ideas followed by supporting points is much easier to study and remember than a mass of information running together without organization.  Try taking notes on one side of a sheet only.  That way, later in the course you can spread out the pages with only the left summarized columns showing and you have a grand overview throughout the course.

AFTER THE LECTURE
(the same day)

1. CLEAN UP YOUR NOTES. Read through your notes, clarify scribbles, fill in missing information , and emerge with a complete view of the lecture.  Then go back and underline, color highlight, or box words, not whole sentences, that represent main ideas.  Tomorrow you won't be able to decipher scribbles as well.  Underlining whole sentences as you read leads to underlining too much.  Being more selective results in less material to review later.

2. CREATE A SUMMARY COLUMN. Next choose key words and concise summaries from the ideas you have underlined and write these in the left margin of your divided page, directly across from the corresponding notes.  By selecting key words, you have to think about and organize the lecture on paper.  But even better you have done it in your mind.  These jottings represent the main ideas presented in class and they become cues for you when you study by reciting.

3. RECITE. Now recite.  Cover the right column.  From the key words and summaries on the left say aloud the ideas and facts of the lecture as completely as you can with as much understanding as you can.  Use your own words.  Then uncover the notes and check yourself.  Do it until you get it right.  You know it when you can say it.  Recitation is the most important step in transferring from short-term memory to long-term memory.  If you can recite the main points of the lecture to yourself, you know whether you understand the material and you increase your ability to remember it.

ONCE A WEEK  

1. REVIEW ALL THE NOTES YOU HAVE TAKEN SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE SEMESTER.
Recite from all your notes, just as described in the previous step.  Cover material on the right and recite from words to the left.  Schedule 30 to 60 minutes a week per subject for this review.  Frequent recitations over a period of time are much more effective than one long review just before an exam.  With weekly recitations, studies show that you can retain 80% of the material.  With no review you may retain only about 20%.

BEFORE AN EXAM

1. REVIEW BY RECITING. To review the 80% you have retained weekly and to pick up much of the remaining 20%.

2. GET A GRAND VIEW OF THE MATERIAL. Think about what you have learned.  Develop a brief, one page outline of the main ideas (i.e., 6 to 8 major points).  Reflect on how the pieces of the subject fit together.  You may also do this through discussions with classmates.  Often on exams, in essay questions and even in objective questions, you are asked not whether you remember a date or a formula, but whether you understand how major ideas or events relate to each other.  Don't learn only details, but understand main ideas.

Learning Skills Center
University of Utah

 

Last Updated: 8/13/14