Lectures and taking notes
A wit once remarked that "A lecture is a process in which information passes from the notes of the lecturer into the notes of the student without passing through the minds of either." (Gilstrap and Martin, 1975)
These guidelines aim to help you avoid that dull and futile situation by helping you learn how to be a more active participant in lectures.
1. Making the most of Lectures
Lectures are used for two purposes:
These guidelines cover:
a. Preparing for lectures
a. Preparing for lectures
Find out how your lectures relate to your course as a whole. Do the seminars or tutorials prepare you for the lectures, or do they follow up the lectures? Will you be able to discuss the lecture content in seminars? See your course information booklet or ask your tutor.
Doing preparatory reading will make it easier for you to follow the lecture. When the lecture is part of a series, you should revise your notes from previous lectures.
b. During lectures
Listening in lectures
During the lecture it's more important to listen than to make notes. If you listen effectively, you will have a better understanding of the content, which will help you write clear, helpful notes that will make sense to you later on. If you have trouble concentrating, you should try sitting near the front, so you are removed from distractions. You may find it helpful to record the lecture on a cassette recorder, but ask the lecturer's permission first.
Signposts to structure
While you listen to a lecture, try to focus on its structure. Sometimes the lecturer makes it clear at the start of the lecture with a list of headings or a summary. Note this down so you have a sense of where the lecture is going.
The lecturer may use verbal signposts, for example: "I shall now discuss..." or "My next point is..." Note the change of topic in your notes. Other signposts to listen out for are phrases like: "On the other hand..." or "Turning to..."
Some lecturers issue handouts to summarise important information and help you follow the lecture. To get the most benefit from them:
c. After lectures
Don't be afraid to ask the lecturer for clarification either in the lecture, or afterwards.
Use seminars and tutorials to clarify material from the lectures.
Review your notes while the lecture us still fresh in your mind.
You will have to do a lot of note-taking at university, much more than you have ever had to do at school or college.
Note-taking is a skill which you will need in order to be a successful student. It's also a skill which your future employer wants you to have: to be able to summarise what has been said or written, in a clear, concise form, with no important facts left out.
We cover six aspects of making notes:
a. Be selective
a. Be selective
Note-taking does not mean writing down everything you read or hear. Your notes should be a clear summary of essential points in a text or lecture. Be selective about what you write down.
Notes should help you to:
Here are two ways of taking notes. Which do you prefer?
If you're a Visual Learner you'll find patterns easier to use than lists of ideas, so you may want to use mind maps (which are also called spider digrams).
Mind maps can help you to connect information in a variety of ways. You can use them for:
Start in the middle of a page with the subject title or topic, and add major points along a line from the centre, with additional ideas branching out from the main points. Use connecting lines to link up ideas/points from different branches. Like this:
c. Cornell Method
If you are an Auditory Learner, you may prefer to use a system like the Cornell Method, an example of which is given below:
d. Recording lectures
You may find it easiest to record lectures on audio cassette and make your notes from the tapes afterwards.
Get permission: most lecturers will let you record, but it's a courtesy to ask first
Put your cassette recorder near the lecturer: you won't get clear sound if you put your cassette machine at the back of a large lecture theatre.
e. Using your notes
Whichever method you use, it's important that you do something with your notes. You need to go through them while the lecture is still fresh in our mind, within 24 hours, and make sure you tidy them up and summarize them.
Use highlighters and coloured pens to highlight key points and to link relevant facts and ideas.
Make it a rule after each lecture to:
Summarise your notes
Write down the main points to make it easy to revise for exams later.
If you use the Cornell system, you can overlay your pages so you only see the left-hand margin, and read the essentials of the lecture from your summary notes.)
Fill in your notes
Fill in from memory examples and facts which you didn't have time to get down in the lecture
Clarify your notes
If any parts of the lecture were unclear, ask the lecturer, tutor or a fellow-student about them, or check your text books
Highlight your notes
Make the key points stand out:
f. Making notes as you listen
Apart from the date and title (if it's given) don't try to write anything at the start of a lecture.
Listen to find out what the content is going to be.
Write down key words / ideas. You don't have to write in complete sentences.
Use abbreviations to help you
The most common abbreviations are:
eg for example
nb note well
ie that is
etc and the rest
> greater than
< less than
C19 nineteenth century
Your next step should be to print out and work through the study guide Getting the Most from Lectures
There are further helpful tips about lectures in the section on Being
an Active Learner on Arts.Net
last updated on
October 16, 2008