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Note Taking and In-Class Skills

Adequate notes are a necessary adjunct to efficient studying and learning in college. Think over the following suggestions and improve your note taking system where needed.

  • Listen actively. If possible, think before you write – but don't get behind.
  • Be open-minded about points you disagree on. Don't let arguing interfere with your note taking.
  • Raise questions if appropriate.
  • Develop and use a standard method of note-taking including punctuation, abbreviations, margins, etc.
  • Take and keep notes in a large notebook. The only merit to a small notebook is ease of carrying and that is not your main objective. A large notebook allows you to adequately indent and use an outline form.
  • Leave a few spaces blank as you move from one point to the next so that you can fill in additional points later if necessary. Your objective is to take helpful notes, not to save paper.
  • Do not try to take down everything that the lecturer says. It is impossible and unnecessary because everything is not of equal importance. Spend more time listening and attempt to take down the main points. If you are writing as fast as you can, you cannot be as discriminating a listener. There may be some times, however, when it is more important to write than to think.
  • Listen for cues to important points, transitions from one point to the next, repetition of points for emphasis, changes in voice inflections, enumeration of a series of points, etc.
  • Many lecturers attempt to present a few major points and several minor points in a lecture. The rest is explanatory material and samples. Try to see the main points and do not get lost in a barrage of minor points that do not seem related to each other. The relationship will present itself if you listen closely for it. Be alert to cues about what the professor thinks is important.
  • Make your original notes legible enough for your own reading and use abbreviations of your own invention when possible. The effort required to recopy notes can be better spent in rereading them and thinking about them. Although neatness is a virtue in some respect, it does not necessarily increase your learning.
  • Copy down everything on the board. Did you ever stop to think that every blackboard scribble might be a clue to an exam item? You may not be able to integrate what is on the board into your lecture notes, but if you copy it, it may serve as a useful clue for you later. If not, what the heck – you haven't wasted anything. You were in the classroom anyway.
  • Sit as close to the front of the class as possible – there are fewer distractions and it is easier to hear, see, and attend to important material.
  • Mark assignments and suggestions precisely – ask questions if you're not sure.