Even as we edge toward the end of the term, it’s not too late for students to hone their study skills. This article from a previous eNewsletter on “Active Learning” offers students some tips for taking effective notes in your course — notes that will later prove handy as they study for their final exams.

Note-taking can keep students engaged because they are, in essence, disciplining themselves to listen closely to what is being said. What else do you do to encourage active engagement during a lecture? Please share your thoughts in the comments section or send them to us via the “Contact Us” link above.

Think back to your own school days. Did you ever refer back to the notes you took and think: “Twenty words? Is that all I really took away from that one-hour lecture?” Or, after attempting to describe the instructor’s every utterance, did you review what you’d written and found yourself lost in a sea of words that couldn’t help you distinguish which points were most critical, versus those that were of minor importance?

Note-taking is a highly valuable, yet often untaught, skill. In FOCUS on College Success. Constance Staley offers six tips that can lead to more meaningful notes. These tips may also help you if you’re tasked with recording the details of a meeting, or you’re back in school for continuing education!

  • Listen for an organizing pattern. Observe whether you can determine the speaker’s system for addressing subjects (e.g., chronologically or topically).
  • Note whether a handout accompanies lecture materials. If so, chances are that the information is considered to be important—especially if the speaker elaborates on those points during the course of the lecture.
  • Recognize verbal cues. At the beginning of the lecture, did the speaker mention that he or she would address a certain number of key points? That’s one cue revealing how many main ideas will be addressed and what to listen for. Additionally, listen for signal words and phrases such as “For example…,” “On the other hand…,” or “In summary…,” as these are used to highlight main points.
  • When in doubt, write it down. To prevent yourself from inadvertently missing a main point, let the motto “better safe than sorry” be your watchwords.
  • Consider your learning style preferences. If you are visual, drawing diagrams may help; other learners may prefer outlines. Determine which method suits you best.
  • Create a shorthand system that works. Very few people could literally capture every word of a live lecture. Abbreviations and symbols (such as “pp” for “pages” or “@” for “at”) can help you save time (and line space!) as you write. (Adapted from Staley 2003, 197-198)

Reference: Content adapted from Staley, Constance. 2013. FOCUS on College Success. 3rd ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Post Author: Tami Strang. Tami Strang is a Managing Editor of the Cengage Learning blog. She has extensive experience in higher education publishing, and recently obtained her Masters degree through the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science.