Effective note-taking takes practice, and even the very best students may lose track in a discussion or become confused about the objectives in a lesson. Don't become discouraged. Remember that the more you think about the lecture—i.e., listen actively and take good notes—the more you will understand. It is what you actually do with the ideas presented in class—or those generated in your thoughts through listening, reading and thinking—that are critical to your understanding and retaining the material.
This lesson has presented some ways for you to approach note-taking. There are almost as many ways to take notes as there are students taking them. You should use the methods that work best for you. Work on perfecting your own technique. You will find that effective note-taking is a skill that is of utmost importance in college, but it is also an ability that will be valuable in your professional life.
The purposes of good note-taking are to:
- encourage you to listen carefully and critically to what is being communicated.
- increase comprehension and retention.
- help you create a concise and complete outline of important topics, subtopics, and supporting ideas.
- clarify ideas and embellish the material presented.
One aspect of preparation is setting up a notebook:
- Keep a separate notebook or a separate section of a notebook for each course. This will help you stay organized and avoid misplacing your notes.
- If the course requires different types of notes (i.e, lecture notes, notes on outside readings, lab notes, computation notes), arrange them on opposite pages for cross-reference purposes.
- Notes for each lecture should begin on a new page, with the date and page number.
Tips for structuring and maintaining good, accurate notes:
- Make your notes brief: use a key phrase for a sentence or a word to represent a phrase.
- Abbreviate whenever possible.
- Put notes into your own words.
- Formulas, definitions and specific facts demand exact wording.
- Number or indent items to distinguish between major and minor points.
- Highlight unfamiliar vocabulary and unclear areas. Take notes as completely as you can and check your text(s) for clarification.
- Develop questions for your friends or instructor to help clarify information or concepts.
- If you miss something completely, leave a blank space and locate the information later.
- Develop a coding system or scheme to mark your notes. For example: a ? would stand for "not understood"; an * would mark important points.
- A good place to locate your coding scheme is in the margin of the notebook.
Steps to take prior to the lecture:
- Use active reading skills. Preview your text or reading assignments prior to the lecture. This will allow you to identify main ideas and concepts that will most likely be presented during the lecture. Try to determine what is and is not important.
- List unfamiliar terms and concepts prior to the lecture. Compose simple definitions of unfamiliar terms prior to the lecture. This will give you a general understanding of the material to be presented in class.
- If you don't understand a term or concept, compose a precise and concise question you can ask about it. You might request clarification from fellow students prior to the lecture. If you are still unsure of the meaning, ask for clarification during the lecture. If a term or concept has not been clarified during the lecture, ask the instructor before the class period ends. Remember, if you are confused, other students probably are, too.
- As you did with terms and definitions, note portions of the text or reading assignment that you do not understand.
- Listen for explanations during class. Prepare a question to ask during class if you are still confused.
Remember, this is your education. To get the most out of it, you will want to ask questions. Prepare a list of questions prior to class, especially on concepts you did not fully understand. Also, note concepts during the lecture that you do not understand and about which you want to ask questions. If you continue to feel that you don't understand, ask a classmate, make an appointment with your instructor, or visit the learning support center on your campus.