Taking Notes: Taking Notes in a Lecture (page 2)
In many of your classes, your instructor lectures on or makes a presentation about a topic, usually one that’s related to the current subject you’re studying. Your responsibility as a student in that class is to take notes so that you can remember the key points your instructor makes. The following sections share the wrong (and often most common way) to take notes, and then help you discover the right ways.
The Wrong Way to Take Notes
When taking notes, many students try methods that seem to make sense but in reality don’t work well. For example, you may try to write down everything the instructor says, but you’ll most likely find that you can’t keep up. And even if you could keep up, this method doesn’t work well because you’re functioning simply as a recorder; you aren’t really listening to the information and making connections about the information and the subject at hand.
You may also try tape-recording a lecture, and while this ensures you have a record of everything that is spoken, a recording doesn’t take into account any visuals (maps, diagrams, charts, and so on) the instructor may use in the lecture. Also, when you go back to study, you probably won’t have time to listen to each and every lecture all over again, which makes the recording less than useful. Finally, when you’re recording, you’re not actively engaging in thinking about the material. So strike that method.
The Right Way to Take Notes
What’s the best way, then, to take notes? The best method is taking notes on paper or in a notebook. This section provides some suggestions using this method for lecture notes. In the “Taking Notes on Reading Assignments” section later in the chapter, you can find out how useful it is to also take notes on your reading assignments.
Listening for Key Information
When you’re listening to a lecture, your goal is to capture the main points, facts, and ideas. One of the first strategies is knowing how to listen for the important information. Your goal is to listen to and think about why the instructor is presenting the information.
- Why is it important?
- How might that information be used in your class?
- How might the information be used on a test?
- Is this information a basis for other information?
- Could this information be used as content for an essay?
Instead of writing down everything you hear, think about what the information means and why the instructor is lecturing on that subject. Also, don’t worry about what your classmates are recording. You may see another student writing furiously and think you should be also. You should learn to trust your own judgment in taking notes and not worry what other students are doing.
When taking notes, also listen and look for clues from your instructor. Instructors often use several methods to stress the important information in a lecture. Consider the following verbal and nonverbal clues that usually indicate important information:
- Repeated ideas or themes: Most instructors repeat key information more than once to stress the importance. They may also preface important information by saying something like, “Now this is important” or “Remember this.”
- Information that’s written down on the blackboard, overhead transparency, or whiteboard: When instructors want to stress key points, they often write down key facts or ideas for you to both see and hear. These are usually important.
- Concepts that provide a foundation for other information: For example, an instructor may introduce key literary terms or concepts that provide the basis for a literary discussion. Or in a science class, an instructor may stress steps or procedures that are followed in experiments. Take note of these concepts and steps.
- Obvious organizational structures: For example, in the introduction to the lecture, your instructor may say, “I’m going to tell you the four main reasons why the United States entered World War I.” You note that there are four main points, and then listen for those four points. Sometimes the instructor reminds you of the points, saying things like, “The second reason why. . . .” Or the instructor may write down the main ideas. Another way an instructor may present a lecture is in chronological order, citing key dates or events. Again, use this structure to follow along, see how one event led to another, and organize your notes accordingly. And if you find a gap in the timeline, ask your instructor to clarify.
- Tangents: Sometimes, instructors get off on tangents, with a personal story or experiences. While this may make the information more vivid in your imagination, it’s not likely to be something the instructor will include on the test. You usually don’t have to record any personal stories or material that’s off the subject.
- Instructions that tell you what’s expected of you during the course: For example, your instructor may give you information about the timing and structure of tests, due dates and guidelines for papers, and so on. Usually, an instructor provides a handout for this crucial information, but if not, it’s up to you to record these details.
- Handouts: If the instructor takes the time to create a handout, it usually contains the main ideas, concepts, steps, and so on. If the instructor gives you the handout at the start of the lecture, use it to follow along with the key points. If you receive the handout at the end of class, use it to review what the instructor has stressed.
- Web site content: Many schools now use course-management systems that provide the students with communication and other tools for the course. For example, your instructor may post the syllabus, handouts, and assignments on the course site. Your instructor may also post a copy of lecture outlines or other information helpful for preparing for class and studying for tests. Pay careful attention to these.
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