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Successful note-making in lectures

1 Beforehand: get prepared

Devise your own note-making shorthand, adapt it for your course requirements and vocabulary and then use it consistently. Having an effective shorthand system avoids the need to write down full words, but remember to introduce new abbreviations or acronyms sparingly so that they’re easy to remember. Before each lecture, establish the basic themes so you are not taken by surprise, and read any preparatory material in advance.

 Female university student preparing notes
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2 During: active listening

Active listening really helps with effective note-making. The speaker may signpost significant ideas with phrases such as, ‘I will now discuss the three main ways…’ Use these signals, and any slides or images, to think critically about what the lecturer says. You don’t need to write down every word so decide what’s important and then create topic headings on the left of the page. As the lecture progresses, add related sub-topic headings under each main heading. List the core information as bullet points under each subheading. Underline key words and highlight important ideas and information. You may prefer a visual method to make notes, such as mind maps or concept maps.

3 Afterwards: add points and ideas

No notes will ever be comprehensive—don’t agonise! But always revisit your notes as soon as possible after the lecture and add as much relevant detail as you can remember, including references. This will make it easier to draw on the material later. You may also want to incorporate key points from slides or other materials into your notes, and add your own thoughts and comments. If you have questions about the lecture, research the answers or ask the lecturer.

Esther Selsdon

20 January 2022

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