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Note-taking skills in class

india Updated: Aug 29, 2006 14:55 IST
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SEVERAL OF my students have asked for help in taking notes during class. They complain that although they understand well in class, the notes they take down often miss out relevant points. This is not unusual because while a lecture is delivered in class, students may not have a correct idea about how to note down important points. Here are some ways to make the most out of lectures in class.

USE A large, loose-leaf notebook. Use only one side of the paper. (You then can lay your notes out to see what was covered in that lecture and also add additional material in between.) Draw a vertical line two and a half inches from the left side of you paper. This is the recall column. Notes must be taken to the right of this margin. Later key words or phrases can be written in the recall column.

During the lecture
RECORD NOTES in point form. Capture general ideas, not illustrative ideas. Skip lines to show end of ideas or thoughts. Using abbreviations will save time. Write legibly.

After the lecture
READ THROUGH your notes and make it more legible if necessary. Now use the column. Jot down ideas or key words, which give you the idea of the lecture. You will have to reread the teacher’s ideas and reflect in your own words. Cover up the right-hand portion of your notes and recite the general ideas and concepts of the lecture.

Organising material for better retention
WHILE THE lecture is still fresh in your mind, you can fill in from memory examples and facts, which you did not have time to write down during the lecture. More over, you can recall what parts of the lecture were unclear to you so that you can consult the teacher or a classmate, your text, or additional readings for further information. Immediately review results in better retention than reviewing after a longer period of time.

Unless a student reviews within 24 hours after the lecture or at least before the next lecture, his retention will drop; and he will be relearning rather than reviewing.    

Classroom skills
1. Listen actively - if possible think before you write.

2. Be open minded about points you disagree on. Don’t let arguing interfere with your note-taking.

3. Raise questions if appropriate.

4. Leave a few spaces blank as you move from one point to the next so that you can fill in additional points later if
necessary. Your objective is to take helpful notes, not to save paper.

5. Do not try to take down everything the teacher says. It is impossible in the first place and unnecessary in the second place because not everything is of equal importance. Spend more time listening and attempt to take down the main points. If you are writing as fast as you can, you cannot be as discriminating a listener. There may be some times, however, when it is more important to write than to think.

6. Be alert to cues about what the professor thinks is important.

7. Make your original notes legible enough for your own reading, but use abbreviations of your own invention when possible. The effort required to recopy notes can be better spent in rereading them and thinking about them. Although neatness is a virtue in some respect, it does not necessarily increase your learning.

8. Copy down everything on the board. Did you ever stop to think that every blackboard scribble may be a clue to an exam item? You may not be able to integrate what is on the board into your lecture notes, but if you copy it, it may serve as a useful clue for you later.

9. Sit as close to the front of the class, there are fewer distractions and it is easier to hear, see and attend to important material.

(The author is a psychologist and a professor of psychology at BSSS. He can be contacted at