Taking Lecture Notes*

WHY take lecture notes, particularly when many instructors provide handouts and PowerPoints? 

Taking your own lecture notes enables you to:

  • Condense lecture material to key points, rather than reproduce the lecture word-for-word.
  • Record concepts, formulas, facts and processes that prove useful to homework, studying, exams, and overall understanding of course material.
  • Process the information you hear and test your understanding through writing summaries: if you've grasped the concept entirely, you'll be able to produce detailed and comprehensive notes; if not, you'll have a better idea of what to follow up on with TAs during recitation.

WHAT should you record while taking notes? 

Keep an eye out for the following, which may indicate significance:

  • Material an instructor writes on the blackboard or shows through PowerPoint: if the instructor is taking the time and energy to record this information, it is likely significant and should be recorded.
  • Repetition: concepts, formulas, facts, and processes that the instructor mentions more than once are likely significant.
  • Emphasis: concepts, formulas, facts, and processes that the instructor emphasizes by way of tone of voice, hand gestures, amount of time spent, and examples used.
  • Word signals – for instance, "there are two schools of thought on [topic];" "the third defining characteristic of [item] is….;" etc.
  • Introductions, summaries, and reviews, all of which can serve as road maps to what the instructor hopes to accomplish teaching throughout the lecture.

HOW should you take notes? 

Your optimal style may include the following:

  • Dating your notes, and provide a heading that describes the lecture's overall content.
  • Numbering the pages of your notes.
  • Paraphrasing instead of writing verbatim – writing in your own words, except for formulas, definitions, and specific facts (i.e. involving dates), which should be recorded exactly as spoken.
  • Using consistent abbreviations and symbols.
  • Developing an ideal organizational format, like an outline, map, table, or notecards, depending on content.
  • Making space for any information missed, so that it can be filled in later.
  • Leaving room in the margins for additional thoughts on notes.
  • Reading, revising, and typing a finalized version of your lecture notes, which can be used for exam-studying, once you have clarified any ambiguities.

*Content adapted from: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~acskills/success/notes.html