You’re sitting in a cavernous lecture theatre, laptop open in front of you and hands poised above the keys, ready to type. What did the lecturer just say? Shaking your head you stare back over your notes — a second ago they seemed to be talking about something completely different! Maybe you shouldn’t have checked your messages after all. Tuning back into their monologue, you type down everything verbatim, fingers flying 100 miles per hour to catch each syllable. After all, how else will you remember so much information?
Lectures can seem very different to A-level classes when you first arrive at university, and it’s normal to take a couple of weeks to adjust to the change. Everybody has a different way of taking notes, and that’s fine: it’s important that you avoid the situation described above, and find the way that works best for you. To make the first few weeks that bit easier, I’ve compiled a few top tips for taking notes so that those initial lectures are as useful as possible.
Most people tend to take notes on their laptops because typing is generally faster than writing. If you’re keen to use your laptop in lectures, then firstly close all of your other tabs. It’s easy to flick onto Facebook for a second and the next thing you know you’re in a full group-chat debrief about what you were doing last night! So close off Messenger, resist the temptation to scroll through Facebook, and actually pay attention to what’s going on. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Once you’re concentrating on the lecture, try not to take down every word that your lecturer says, as you can often end up falling behind. Take concise notes in bullet points rather than paragraphs, and paraphrase where necessary. It’s easier to go back over notes after lectures and flesh sentences out than try to take it all down and accidentally miss the important parts.
If you are typing notes, then it’s always useful to share notes with friends. Unlike at A-level, you’re not competing for the best grades (there are no set percentages of students who will get an A*, but the top grades go to anybody who the university thinks deserves them). Different people will naturally note down different parts of a lecture, so establishing a google drive or emailing notes to people in your subject can help you all out.
Plenty of people also write notes by hand. If this is our preferred method then buy a refill pad and take your notes here rather than in a notebook — lectures can get moved around, notes can look messy, and it’s often easier to organise a folder than a notebook of jumbled pages. If you’re keen on your notebooks, however, then try to keep a different notebook for each section of the course: that way you won’t get confused.
As with typing your notes, don’t try to take down every word. Pick and choose carefully, and only write down the important parts. This can make your job a lot easier. Alternatively, notes scribbled in lectures can often be pretty scruffy. When I write notes I often rush to write everything down and then type or write them up in neater versions after. This can save the problem of attempting to decipher your own handwriting months later when it comes to exams. The sooner you write your notes up in neat, the better — this way they are fresh in your mind when you do so.
Using lecture slides
Some subjects make the lecture slides available to download in the 24 hours before the lecture begins. This can really useful for note taking because it means that the important parts have already been written down for you. Students who like typing notes often download the slides before the lecture and add anything extra to the comments section under each slide. Others take separate notes on a split screen and use the powerpoint as useful revision aids.
For those of you who like hand-writing notes, it can also be useful to print off the lecture slides and add any extra pieces of information to those by hand. That way it gives you more time to listen to what the lecturer is saying, rather than rushing to take it all down and not concentrating on the content as much. This allows you to get a better understanding of the lecture material because you’re concentrating much harder.
If writing lecture notes seems strange at first, don’t worry about it. Try a few different methods, from typing or writing to printing out the slides, and see what works the best. After a while, taking notes seems like second nature. Just make sure to stay organised and clearly label folders (online or in the flesh) so that none of your notes go missing.