Tips on How to Take Lecture Notes that are Actually Helpful

Taking notes effectively becomes a habit once you’ve figured out what works best for you. You’ll find you won’t have to cram before exams because you understand the topic more clearly. Create a system of note taking that you enjoy and that’s beneficial.

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Note taking in lectures is really important. While attending is a great first step you need to utilise the time you’re allotted. By taking notes it helps you retain the information you’re told and allows you to look back over them when it comes to revision. It also helps you engage with the topic and gain a better understanding of the course material. This is a great skill to have and will prove very beneficial throughout your duration as a student and into the workforce. Always attend class fully prepared; bring your notebook or laptop and put the work in. It’ll be worth it. Take advantage of the resources provided while you’re a uni student and reach out to your lecturers if you don’t understand something they have mentioned. 

1. Use your own words

When taking notes, it’s essential to use language that you understand in order for you to revise later and to do so being comfortable with the context. While you might want your notes to seem professional, using complex terminology can make it more difficult to recall the information and to understand the topic fully. Include words of importance to the lecture but otherwise summarise in your own words. By doing this you’re engaging in active learning and not just copying down information you’ve been told. This is a great way to figure out what you do and don’t know in the course material and can highlight what areas you need to focus on. If you can’t summarise in your own words and don’t understand the terminology used then make a note and check with your lecturer at the end of the class. 

2. Shorthand

Shorthand is a form of taking notes that uses abbreviations, bullet points and symbols. It allows you to take notes at an increased speed and makes your notes more specific and efficient. Each individual’s shorthand is specific to how they learn, everyone has their own system that works best for them. While you may feel obligated to write down everything your lecturer says, they will give cues and tell you what’s fundamental information that you need to know. Reciting everything they mention will only create more pressure within your note taking and may potentially lead to mistakes or missed information. Shorthand will encourage you to prioritise specific information relevant to the course. If you are abbreviating make sure you have enough information so that it makes sense when you go back over the work or create a key/dictionary for your abbreviations. (Example: NZ = New Zealand). 

3. Get involved

One of the best ways to take notes that are going to help you revise and retain information is to completely understand the topic. If you’re unsure or need clarification then make sure you ask your lecturer. Whether you do so at the time they mention something or make a note and ask at the end - is up to you. Try not to leave the lecture unsure on the material that’s been provided. While in the lecture, ask and answer questions when the opportunity arises. Engaging with the topic will help you gain a sound understanding. Being proactive and gathering all the information you can during your lecture will help you learn. 

4. Colour Coding

Colour coding your study notes is a great way to categorise and organise information. It helps you focus on the important aspects of each topic. The bright colours guide your attention to the important information and help stimulate neural activity when studying. Use colour in moderation as excessive use will have the counter effect, and try not to colour code during your lecture as this can be counterproductive and affect your overall productivity in class. If you’re a visual learner then colour coding is a great tool to use. Make sure to keep the colour coding consistent throughout your notes so it’s easier to keep track of what’s important. Dedicate a colour to a category and keep a key of what they mean.

5. Listen
While taking notes is important, you also need to make sure you’re listening and absorbing the information presented to you. Don’t fixate on how neat your notes are, as long as you can understand your own notes, then appearances don’t matter. Note taking is great for revision and can help refresh your memory, however, you need to know the topic. The lecturer will explain everything so make sure you listen during the class. In New Zealand a lot of lecturers are happy for their students to record the lecture so they can go back over the information at a later date but make sure you ask and receive permission before you do so.  

Taking notes effectively becomes a habit once you’ve figured out what works best for you. You’ll find you won’t have to cram before exams because you understand the topic more clearly. Create a system of note taking that you enjoy and that’s beneficial. 

-Shannel Milne, Nxtstep Content Writer

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