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Four Keys to Key Points of College Lectures

by Kathryn Bell

Does either of the following describe your notetaking style?

“I don't know what's important, so I just write everything down.”
“I don't know what's important, so sometimes I just sit there and don't write anything.”

If you don't know what's important in a lecture, then you're not making the most of your hard-spent tuition dollars. Efficient note-taking skills will maximize classroom time, which leads to more effective study time, too. And both pay off with dividends of high marks.

Ready to start unlocking treasure from a lecture? Then use these four simple keys to note-taking success.

Key #1. Pre-read and brainstorm.

Like any type of exercise, listening requires warm-up. Don't let your brain receive information "cold." Instead, use the few minutes before class to review the previous day's notes and handouts, and preview any readings for that day's class. This allows you to become familiar with new vocabulary and concepts, and gives you a chance to figure out any charts, diagrams or maps the professor will use.

Also, use this time to brainstorm and note any questions you may have at this point. Remember that if you listen “for” something, you will be more attentive. Then, if your questions are not addressed, put up your hand and ask, or raise them in the discussion period.

Key #2. Know thy professor.

If you've taken five courses, chances are you've experienced five different teaching styles. Some lecturers distribute outlines; others give lengthy introductions. This information allows you to organize your note paper right from the beginning of the lecture. Listen for the verbal clues: “First we'll cover. . . . .Then we'll do. . . .” Later, as the professor speaks, just fill in the details under the categories mentioned.

Lecturers may emphasize different kinds of details, too. Some may use anecdotes to illustrate points, or relay real-life examples. While the principles are “key,” so are the anecdotes, so don't snooze through the stories! Instead, ask yourself, “What does that story teach me?” and jot down its main point beside the principle.

Some professors make extensive use of chalkboards or overheads. Write down what they do, including strange arrows, dots and underlinings! Wild scribblings may seem unintelligible at the time, but may come clear later on. Arrows and lines often indicate key points or conceptual connections.

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