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Tips for taking lecture notes

There are many reasons why you should take lecture notes:

  • Taking notes during a lecture forces you to listen carefully, which results in better recall of the material later.
  • When you are studying, your lecture notes serve as a guide to alert you to what is important in the text. If it was mentioned in class look up the topics in the text book.
  • Personal notes are usually easier to remember than the text.
  • The physical act of writing down important points helps you remember this information even before you have studied the material formally for a test.

Instructors usually give clues about what information is important to write down. 

Some common clues that something is worth writing down are:

  • Material written on the board or emphasized on the screen.

  • Repetition. If your instructor repeats the same material, it is probably important!

  • Emphasis. Emphasis can be judged by tone of voice and gesture. If your instructor is trying to drive home a point with lots of examples or raises his/her voice, make sure to write this information down.

  • Emphasis can be judged by the amount of time the instructor spends on points and the number of examples he or she uses.

  • Word signals (e.g. "There are two points of view on… " "The third reason is… " "In conclusion… ").

  • Summaries given at the end of class.

  • Reviews given at the beginning of class.

  • Recap or review of material usually means that it is important to know!

You should develop your own method of taking notes, but most students find the following suggestions helpful:

  • Make your notes brief. Come up with your own short hand (e.g. ppl = people).
  • Use abbreviations and symbols but be consistent. This will become your own shorthand.
  • Put most notes in your own words. However, the following should be noted exactly: formulas, definitions, specific facts or dates.
  • Use outline form and/or a numbering system. Indention helps you distinguish major from minor points.
  • If you miss a statement, write key words, skip a few spaces and get the information later. If you miss a definition, write down the word and leave space to look up the definition later.
  • Don't try to use every space on the page. Leave room for co-ordinating your notes with the text after the lecture. By going back to add additional information from the text book after each lecture you will save yourself time when it comes to studying for exams because the work will already be done! (You may want to list key terms in the margin or make a summary of the contents of the page.)
  • Date your notes. Add page numbers so can retrieve information more easily.


©Adapted from Academic Skills Center, Dartmouth College 2001


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