Note-taking is essentially a
hated part of college life. So would you believe that many college students – freshmen, sophomores, juniors, even some seniors – still have no clue how to take down proper notes for classes? In my last four semesters of college, I have practiced and witnessed many different methods of note-taking, because I’ve had many different professors with many different styles of lecturing. What’s more is that not every single one of my classes has been a large lecture hall with 500 students, so that contributes even more to my professor’s style of lecturing, and thus my method of note-taking.
Really, it’s kind of like a ‘survival of the fittest’ sort of thing – only the better adapted methods will survive (and help you survive!) I’ll walk you through the methods I hail as ‘the best’ for taking good notes, because I believe in helping out my fellow college-goers. You can totally thank me by telling everyone you know about my blog! (Just kidding…but not really).
For the lecture hall with 300+ people:
This was one of the first classes I experienced when I first started college. It was a general chemistry class and the lecture hall was huge, though admittedly not the largest lecture hall I would have a class in. It may be easy enough to succumb to our beloved high school habits by whipping out the looseleaf and pencil (which is exactly what my first instinct told me to do) but here’s why this might not be the most efficient way to take notes:
- The professor will likely move very quickly. He or she has, like, 50 powerpoint slides of material to teach to hundreds of students in one sitting, and usually within about an hour to an hour and a half. So don’t be surprised if your professor doesn’t do you the courtesy of spending even close to five minutes on every slide.
- Your handwriting may become a little…unrecognizable as handwriting. At some point during the scramble to write down every single thing written on the slides, your notes might actually start to look like a bunch of squiggly lines on a piece of paper. Unless you are fluent in the reading and writing of the squiggly language, this won’t be very helpful during your
- You might lose stray pieces of paper. Sometimes even the most organized people have a bit of trouble keeping their heads on their shoulders, and things might get misplaced. Wouldn’t it suck to have an entire page of biochemistry notes go missing right before a midterm?
- Type your notes on a laptop. Most people can type faster than they can write, so the fact that your professor spends exactly two minutes per lecture slide won’t be as big of a deal, and you won’t have to break as much of a sweat to get important details down. Plus, there are no stray pieces of looseleaf paper that can get lost, and you will always be able to understand the font you use in Pages or Microsoft Word.
- Pro Laptop Tip: Type your notes in Google Drive. This semester, I realized that typing my notes in Google Drive is easier than typing them in Pages or Microsoft Word. You will have your Google Drive documents anywhere there’s a computer, and everything you do in Drive saves automatically, so you don’t have to worry about losing 11 pages of unsaved notes because your laptop shut down mid-sentence. Plus, some universities give you an unlimited amount of free storage space. I also found that using Google Drive to take my notes allowed me to keep everything really organized because I can see all my folders laid out right in front of me.
For the professor whose lecture slides are mostly images and diagrams:
You have to pay particular attention to these classes. The lecture slides may only have images of people or objects or whatever, but the professor may be saying a mouthful while on that one slide. Don’t let the simplicity of the powerpoint fool you! These kinds of classes don’t really allow you to skip on taking notes and just look at the slides on the class webpage later – you won’t know what the hell the pictures mean later! I actually have a professor like this right now, and I prefer to actually know what his lecture slides mean at the end of the day. I mean, don’t expect to study a picture of Samuel Adams’s face and know all about his role in America’s journalistic history. Still not picking up what I’m putting down? Here’s how this kind of class can really screw you over:
- You have nothing concrete to study. You literally cannot rely on images and charts to do well on your exams for this class. Your professor probably wants you to think that you can but, believe me, it’s not going to happen. You still need to take notes for this class because, like I said, when you go to your class webpage later because your professor considerately posts the useless image-heavy lecture slides, you’ll have extremely little to no recollection of what was even discussed in class.
- This style of lecturing requires you to have a sharp ear. I suck at auditory learning. Even if I’m trying to pay really keen attention to what I hear, I still won’t be able to retain as much information as an auditory learner can. If there’s very little to no text on the lecture slide, you can bet your Starbucks iced vanilla latte that pretty much all of the crucial points are coming from the professor’s mouth.
- The images should be supplements for what you write down. I’m somewhat of a visual learner myself – somewhat – but even so, I still only like to use images as supplements for written notes. I will definitely draw accompanying diagrams because I know they will help me better understand the material, so you can’t completely discount images in lecture notes. So if you can’t discount them and you can’t rely solely on them, what the hell do you do!?
- Print out and annotate your lecture notes. This is my favorite method of note-taking for any class! If your professor posts lecture slides before class, printing them out beforehand and annotating on the sides is an efficient way for you to focus on what the professor is saying (the important stuff) rather than getting caught in the crossfire of diagrams, talking and all that confusing nonsense. Plus, your attention can only be divided in so many ways. With this method you can focus on the professor speaking and still be able to refer back to the images later on!
For the class that’s basically like high school:
This is the class where the professor handwrites everything on a chalkboard and you sit there and either type it all on your laptop or jot it down in your notebook. I call this the ‘like high school’ class because these classes – even if you go to a college with 20,000+ students like I do – are usually smaller with about 30 or so students in them – just like the good old high school days! I’ve had a few of these classes now and in the past. My Italian class from freshman year was like this and the law class I’m currently taking is like this, too. Many college math classes are like this, though some may have that large lecture hall component.
Even so, you can’t really go wrong if the professor lectures like this because now you have the ability to match the professor’s writing speed rather than lagging behind and cursing under your breath. You can’t really go wrong with this kind of class. The only caveat I have to offer is…don’t get used to this. Not all of your classes are or will be so forgiving when it comes to note-taking!
Hopefully I have brought you a little closer to note-taking success. Remember that this is only part one of my Confused College Student’s note-taking series! Stay tuned for part two, and let me know in the comments what kind of college lectures you’re taking and how you take notes for those classes!