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How Do College Students Take Notes During Lectures?

by Flora Richards-Gustafson, studioD

When you take notes, you increase your chances of academic success because they enable you to get the most out of a professor’s discussion. Because everyone processes information differently, it’s important to develop a note-taking method that works well for you. Good lecture notes should enable you to effectively review the materials covered, determine the key concepts discussed and make connections between significant ideas and their applications.

Good Listening Skills

To take good notes during a lecture, sit in a spot that’s free of distractions and allows you to hear the professor well and see the board clearly. Focus your attention on the professor as she talks and listen for the main ideas and supporting details. Most instructors provide clues about important information that you should write in your notes. According to the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, spoken clues often begin with phrases such as “There are three reasons,” “The most important,” “For example” and “Remember that.” A professor might use repetition to emphasize important topics or use gestures. Good listening skills also involve asking questions as needed. If you miss a statement that the teacher made, ask her to repeat it. Or, if a concept is unclear, ask for an explanation.

Note Organization

To write effective notes, develop an organization system that works well for you. The University of Minnesota - Duluth recommends writing the date and using a heading on a fresh sheet of paper at the beginning of each class before you start writing notes. Some students create an outline using Roman numerals for the main points and letters for the subpoints while others use dashes, dots and/or arrows to indicate the main ideas and subtopics.

Note Writing

As you write, use legible penmanship so the notes are simple to read later. Instead of trying to write down every word a professor says, jot down the main themes, ideas and descriptions. Include more details only if they’re critical to helping you remember a central point. When you use abbreviations, make sure they make sense and are consistent throughout your notes. If needed, make a key at the front of your notebook that explains what certain abbreviations or acronyms mean.

Cornell Method

Some academic institutions, like Princeton University, encourage students to use the Cornell University note-taking method developed by Walter Pauk. This method has a student use the left 2 1/2 inches on a standard piece of paper for writing cues and the remaining 6 inches for writing notes. Students also use the bottom 2 inches of the paper for writing a summary of the lecture. The cues that students record in the left column include study prompts, main ideas, questions to answer later and diagrams to refer to. The summary section of the page is a space used for quick reference where students record the most important concepts or ideas discussed.

About the Author

Flora Richards-Gustafson has been writing professionally since 2003. She creates copy for websites, marketing materials and printed publications. Richards-Gustafson specializes in SEO and writing about small-business strategies, health and beauty, interior design, emergency preparedness and education. Richards-Gustafson received a Bachelor of Arts from George Fox University in 2003 and was recognized by Cambridge's "Who's Who" in 2009 as a leading woman entrepreneur.

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