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Study Tips

10 ways to take better lecture notes

We hate to break it to you, but turning up to your lectures is only half the battle. Listening up and really nailing your note-taking skills is key to getting the degree grade you're aiming for.

Colourful notebooks and woman at desk taking notes

Credit: Marina Rich, Rido – Shutterstock

You might be tempted to give yourself a big pat on the back for hauling yourself out of bed and making it to class. But if you're not making the best use of your lecture time, you might as well have just stayed under the covers.

100% lecture attendance means nothing if you spend the duration deciding what to have for dinner. And while listening intently is definitely useful for getting a first, taking lecture notes that you can refer back to when writing essays and revising is even more crucial.

We've put together a few tips on how to take lecture notes.

Do you struggle to stay on top of all your deadlines and assignments? Find out how to become more organised with our handy guide.

How to take lecture notes

These are the best ways to take notes in university:

  1. Write concise notes

    student highlighting notes

    Credit: ABO PHOTOGRAPHY - Shutterstock

    This is an easy mistake that most of us make when taking lecture notes.

    Not only is attempting to get everything down on paper pretty much impossible, but it also means you won't really be listening to what's being said or giving it time to sink in.

    The key is striking a balance. It's better to listen up and write down particular phrases you think are important. You can then back these up with the lecture slides, which should be made available once the class is over.

  2. Record lectures on a dictaphone

    Wonder what to bring to lectures if you're a slow writer or struggle a bit with university note-taking? Taking a dictaphone to record lectures is a good backup if you're worried about missing anything.

    You can listen to your lecturer's dulcet tones later on, making more notes in your own time instead of trying to multitask during class.

    Don't use a recorder as a replacement for paying attention or taking some notes, though. A bit of note-taking helps you process useful information. Pressing record and settling down to catch up on sleep isn't how it works.

    Most smartphones come with recording features but, failing that, you can find some pretty cheap dictaphones on Amazon. Or, check out Soundnote on our list of essential apps for students for a properly futuristic take on it.

  3. Pay close attention

    Hi there! Still with us? Even if you've managed the magic eight hours of sleep, it's easy to lose concentration in a boring lecture.

    But zoning out in class means you'll have to spend more time catching up or becoming frustrated because you don't understand something. By staying focused in lectures, you'll feel better knowing that you don't have so much to catch up on later.

    A coffee before class might work for some, but you should always make sure you're feeding yourself the right brain fuel to keep you going.

  4. Highlight, underline and capitalise your notes

    By underlining and using CAPITALS, it's easier to identify key points in your lecture notes.

    If your lecturer is stressing something important, draw attention to certain words or phrases in whatever way will best help you remember them. But don't get too distracted with your artistic creations.

    Using different colours and highlighters is also known to do the trick (as well as generally making your pages of notes look more exciting). However, it's probably best to add these after class when you're reading over your notes again.

  5. Use abbreviations

    notebooks and pencil against blue background

    Credit: Alexxndr – Shutterstock

    Remember that these are your notes. They aren't going to be marked and the only person who needs to be able to read them is you. Take some time to work out whatever shorthand code you're comfortable with and roll with it.

    Shorten words like using '2' instead of 'to', 'too' and 'two', 'da' for 'the', 'w/' for 'with', etc. Whatever floats 'ya' boat.

    As long as you can understand your notes, it doesn't matter if they're shortened down or contain spelling mistakes.

    Make sure you really can understand them though! You'll have to consult them again when it's time to revise, so don't go overboard with it.

  6. Get rid of distractions

    If you're using a laptop or tablet for your note-taking, get rid of any possible distractions before class starts. Generally, we'd recommend taking notes by hand, but some people prefer to type.

    Close all other tabs or programs you have running and turn the WiFi off. This way, you're not tempted to check social media or get distracted by notifications.

    You might think it's useful to have WiFi on in case you have to look something up that you're not sure about, but believe us – now is not the time.

    Instead, take note of what you want to research and save the browsing for after the lecture. Otherwise, you'll go off on a Wikipedia tangent and have no idea what's been going on for the last half an hour.

    If you prefer to use a laptop or tablet when taking notes in class, we have some great note-taking programs in our list of the best free software for students.
  1. Leave gaps in your notes

    If you miss something that was said or find something a bit confusing (or were too busy thinking about your dinner again), just write down what you can and leave a gap so you can add more information later.

    This will draw your attention to certain areas that need closer attention, and leave you some extra space to delve into them later on.

  2. Type up your notes after lectures

    woman sitting at laptop

    Credit: Africa Studio – Shutterstock

    Revisiting your lecture notes soon after class is always a good idea. Reading through your notes helps to solidify your knowledge, and typing them up is the perfect way to make sure you understand everything.

    This method makes it easier to read through your notes when you come back to revise, and it makes it much harder to lose them.

  3. Share your lecture notes with friends

    If you've got some helpful mates on your course, there's no harm in sharing your lecture notes afterwards or asking to see someone else's.

    There's always a chance that one of you has picked up something vital that the others have missed, or that you've come up with a good way of simplifying something that's quite complex.

    It's also a nice thing to do, which earns you some good karma and means you're reprocessing the information as you read other people's notes.

    But remember that not everyone likes sharing notes. If a classmate turns you down, don't be offended.

  4. Learn which note-taking style suits you

    Although the above advice on how to take notes in lectures is all top-notch, it's also true that everyone works differently when it comes to learning. It's a matter of seeing what works best for you.

    Mastering the art of taking lecture notes can take a bit of trial and error. This is especially true if you've arrived fresh from school, where the style of teaching will likely be very different.

    Try a few different methods and, once you've worked out your own style, stick to it.

Now you know how to take lecture notes, you can also make money from Instagramming them.

Jake Butler

WRITTEN BY Jake Butler

Jake joined Save the Student in 2010 and is the COO. As an expert across student finance, Jake has appeared on The BBC, The Guardian, Which?, ITV, Channel 5 and many other outlets. He particularly enjoys sharing tips on saving money and making extra money with opportunities like paid surveys and part-time jobs.
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