Making the most out of your lectures and note taking
At first some students attempt to write down in long hand the entirety of what their lecturer is saying. This is time consuming and will not necessarily help you gain better marks. Good note taking is about allowing you to condense information into smaller chunks. There are a couple of methods of doing this; it is important to find a style that works for you. Note taking is a skill that is also handy within the workplace and for later life.
Speeding up your note taking
Although your lecture notes will not be necessarily read by anyone else, you still need to be able to read and understand them. It is useful to come up with your own system of abbreviations and acronyms. Examples include ‘govt’ for government and ‘ECHR’ for the European Convention on Human Rights.
It also helps to use telegraphic sentences and write in bullet points. Be selective – which information is the most relevant and worth writing down? Use highlighters or circle words to emphasise the most important points and to add structure to your notes. Headings and subheadings can be excellent for dividing up each section.
If during the lecture, you realise you’re confused about a certain topic, leave a gap. You can come back to this later.
The Cornell note taking method
Cornell is an Ivy League university in New York. This note taking method was developed as a way of improving memory call and strengthening concentration in long lectures.
Before your lecture, divide up your page into three sections, as shown in the picture. Make your notes as normal in the right hand section, summarising the facts you hear.
After class, use the left hand ‘cues’ column to write questions and keywords. This exercise helps you create a ready-made individual revision guide for your examinations.
In the ‘summary’ box, reflect on what you have learnt from the lecture. How does it fit into the bigger picture and the module as a whole? Which ideas do you agree and disagree with? This is an important step as it means you are actively engaging with your lecture and will start to develop critical thinking skills. It avoids passively taking notes on what you have learnt in the lecture, which may be harder to recall later when revising for exams.
Tips for reading
The reading list in your Module Study Guide is a good place to start for ideas. Avoid non-academic sources and stick to textbooks, journals and academic websites. Although Wikipedia is a good starting point to get an overall understanding of the topic, your reading should not stop there.
Whilst reading and taking notes, keep asking yourself: how is the information relevant? How can it be connected to your module? What do you agree and disagree with? By asking yourself these questions, this will help develop a more informed opinion of the topic. It will also help when tackling essay questions, which may ask you to argue in favour of a certain viewpoint.
Try to develop a good filing system. Over the course of an academic year you will attend hundreds of lectures. If you do not organise your notes, perhaps in a folder with different coloured tabs, you may find it difficult to use them effectively when it comes to revision time.
As you read, make a note of where this information came from, including the title, author, date, publisher and page numbers. This is helpful when it comes to referencing, but also if you decide in a few weeks’ time that you would like to revisit the source again.
If the PowerPoint slides of the lecture are available on BlackBoard beforehand, it may be a good idea to print them out beforehand. This allows you to make notes around the slides as you listen, rather than giving into the temptation of trying to write down absolutely everything on the slides.
Some students prefer to take notes using a tablet or laptop, as opposed to traditional pen and paper. If you choose to do this, ensure that your device is fully charged and that the battery will not die halfway through. Consider saving your notes to a cloud based device, such as Dropbox or Google Drive, in case your laptop’s hard drive becomes damaged.
UWL Replay is a lecture recording service that allows you to review classes in your own time. This may be useful if you miss a lecture or want a refresher during revision. However, lectures should be just the start of your learning – it is important to actually attend, ask questions and engage in learning with other students. Visit http://www.uwl.ac.uk/students/current-students/uwl-replay for more information and a list of rooms with this facility.
If you wish to record a lecture using your own equipment, ask the lecturer in advance for their permission.
One method of revision involves making notes from your existing notes, perhaps on to flash cards. This is a good way of condensing the information, but it should not be used as your sole method. For revision to be effective, try to use a variety of techniques, including spider diagrams.
You can use spider diagrams to represent information from your notes in a visual and memorable way. Use colour and pictures to liven them up. When planning an essay, it can be helpful as a way of showing connections between concepts and theories.