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Listening and Note-taking in Lectures

Do you find it difficult to maintain your concentration in lectures?  Do you get lost during lectures or have a hard time identifying what lecture material is important?  Do you have trouble keeping pace while writing lecture notes?  Feel as if you are not getting the most out of your lectures?

The following listening and note-taking strategies, which are broken down into strategies you can implement before, during and after each lecture, can help you to address these concerns.  Select the ones you think are most relevant for you.

Listening strategies

1. Before the lecture

  • Maintain lifestyle factors that increase concentration:
    • Daily cardiovascular exercises
    • Adequate sleep levels
    • Healthy eating behaviors
  • Complete assigned readings before lecture: this helps provide a framework for how lecture concepts relate to each other and what concepts are important to note.
  • Review previous lecture notes to re-learn material that may relate to the upcoming lecture
  • Leave distracting devices (eg: phone, tablet, laptop) turned off in your bag, or do not bring them to lecture.

2. During the lecture

  • Attend the 1st lecture: this class may provide hints about the most important topics of the course
  • Reduce distractions: if others’ conversations or computer use is distracting, sit at the front of the class
  • Observe the professor: notice cues that may indicate important material is being covered
    • Professor repeats a sentence or concept
    • Changes in tone, rate or volume of professor’s voice
    • Things that are written on the board or overhead
    • Verbal cues ie. “This is important”

3. After the lecture

Review lecture recordings (if available).

Note-taking strategies

4. Before the lecture

  • Prepare in advance to be able to simultaneously listen in class and write down everything you need. Note-taking in lecture is easiest if you bring in, and are already familiar with, a set of notes on the topic.  Then you won’t need to worry about writing down everything the instructor says, and you can simply add any new information to your set of notes.  Here are 3 ways of preparing a set of notes before the lecture:
    • If the instructor posts notes online in advance, read through them, print them out with a lot of blank space between subtopics, and bring them to the lecture.
    • You can also complete the assigned readings in advance of the lecture, take notes leaving plenty of blank space, and bring that set of notes to the lecture.
    • You can even take your reading notes into the printout of the notes that are posted online, and still leave room for adding material in the lecture!

5. During the lecture

  • Take notes using pen and paper, rather than a laptop.  This forces you to process the material before recording it, and also eliminates a common source of distraction.
  • Put an asterisk(*) next to information that appears both in lecture and in the notes you made during the assigned readings
    • Overlap in the text and lecture usually indicates that this is important information
  • Keep the Pace:  learn and use abbreviations as often as you can – this will significantly cut down on writing time
  • If you fall behind: leave some space and pick up where you can – you can fill in the gaps after class
  • Discern important information from unimportant information: the format of testing should impact what you record
    • Multiple Choice: details
    • Short Answer: definitions and examples
    • Essays: main concepts or themes; how concepts compare and contrast

6. After the lecture

  • Review text and lecture notes within 24 hours, this allows for:
    • Time to add information to topic areas covered in class where you fell behind in notetaking
    • Cleaning up or re-writing notes
    • Identification of difficult areas that need to be followed up with classmate/professor/TA
    • Opportunities to retain information in long term memory
  • Make supplementary notes for exam preparation, for example:
    • Lists of important terminology and their definitions
    • List of possible exam questions
    • Notes on how concepts covered in the lecture relate to previously learned info (using concept maps or comparison charts to illustrate)
    • Flash cards
  • Review lecture notes on a weekly basis to refresh your memory