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This post is going to be about note taking. This is quite possibly the foundational skill that every student needs to use and master in order to succeed. The one exception to this would probably be the one with photographic memory. So, if you are one with photographic memory, you may stop reading.

Why do you need to take notes?

There are many benefits of note taking, but in my opinion there are two key ones. The first one is that it is perfect reviewing and revision material. It will not only help with your own understanding of the lecture, but when it comes to reviewing and revision, you will have perfect personalised material ready in between your own hands! This may be dependant on the quality of your notes (see below to ensure your notes are of good quality) though. The second benefit is that it will ensure you are engaged in the lecture and are actively taking part in it. We have all been there… a boring lecture where either the topic or the lecturer has put our brains to sleep (or sometimes eyes) and we come out of the room an hour later not remembering a thing. The simple cure to this is to take notes during a lecture, especially one where much student participation is not required. So, your only participation will be the note taking. This will allow you to follow and stay engaged.

How should you take notes?

There is no one simple answer, but here are 7 tips you should keep in mind:

  1. Review and Preview. Prepare for your lectures by reviewing your notes from the previous class. Often, lecturers will not review what was covered the last class. You should also preview what is to come in the upcoming lecture. This allows you to be ahead of all of your peers. Classes have three stages: the pre, during and post. You must ensure you are doing something in all three of these stages.
  2. When taking notes in a live lecture, you will obviously not be writing everything down. So, you have to be selective. However when in doubt write it down, you can tidy up your notes later on.
  3. Use abbreviations. While you write long words the lecturer will continue talking, so, you need to develop quick note taking skills and one cheat is the use of abbreviations. Ensure you have your own abbreviation key sheet. 
  4. Know your instructor. Understand their lecture style. What do teachers want you to write. Show the teacher your notes early for evaluation.
  5. Good note taking system. There are many note taking systems and then there are some really good note taking systems. We cover some of the good ones in our Academic English course.
  6. Review notes interactively using a good system (tip 5).
  7. Re-write notes into a tidy paragraph or two. Imagine doing this for a semester. At the end you will have yourself 12 odd paragraphs summarising the semester in your own words… beautiful!
How to take better notes: The Cornell Note-taking System

Adapted from Long Beach City College (2011)

Related: This is part of our Academic English course

Related: Our Online Academic Writing course also covers this

Reference List:

Long Beach City College (2011) How To Take Better Lecture Notes | LBCC Study Skills. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bvsf591rYWE&t=1016s (Accessed: 1 August 2016).