by University East Anglia. Study skills for international students
A lecturer generally follows a very predictable pattern in the way s/he imparts information. In addition, there will be certain expressions that signal the information which is about to follow. Some examples are:
- ‘I am going to begin today by…’
- ‘There are three important reasons…’
- ‘Let us now move on to…’
- ‘Another factor that…’
This kind of language alerts the listener to the speaker’s intentions and provides students with a way to follow the direction in which the lecture is moving.
How does this help the student who is struggling to identify the important points? Firstly, it indicates the relative importance of the information. For example:
- Is it a main point or is it a detail?
- Can the information be inferred from previous points in the lecture or not?
- Do we already know this or is it new information?
Secondly, if you can identify the organisation of the lecture (this is usually indicated in the introduction) this will give you an idea about the type of notes you might take during the lecture. Although many students use linear notes (notes which follow the order of the points made in the lecture), it is worth thinking about some other ways of keeping notes.
- A tree diagram for notes about classification and descriptions will eliminate the need for you to write too many words
- A two-column table can makes quick work of jotting down advantages and disadvantages
- Mind-maps are incredibly useful ways of noting down key words or important facts, particularly when we are not sure of exactly how many there will be. Many students have also observed that the visual nature of such notes makes the information much easier to remember
In order to be able to do all this, you need to have a reasonable level of English and in particular your listening skill needs to be good. Taking notes means being able to focus on two things at the same time: listening to the lecture and writing down the most important information you hear and see. While it may seem impossible, it is a skill that can be developed and perfected with sufficient time and lots of practice.
Apart from experimenting with the use of new layouts for notes, and exploring to what extent diagrams can help the task of note-taking, other strategies can also be used. For example, full spellings are not required: abbreviations and symbols do an amazing job of speeding up the transfer of information you have heard onto paper. Also, sentences are not necessary: bullet points and key words may be sufficient.
Finally, as soon as possible after the lecture, review the notes for completeness and easy understanding. If there are gaps, it will be easier to fill them in while the information is still fresh in your mind and/or while our co-listeners’ notes are still easily accessible. The ultimate test of effective notes is: are they helpful when you need them - no matter how long after the lecture that may be?