Study Strategies

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Taking Lecture Notes

Before Lecture:

  • Read all assigned material so that you can follow the lecture. This will also help with procrastination! It is more difficult to get motivated to read if you wait until after the lecture is over. Also, reading beforehand will help you take more concise notes and will help you understand a professor who has an accent.
  • Review notes from previous lectures.
  • If PowerPoint slides (or other lecture notes) are available online, print them off ahead of time and bring them to class. Once in class, you can take your notes onto the slides. (You might print them with fewer slides per page so that you have more room to write.) Caution: don’t use the online availability of notes as an excuse to skip class! You need the “full story” and the examples given in class if you are going to understand the notes well enough to answer test questions.

During Lecture:

  • Come early and sit in front. You’re less likely to “zone out” or fall asleep when you’re closer to the professor.
  • Bring your book to class if the lecture closely follows the text. This can also help you stay focused because it gives you more to do (you can consult the text as the lecture proceeds).
  • Use the Cornell system (see below) or take notes onto the Power Point slides.
  • Think about how to write your notes so that when you study for an exam you will be able to quiz yourself off your notes (see Cornell system).
  • Write the date at the top.
  • Use abbreviations and omit unnecessary words.
  • Listen for cues, such as organizing statements and transition words.
  • Record legibly, including both what the lecturer says and what is written on the board or overhead.
  • Include examples in your notes, as these will help you both understand and remember the material. Also, professors often use the very same examples in their test questions.
  • Don’t rely on recording a lecture or reading someone else’s notes. Take notes in class even if you do record. When you listen to the recording, simply add to your base set of notes.
  • Don’t plan on recopying your notes. If you miss something because the lecture is moving too quickly or because you’ve “zoned out,” skip a few lines and make a note that you missed something. After class, get the info from a classmate, the book, or the instructor.
  • At the end of the lecture, if not before, ask questions. Also, linger and listen in on the questions asked by other students. The professor’s answer is often extremely helpful!

After Lecture:

  • The study tip that good students swear by: As soon as possible after class, spend 5 to 15 minutes going over your notes. Clarify, summarize, and think about the major concepts you learned. Retention improves significantly with immediate reinforcement.
  • Review your notes frequently, both alone and with a study group.
  • Compare your notes to another student’s in order to pick up ideas about how to make your notes more useful to you.
  • You might want to add notes from your textbook so that you will have a single source to study from when the test approaches. Use a different color of ink so that you will know what came from lecture and what came from the book.

Your Notebook

You may prefer a ring binder because it allows you to insert handouts. Also, using a single binder with divider pages will mean that you never arrive in class with the wrong notebook.

The Cornell System

Writing your notes using the Cornell System allows you to quickly find particular information later on, and it also allows you to quiz yourself from your notes. An alternative method is to highlight your headings after class.

To take notes using the Cornell System, rule each sheet as illustrated, with a 2 1/2 inch margin.

21/2 inches

Aug 29. Sociology



Details, answers, definitions

As you listen to the lecture, write your notes on the right side of the margin. After class, write key terms, topic headings, and questions in the left column. Once you get used to this system, you may be able to write in both the right and left columns during class. To study, cover the right side and use the headings and questions on the left to quiz yourself. (This creates the same effect as flash cards without the extra work.)