Making effective lecture notes

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Making effective lecture notes
From the Skills Team, University of Hull
The purpose of a lecture
The purpose of a lecture is not to give you all the information you need to pass your
module. Lectures are starting points for your own reading unless you want low marks.
Lectures are used for a variety of reasons:
 To give an overview of a subject, in which case you will need to use your
reading to fill in the detail.
 To cover an important detail, in which case you will need to use your
reading to put it into context and get the bigger picture.
 To cover a conceptual idea and give one or two examples of it in practice you will need to use your reading to find more examples to ensure you have
grasped the concept fully.
Whatever the purpose, you will need to be able to make effective notes.
Why make notes?
Some people think it is OK to attend a lecture and not make any notes. To be truthful,
listening and understanding is more important than making notes. It is also true that
most lecturers make their PowerPoint slides available on eBridge before or
immediately after the lecture and so there is no need to write down things that are
already on the slides and available to you there. However, there are several reasons
why taking lecture notes is beneficial, even if you have access to the slides online:
 To emphasise the key points and get them clear in your own mind.
 To help you engage with the material and not lose concentration.
 To help you to make links between related ideas.
 To allow you to make patterned notes/mind maps/illustrated notes etc
to suit your personal style and help recall.
 To summarise information (best done soon after the lecture).
 To make a note of anything you didn't understand or want to question
further.
 To make a note of anything you thought was really interesting and want to
read more about.
You need to review your notes at least once in the first 24-48 hours to ensure that
the information will enter your long-term memory.
Web: www.hull.ac.uk/skills
Email: [email protected]
Types of notes
Everyone has their own preferred way of making notes. Look at the options below and
choose the method or (mix of methods) that best suits you:
Linear notes
This is the most common method and involves using headings for the main points and
then using subheadings, key words (not full sentences) and lots of abbreviations. You
can use colour to make some notes stand out.
You can make up your own abbreviations but here are some common ones (taken
from essayzone.co.uk):
approx.
approximately
NB
important, notice this, note
well
b/c
because
nec.
necessary
b/4
before
no.
number
bk.
book, born
pt.
point
C
c.
cf.
(e.g. 21C for ‘twenty-first
p.
century’)
approximately, roughly, about
(abbreviation for the Latin
re.
‘circa’)
compared to, in comparison
sim.
with
page (pp. = pages)
regarding, about
similar
cp.
compare
s/t
something
def.
definition
T.
theory, theoretical
diff.
different, difference
tho’
though
ea.
each
thro’
through
e.g.
for example
w/
with
fr.
From
w/o
without
etc.
and the rest, and so on
viz.
namely, that is to say
gen.
General
v.
very
i.e.
that is, that means, in other
words
vv.
extremely
impt.
important
vs.
against
2
Frequently used numbers and symbols
2
to, two, too
∴
therefore, thus
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For
∵
Because
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anything ending in ‘ate’
→
leads on to, produces, causes
+
and, also, as well as, in addition
to, plus
x
no, not, incorrect
–
minus, without
xx
definitely not, disproved
=
equals, is the same as, results in ?
≠
≈
uncertain, possibly, unproven
does not equal, is not the same
✓
as, does not result in
is approximately equal to, is
✓✓
similar to
#
yes, correct
definitely, certain, proven
<
is less than, is smaller than
Number
>
is greater than, is larger than
✳
↑
increase, rise, growth
/
↑↑
rapid increase
!
not, isn’t
↓
decrease, fall, shrinkage
@
At
↓↓
rapid decrease
∝
proportional to
special, important, notable
(when added to a word or
phrase)
per (e.g., £50/day instead of
‘fifty pounds per day’)
Less frequently used abbreviations (continued on next page)
A
answer
assoc.
association
adm.
administration
biol.
biology
adj.
adjective, adjourned,
adjustment
bibliog. bibliography
abr.
abridged
bot.
botanical, botany
abbr.
abbreviation, abbreviated
cap.
