Note-taking is an individual activity and students are free to develop their own styles. Some students write occasional words in their native language; others donít. Some people are very messy but still understand what they are writing. Others write neat notes from the beginning. Below youíll find...

Some Note-taking Strategies

1) Do prelecture reading.

U.S. university students most often prepare for each class by reading a text chapter, an article, or even a case study. This preparation makes the instructorís lecture, usually on a topic related to the reading, easier to follow and to take notes on. In particular, you can become familiar with terms that might be used in the lecture in advance.

2) Familiarize yourself with visual aids beforehand.

Sometimes in a university lecture, you will have a graph, a table, or a map to look at. Usually when this kind of aid is available, looking at it even for a minute or two before the lecture will make it easier to understand the lecture. Also be sure you are familiar with the terms and symbols used on the visual aids. (If not, ask for clarification.)

3) Listen for the lecturerís main points and for the general organizational framework.

4) Evaluate as you listen. (Decide what is important and relevant and what is irrelevant.) Listen for cues.

Some cues to topic introductions/changes:

"Letís look at X"
"Today, weíre going to talk about X."
"Okay, letís move on to X."
"Iíd like to take a few minutes to "
"Letís begin by..."
Rhetorical questions - "So, how did the researchers judge psychological stress? They used 5 measures. The first was..."
(NOTE: The lecturer, when posing a rhetorical question, does not expect a response from the audience. Rather, the lecturer is introducing a new topic,)

Some cues to topic conclusions:

"So, ... / Therefore, ... / Thus, . . . / In conclusion,..."

5) Use the space on your paper to organize information and visually represent the relationship between ideas. (Using headings also helps.)

"The first level of control on education is the state department of education. The department of education of each of the fifty states has two basic functions. First, each state department of education sets certain basic curriculum requirements for all the schools in its state. For example, a high school might require four years of English, three years of math, two years of social science, and so forth. The state also sets the number of credits a student must complete in order to graduate from, for example, a high school. This total number of credits includes both required, courses and electives. So much for the state part of education."

a) 1st level of control - state dept. of ed. 2 functions: curriculum req. 4 Eng, 3 math, 2 soc sd, for ex. and minimum credits to grad - req. & electives.

b) 1st level of control - state dept of ed.
        2 functions
        - curriculum req.
                4 Eng
                3 math
                2 soc sci, for ex.
        - min. credits to grad

(NOTE: Notice how the more general ideas appear to the left and the more specific ones to right. In essence, you are making an outline, detailing the relationship of each of the parts.)


6) Note key words.

Instead of trying to take down every single word, write down key words. Often, you can reduce a whole sentence or even a whole paragraph into a few key words (or phrases). Think of key words as a telegram, that is, the basic information in reduced form.

Although the extended family is well-known in many parts of the world, in the United States it is not a common family practice.
* Extended family well-known in world, not in U.S.
* Extended family
    - not well-known in U.S.

(NOTE: Articles, auxiliaries, and the verb to be are usually not useful as keywords)

7) Use abbreviations & symbols.

When you are taking notes, you do not have time to write down everything the speaker says. You must note as much information as possible in the fewest words. Each person can develop his or her own symbols and abbreviations. The important thing is that you understand them and will be able to read them a day or a week or a year later.

Some suggestions for symbols:
= equals / per
~ approximately c. circa
> is more than w/ with
> is less than  w/o without
& and  ... therefore, ergo
It also saves times to use arrows indicating an increase, decrease, or cause.

8) Pay close attention to numbers. (Listen for stress and form.)

fourteen vs. forty

fifteen vs. fifty

sixteen vs. sixty

seventeen vs. seventy

eighteen vs. eighty

nineteen vs. ninety

12,                 506,                        825,                         241
Billion             Million                     Thousand
(Write a comma whenever you hear one of these words.)

fractions 3/4 "three-fourths "

ratios 1:6 "one out of six"

percentages 13.4% "thirteen point four percent

9) Be an active listener. Predict lecture content and organization.

There is a good chance that you will occasionally miss words or ideas because you do not know the vocabulary, you were busy taking notes, you were distracted, the professor was speaking too quickly, and so on. Paying close attention to lecture cues and conventions can help you predict the direction the lecture will be going in and get you back on track.

10) Make guesses if you miss information. Remember that lecturers usually repeat and paraphrase information.

11) Rewrite and/or add to your notes as soon as possible after listening to the lecture.

When you rewrite your notes, ideas that you did not have time to note will still be fresh in your mind. You will have time when rewriting to add those ideas. In addition, when you rewrite your note, you can reorganize information so that the ideas are more clearly and accurately represented.

Strategies taken and synthesized from:

Lebauer, R. (1988). Learn to listen; listen to learn: Advanced ESL/EFL lecture comprehension and note-taking
textbook. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Lim, P. & Smaizer, W. (1990). Noteworthy: Listening and notetaking skills. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.