Your lectures provide students with information that’s critical to their mastery of your course material. They’re aware that they need to listen to the lecture in order to get the benefit of class time—but as we all know by experience, certain kinds of listening benefit some situations more so than others. For example, you can listen to someone, but not truly tune in to what he or she is saying. And the way you listen to a concert for enjoyment and appreciation is not the same mode of listening you’d find most effective if you’re trying to understand and absorb the material being presented. Thus, students who want to get the most out of your lectures can benefit from some straightforward advice that can help them focus their concentration as they listen.

In Essential Study Skills, Eighth Edition, Linda Wong encourages students to listen for six kinds of information as they pay attention to your lecture and take notes. These are:

1. Key or “signal” words. Keywords (or “signal words”) such as “causes,” “purposes,” “effects,” “ways,” “advantages,” “characteristics,” and “types” can be used as “headings” to indicate that the speaker is introducing a major portion of the lecture (e.g. “Now, I am going to discuss the top five ways that…”).

2 . Main ideas. Topic sentences indicate the main points or ideas that the speaker is trying to communicate. These are often indicated by such words as “First…” “Second…” “Third…” and “Finally…”.

3. Definitions and key terms. If the instructor is taking the time to define a term, it is almost certainly a critical concept that’s central to your understanding of the topic. If the speaker says something like “[the term] means…” or “[term], also known as…”, you’re hearing a definition. Wong recommends writing “DEF” or “=” in your notes to indicate that you’ve copied down a term defined in class.

4. Supporting details. Examples, dates, statistics, anecdotes and other details illustrate the key points, provide supporting evidence for the topic under discussion, and help clarify your understanding.

5. The speaker’s verbal clues. Most instructors will use certain keywords (as described above) to indicate important concepts. You may also notice that an instructor becomes more enthusiastic at a certain point in the lecture,  or that he or she “punctuates” key points with a louder voice, deeper tone, or particular gestures. The more familiar you become with the instructor’s speaking style, the more readily you’ll come to know his or her method of confirming that a particular point is important. (And of course, if the instructor says “This is important,” it’s important!)

6. The conclusion. The instructor will likely “wrap up” the lecture by summarizing the main points that he or she covered that day. Be sure to capture these points, and write them under the heading “Conclusion” so that you can readily find them when it’s time to review.

Reference: Wong, Linda. 2015. Essential Study Skills, Eighth Edition. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

What listening or note-taking tips do you recommend to students? Share them below.