Tips for Inside the College Classroom
Do's and Don'ts of Class Notes
Listen and Learn: Note taking is helpful, not only because it gives you a record of what was covered in class, but also because it prompts you to really digest the ideas. Here are some tips for getting the most of your effort.
Listen actively: Good note-taking begins with active listening -- keeping your attention focused:
- Come to class prepared, having done the reading and reviewed your notes from the previous class. Be ready to ask questions and take notes.
- Sit where you can see and hear what's being presented without being distracted.
- Commit to being interested in what you're listening to. This will help you pay attention and retain the information.
- Question what the speaker is saying and think about how it ties in with the assigned reading, with your other classes, and with your other activities and interests.
- Look for how the speaker organizes the ideas presented, paying attention to elements like a general introduction, a summary of the previous lecture, an emphasis on larger themes, the inclusion of illustrative examples, a developing argument through the course of the lecture, or a comparison that gives structure to the material presented.
Pay attention to clues from the speaker, such as a raised voice or arm gestures, that accompany the presentation of important ideas. Also, watch for when your teacher:
- mentions that a particular point is important
- writes a sentence or quote on the board
- repeats a point
- spends a lot of time presenting or asking the class about a particular idea.
Use a system: The key to note taking itself is having a notebook in which to write and having a system for getting information down quickly and accurately. Here are some tips for taking notes:
- Date and number pages so that you can keep them in order.
- Have a binder, clipboard, or notebook in which you keep your notes all together.
- Write in convenient shorthand. Use contractions, abbreviations, and symbols.
- Leave space in your notes to add points or explanations later.
- Put a question mark next to anything you miss or don't understand and clarify after class.
- Get down the speaker's main points. You don't need to have a word-for-word copy of every lecture.
- Indicate the notes that reflect your own responses or ideas rather than what the lecturer says. For example, you can write the word "me" next to your own ideas.
- Jot down key words, which include new vocabulary, important facts, and formulas.
- Organize your notes as you write. The lecturer often helps with this task by enumerating points or stating a contrast. Underline or put a mark next to larger points, with subsidiary points listed underneath.
- As soon as you can after class, review your notes and fill in missing points that you remember but didn't write down. Highlight important points, and mark anything you want to ask about at the next class meeting. Make sure you can read and understand everything you've written.
- Write a brief summary of each lecture to reinforce the main idea.
If you start getting confused about what to write or where the lecture is heading, there's a good chance that other students are confused, too. Do yourself and other students a favor by asking questions if the material presented is unclear.
Reprinted with the permission of White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans
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