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Note-taking in University Lectures Adam Segal, Learning Skills Program Outline Why take notes? Knowing what is important Specific strategies Mini Lecture (practice) Follow-up and discussion Why take notes?

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note taking in university lectures

Note-taking in University Lectures

Adam Segal, Learning Skills Program

  • Why take notes?
  • Knowing what is important
  • Specific strategies
  • Mini Lecture (practice)
  • Follow-up and discussion
why take notes
Why take notes?
  • The purpose of notes is to provide you with a written record of the ideas you thought were important in the lecture
  • Written notes serve as an all-important starting place for you to: relate ideas within your course; review; think critically; prepare for exams; and generate ideas
  • The act of writing notes keeps you focussed
knowing what is important
Knowing what is important
  • You’re not able to take down every word the professor utters… and even so, it is important to think about what is most important
  • So, how do you know what’s important in a lecture?


knowing what is important5
Knowing what is important
  • Responding to the cues given by the instructor:
    • ideas professor repeats or spends a long time on
    • ideas written on board or overhead
    • ideas also covered in the text or course outline
    • change in pace, tone, emphasis, volume, body language
    • clear cues: “this is important” or “this will be on the exam!”
specific strategies abbreviations
Specific Strategies: Abbreviations
  • Why is the word “abbreviations” so long?


specific strategies abbreviations7
Specific Strategies: Abbreviations
  • When it comes to note-taking, less is more: develop abbreviations to reduce the amount you have to write.
  • What abbreviations do you know that could help you keep up with a lecture?


specific strategies abbreviations8
Specific Strategies: Abbreviations
  • ! b/c w/ w/out
  • # no. & -->
  • (cut off syllables) reg. = regular
  • (omit letters) cont’d = continued


specific strategies lecturer s style
Specific Strategies: Lecturer’s Style
  • Learn your instructor’s style to detect the structure and inter-relationship of ideas in a lecture
  • e.g., starts with written outline, follows it, repeats key ideas, does not get off topic, ends on time.
  • e.g., starts with no outline, meanders through various topics, writes on the board, sums lecture very well at the end
specific strategies preparing for lecture
Specific Strategies: Preparing for Lecture
  • Prepare for lecture by completing assigned readings, reviewing previous notes, and by examining the course outline
  • Make sure you understand the lecture: don’t be afraid to ask questions
specific strategies preparing for lecture11
Specific Strategies: Preparing for Lecture
  • Listen for ideas, not for individual words
  • Think: “what will I need to study”
  • Review your notes regularly to detect emerging themes and focal points
specific strategies formats
Specific Strategies: Formats
  • 2 useful note-taking formats:

Cornell Notes





Cornell Notes

Date / Course

  • 2 Columns
  • main notes column
  • key word column
  • Cornell notes are arranged with two columns, like this page is (nb. date/ course).
  • The wider column is used for the main notes; the narrow column is for key words, key phrases, questions, and your own ideas.

Cornell Notes

  • Main notes column (done in class)
  • Key word column (done after class)

Notes taken in class are written in this portion of the page.

Ideally, use point form notes and focus on main ideas and important details.

Key words that you make after class go here.


Cornell Notes

  • Class notes in wider column
  • review notes within 24 hours
  • Take your notes from class in the wider column
  • After class, within 24 hours, review the notes, adjust them as necessary, and choose key words to represent the ideas in the main column.

Cornell Notes

  • cover main notes
  • recite ideas from the key words
  • Then, cover up the main notes column with a card or blank sheet of paper.
  • Use your key words to practice recalling and discussing the ideas.


  • Here is an example mind- map:












  • Mind maps use key words and phrases to diagram the relationship between concepts, ideas, and details.
  • Advantages: flexibility; creativity; active review is required; attractive to re-read; can be combined with Cornell notes.



Usefulness of

Mind Maps



end of note taking

end ofNote-taking

Tips to help you make the grade!

Adam Segal

Counselling and Development Centre

York University