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a guide to writing lecture notes

Blog // A Guide to Writing Lecture Notes

By Philippa Albrecht

For new students and experienced students alike, here’s a little guide on writing lecture notes and the methods that I’ve found most effective. This is all based on my experience and what has worked for me and my style of learning, so feel free to use some or even none of these ideas – take what makes most sense to you and your subjects! 

Depending on how engaging the tutor is, they’ll either read the dot points off the screen, or they’ll go completely rogue and add stories as they go – there are positives to both approaches. For the dot-point heavy PowerPoints you are blessed with some ready-made notes, so you won’t need to spend as much time speed writing it all down! Download the lecture slides and highlight the key words on your paper/ iPad / laptop. Then add little annotations of anything extra that the tutor mentions, or even questions that you want to ask after the lecture or in class. With the notes already mostly there, you can focus your energy on actively listening, absorbing the content, and asking questions. If the tutor says a lot of things that aren’t included in the slides, then jot down as many dot points or simple diagrams as you can. The benefit of this type of lecture is it’s more engaging and likely to stick in your memory because the anecdotes will help you remember the information. If it’s an online recorded lecture, pause and write down the important notes, and if it’s in person, then you can compare dot points with a classmate afterwards.

If you prefer pen to paper and have a printer handy, you can print out the lecture notes each week and annotate the slides that way. Store all the paper in a binder in a logical order so that you can refer to it throughout the semester as needed. If you prefer to type your notes, a popular method is to use Microsoft OneNote. You can embed the pdf right into OneNote and then annotate the pdf and type dot points next to the relevant slides. My personal favourite is to use Good Notes on my iPad. I can highlight, annotate, and do all the things you can do on paper or a laptop, and the handwriting can also easily be erased or resized. Additionally, if I need to add more notes in relation to a specific slide but there’s not enough room, I can easily insert a blank slide in the pdf and continue writing.

The most important part of writing lecture notes is compiling them into something more succinct and easier to revise come exam time. This could be compiling the notes onto cuecards or making one-page summaries of each topic. Summarising the content from the lecture helps you to recognise the most important information in each lecture and is a great resource for the end of semester. All the best with your lecture note writing!

Written by Philippa Albrecht

1st Year Student, LaTrobe University, Australia

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