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Taking Notes Module

Taking Notes in Class

The following section discusses aspects of taking notes from lectures. Some general information is provided including the phases of note-taking and how to pick out the important points from all that your professor is saying. Next, we discuss some popular methods for taking notes, but remember that there is no "right way": what works for one student may not work for you. Try a couple of the methods in some classes to get a feel for them.

Phases of Note-Taking

Good note-taking practice starts even before you enter the classroom and continues once the class has ended. Think about note-taking as three distinct phases: 

1. Before Class:

  • Complete any assigned readings and scan through the presentation before class.
  • Make note of any questions you have.
  • Review notes from the pervious week's class to refresh on materials learned and make connections to new material.

2. During Class:

  • Actively listen to the professor by giving your full attention to the lecture.
  • If the professor begins with a question, write it down and listen for the answers.
    Tip: Don't try to write down every word. Instead, listen for summaries, main ideas and concepts.
  • Pay attention to how the lecture is organized. Often, in the first 5-10 minutes the main topic will be presented to set the stage for the rest of the lecture. During the conclusion, your professor will often repeat main points and make connections to class readings or future lectures.

3. After Class:

  • Review your notes within 24 hours, and discuss anything you did not understand with your professor.
  • Use highlighters to code your notes. For example: Pink = not understood, Orange = somewhat know, Green = know and understand.
  • Write a summary of the main ideas and fill in any missing information. 

Understanding What's Important

Taking good notes is about recognizing the important points of a lecture, not about writing down every word your professor says. Here are some things you can look for to pick out these points:

1. Introductions and Conclusions:
Typically occur in the first and last 5-10 minutes of the lecture. The introduction outlines the main topic and the conclusion will wrap up ideas and often reiterates the main points. 

2. Repetition:
When you hear a point being repeated, it's almost certain to be important. Repetition can be word for word, re-phrasing or re-wording a point, elaboration of a point or a series of examples.

3. Linking Expressions:
Are words and phrases that can signal that something is worth taking note of. Some examples include:

  • Repetition words: In addition, also, in other words
  • Emphasis words: Specifically, most importantly, especially
  • Number, list and order words: Firstly, second, ultimately
  • Summary words: In conclusion, to wrap up, for these reasons
  • Amplification words: For example, in other words, that is, i.e.

4. Elaboration:
Provides more information about a topic and can include more information to support the idea, an argument for or against the topic, some history and implications.