capital, capitalise
acad.
academic, academy
chap.
chapter
aka.
also known as
chem.
chemical
app.
appendix
co.
company
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colloq. colloquial, colloquialism
m.
male
conf.
no.
number
orig.
original, originated
cont.
com.
conference, confer
containing, content,
continental, continue,
continued
commercial, commission,
common, communication,
community
p. / pp. page / pages
cr.
credit
para.
paragraph
crit.
criticism
poss.
possible, possibly
diag.
diagram
prin.
principal
disc.
discovered
prob.
problem, probable, probably
dist.
distinguished
probs
problems
div.
dividend, division
prob.
produced by, producer,
production
distr.
distribution, distributed
pt. /
pts.
part, point / parts, pts
econ.
economics, economy
Q.
question
esp.
especially
ref.
refer, reference
est.
established, estimate
reg.
region, registered, regular,
regulation
ex.
examined, example
rev.
review, revision
excl.
excluding
sci.
science, scientific
f.
feminine, feminism, frequency
sect.
section
gen.
gender, general
sp.
special, species, specific
govt.
government
st.
study, student
hist.
historian, historical, history
univ.
universal, university
illus.
illustrated
usu.
usually
inc.
including
vers.
version
info.
information
yr.
year
lang.
language
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Illustrated notes
Some people just think more visually and illustrating
notes with lots of drawings etc can help with
engagement, understanding and recall.
You do not have to be a good artist - the notes are
for personal use only and nobody else is likely to see
them! (Unless you are crazy and put yours on a
webpage like mine here for all to see.)
You can of course illustrate your linear notes if you
want something a little more ordered.
Patterned notes
Such notes are also termed nuclear,
spider-grams, diagrammatic,
mind-maps and organic. Whatever
the term used, and whatever the slight
variation, they all start from a central
point and “grow”. A big benefit is that
they are open-ended; information can
be added anywhere at any time
without disturbing the flow. This allows
you to easily make links and see how
information relates to each other.
It is claimed that they are particularly
beneficial because they mirror the way the brain organises information. Many people
find they are easier to recall than linear notes.
Methods of making notes
Most people will just take in a ruled or blank pad for making notes. However, there
are some specific methods and technologies that can help:
Cornell method
With this method you split your page into 3 areas as
shown in the diagram here.
Notes area:
The main body of the page is for your actual notes these are usually linear but there is nothing to stop you
drawing concept maps or mind maps or illustrating with
drawings and cartoons.
Cue column:
Cues can be written in the lecture or soon after the
lecture. Cues can be any of the following:
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 The main ideas/key points
 Questions you want to ask (either for your lecturer or to research yourself)
 Gaps you need to fill in (leave a space in your notes and a reminder in the cue
column)
 Categories the notes alongside fit into
Summary area:
Within 48 hours of the lecture, review your notes and summarise each page into 2 or
3 sentences. This is a brilliant way of making sure the lecture content is stored in your
long-term memory. It also helps you recall information in a condensed form which is
great for exams.
Annotated PowerPoint printouts
If your lecturer puts up their PowerPoint slides before
the lecture, print them off as hand outs (3 per page)
and you will have images of the slides with lines
alongside on which you can add your own notes if
necessary.
This stops you spending time noting down information
that is already on the slides (which you will often do
even if you know the slides are on eBridge).
This is also a good idea as you can read through the
basic lecture slides in advance and so will be able to put
the lecturer's spoken narration into context during the
lecture.
Technologies
A lot of people use their laptops or tablets to take lecture notes, often in simple word
processors or text editors. This is fine - just make sure you back up to another
location or the cloud regularly.
There are lots of apps now available to help you with lecture notes - including ones
that sync your notes with audio recordings of the lecture - check out the Using mobile
devices effectively in your study page (under Information and Digital Literacy) on our
website (www.hull.ac.uk/skills) for recommendations.
By Jacqui Bartram
The information in this leaflet can be made available in an alternative format on request
– email [email protected]
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