How to Take Notes in a College Lecture

There are students everywhere. The room is intimidatingly huge. All you face is a giant powerpoint screen and a professor who appears to be miles away. As this professor shuffles through papers and produces a plethora of static to get their microphone clipped on sufficiently, you are probably feeling utterly clueless as to how you are ever going to learn anything in there. The classic college lecture hall is a setting you’ve seen in many movies and T.V. shows throughout your life, but once you’re actually there, you may find yourself having to take a step back to figure out just how you should approach it.

It’s easy to hopelessly feel like you’re totally on your own with this material since there’s no way the professor could know who you are in a sea of 200 or so students. What can be even more discouraging is the fact that you can’t just as easily raise your hand and ask them to go over something again like you could in a normal-sized class. The professor will typically go about their presentation at their own pace and rarely stop for questions. Even when certain lecture professors do encourage and answer questions, it’s a bit nerve-wracking to make your inquiry when you’re 27 rows away from them. Hence, it would be safe to say that paying close attention and taking notes is the best thing you can do in this situation.

Taking notes in a college lecture requires a slightly different style, however, than what you may be used to. As we’ve already established, it is rare that the professor will pause the lecture at your convenience, just as getting clarifications on specific concepts immediately in the moment is unlikely. Additionally, the session will generally be missing the discussion element exhibited in most classes that allows you the ability to catch up. All in all, your note-taking must be fast, organized, and substantive. There are a few tips you should follow to keep yourself thinking in such a quick and efficient manner.

First off, find out if the professor posts his or her notes online. This is extremely common for many college lectures. However, this is not to avoid taking notes yourself. If you solely rely on the professor’s outlines and bullet points, you will not succeed, because you’ll be studying notes that aren’t your own. In a sense, notes are a reflection of a thought-process, and whose thought-process makes more sense to you than your own?

The reason the professor posting notes online can be helpful is not because it replaces your own note-taking, but because it gives you stable reminders to check in on whenever you like. You know these notes are correct because your professor created them, so having them available gives you guidance on what you should be studying and creating your own specific notes on. Subsequently, knowing you have that resource available takes away the pressure of feeling like you need to write every single thing down that you see up on the screen in the lecture. This gives you the freedom to focus your attention more on what the professor is actually saying and take notes on statements that actually make sense to you.

However, if the professor doesn’t post notes online, you still don’t have to give into that pressure to write every single thing down. Vigorously copying all the text in front of you into your notebook won’t teach you anything. This would be the equivalent of neglecting notes in class while your professor does post notes online. You need to actively think as you sit in these lectures so you can learn and jot down notes that you come up with on your own as you go along, rather than trying to learn everything later by staring at notes that make no sense to you. This will ensure you only write down notes that have logically come together in your head. Later on, when you study these for a test, they will be statements that you understand and therefore you will save yourself time having to deeply re-learn anything. It will just be a matter of retaining information you already have found an understanding with.

Of course, sometimes you may not be able to easily comprehend what the professor is saying, regardless of the notes posted on the screen and/or online. Additionally, there may be important statements or equations pointed out that are completely incoherent to you, but probably something that will be on an upcoming test. This leads to the final point of lecture note-taking – recognize what is significant and what is not. Sometimes, you will have to copy down things that don’t make sense to you, but it’s more important that you get them in your notes so you can make sense of them later. You also want to make sure you do not waste time copying down sentences that really aren’t that pertinent to the overall material – you could be missing something helpful that the professor is pointing out that is not listed on the powerpoint. In addition to passing over points that aren’t important, you need to balance writing down what you understand and writing down foreign things that you will need to understand. These are fundamental principles of note-taking for any class, but they stand out in lectures since note-taking is all you have, in a way.

Keep in mind the options of study groups and visiting the professor during office hours as well. These endeavors require a foundation of solid notes, however. In the end, you must not fret because there are, in fact, other sources of help – but gathering the information first and proceeding to break it down is up to you. Attendance and attention are crucial to succeeding in a lecture class. As long as you come in there every day ready to genuinely listen and transcribe those thoughts on paper, the quick-paced lecture environment will be a challenge you have overcome.