How to Take Lecture Notes

Campus Week


This week it’s Campus Week at Get Great English. I know the term hasn’t started yet but think of it as a little time to prepare before packing bags, unpacking, moving into halls of residence or a flat.

When you are at university you need to take lecture notes. This is something you can practise online with video lectures (about your field of study or some elective courses you might take) so you develop the skills you need before you start university.

Read the unit guide before the first lecture if possible

The unit guide (sometimes called the module guide) is basically the course syllabus or the list and schedule of what will be taught. You need to know what to expect and also to learn the specialised vocabulary before you take the lecture if possible. Your dictionary may not be good enough for this. You may need to use Google or Wikipedia to check for any specialised usage of new words or even buy a dictionary for your subject (for example a Sociology dictionary, which I used in my first year of my Film & Media Studies degree).

Grab the lecturer’s PowerPoints

A lot of lecturers give copied PowerPoint files or allow them to be downloaded by students. If you can get them before the lecture then this can be extremely helpful because you already have the basic notes. All you have to do now is listen for details or for special cases that the lecturer refers to. You should print this out so you can easily highlight and/or annotate (write notes about something) directly onto the PowerPoint slides.

Ask questions on paper

If there are any questions you have, write them down. You may find that your lecturer provides the answer to your question without your asking it. However, if you do need to ask, your lecturer may accept questions as the lecture progresses or give time for questions at the end; feel free to ask your question then.

Underline key points or write them down quickly

If there are key points that you must understand or you want to check later, highlight them on the PowerPoint printout. If the key point isn’t on the PowerPoint, write it down quickly.

Use shorthand

Shorthand is a short way of writing things down. There is secretarial shorthand which is very useful but (apparently) difficult to learn. I use my own shorthand. Don’t be afraid to make up your own.

Marc’s shorthand

stg: something
s1: someone
^n: ~tion
^g: ~ing

Share your lecture notes

Sometimes you might miss something in a lecture. You might want to borrow a classmate’s notes and add their information to yours. Because of this you should also offer to share your notes, too, so your classmates should be able to read them. This sharing of lecture notes is also great for those unexpected times that you have a date/hangover can’t get to university.