Taking good lecture notes is the primary tool you have to capture the material your instructor is teaching. It is common for students to take eight pages of notes from a 50-minute lecture (Andreatta, 2012). When you take lecture notes in your college classes, it is primordial to create a working strategy on how you listen and how you take notes. Not everything the professor says is what you should write down. Be on the lookout for what the professor scribbles on the board or explains with a pen torch; however, your professor conveys the lecture. When the professor teaches, listen attentively for repetitions. This is basically common sense. The professor uses the concept of repetition to make you remember things. When your professor repeats ideas, it usually indicates these are important to remember. You need to write fast enough to keep up with the instructor. Most people speak more quickly than they write. That is why you need to choose what to write and not try to write everything down. Some verbal and nonverbal cues may indicate what is important and what is not. Nonverbal cues like facial expressions and hand gestures are important things to look out for. Those usually indicate when your professor is trying to point out a fundamental fact. Writing fast is not enough. That is why it is advised to come up with some kind of shorthand or abbreviations or even symbols. Most people use the following abbreviations, but I have indicated some of mine as well:
Abbreviations are important during note-taking. However, it is vital to note that these are not acceptable during exams or on official documents. Do not use shorthand during exams. Otherwise, you may be penalized, and your professor will take off points from your test.
As a tutor, I must teach students how to improve their study skills. Good study skills start with good note-taking skills. To take good notes in class, you follow what is called the LARRY Process. Note taking is an active process i.e. it is a process in which you must participate and use your mind. The best notes are those where the student actively participated in constructing. This technique will help any student who has difficulty with studying. Each letter of the word LARRY represents the following: Listen, Assess, Review, Reflect and You.
1. Listen: this means actively listening to what the instructor says. Active listening is an essential concept for a student who wants to be a future leader in college. What this means is you need to fully concentrate, understand, respond to, and finally remember what is said. This means focusing on the visual aid provided by the professor, but also understanding what he says and observing his body language. For people who love music as I do, this also means no texting or playing music with headphones during the lecture.
2. Assess: this part focuses on evaluating what is important based on the body language observed in the previous step. It means writing down only those things that best capture the main concepts the professor is conveying during the lecture. You want to add the main idea first and start adding details and examples if you have time. A good rule of thumbs is to write the main points first, then significant themes and finally definitions. You can add the rest of it but only if you have enough time to do so.
3. Review: this is the most crucial part of the process after the lecture. This is what differentiates the “A” student from the “B” student. Review your notes within 24 hours after class. This is because memory decreases with time. While the material is still fresh in your memory, make sure you read and understand your notes. Fix words and phrases that are hard to read. Fill in pieces of information you missed during class. Comparing your notes with a classmate usually helps.
4. Reflect: Spend some time to look over your notes and try to understand what it means. Consider the relation of the material you covered during this class to the overall picture of the course or the chapter of the book you are covering. Also, use your syllabus to place your lecture in context. Try to think about possible questions by quizzing yourself to what you read. These possible questions may appear on an exam.
5. You: This part of the LARRY process is what makes students think negatively. Thinking negatively by saying things like “I hate this class, I hate this professor, or I suck at this class” is the first step towards failure. It all amounts to refusing to relate to the material. You need to personalize the content to YOU. Make it interesting for yourself! That is the only way it will not be boring. Relate the material you learned to your past experience or something you learned in another class or even something you saw on TV. That is the best way for you to remember it and make it interesting, so you want to know more about it.
The LARRY process ends here, but I usually go an extra step to be on top of it. My job as a tutor is to make you be on top and above everyone else in your class. The final step entails research. By research, I mean going a little extra on what your professor taught in class by trying to know more about what you read. Research means reading your textbook to have a deeper understanding of what was shown during class. Try to make notes of what you learn from your research. Those notes can complement your lecture notes and give you an advanced understanding of the concept. Covering all of this, I guarantee you will succeed in all your classes, and you will see the magic of studying.
Andreatta, Britt. Navigating the Research University: a Guide for First-Year Students. Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2012.