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The Library

Four Keys to Key Points of College Lectures
(Continued from 1)

Key #3. Recognize conceptual structures.

Although it may seem so in an early morning or late night class, information is rarely tossed out in disjointed chunks. There are usually conceptual connections, and these can be represented visually in diagram form in your notepaper. Here are some common examples:

a) Comparison /Contrast: Two theories, principles, styles, people etc. are juxtaposed to show similarity or difference. Divide your paper into two columns, with related aspects side by side for easy visual reference.

b) Historical Development: A time line can show progress of an idea or theory, or mark the steps in the development of a country or institution. Use dots on a line to indicate the key time points, and draw arrows from them to descriptive details.

c) Supported Principles: Write down the principle, leaving lots of room for arrows joining the principle to anecdotes, examples and/or details that support it. Leave extra room to add your own examples, too. These will be useful to prepare for essay exams, where marks are often given for the quality of support you give.

Key #4. Take time to re-organize the mess.

By the end of class, you may be discouraged to see a confusion of squiggles, circles, boxes and underlinings among the words on your notepaper. While guzzling your post-lecture beverage of choice, take the opportunity to re-organize this jumble while the information is relatively fresh in your mind. When doing so:

—Make sure principles are underlined or highlighted. Use a different color for each one, or use alternate underlinings (double, squiggly, etc.) to visually distinguish them from each other. Connect supporting details to each principle with arrows or by grouping them around the key word.

—Expand potentially forgotten abbreviations into longer words. If you wrote down “JW invented the gzmtrnin 58,” then rewrite it as “Jane Woo invented the gizmotron in 1958” while the details are fresh. A few weeks from now, you may forget if the “J” was Jane or her husband John, or if a
gzmotron was a 19th or 20th century invention.

—Note where blanks exist in the information. For example, if point #1 is clear to you but point #2 is still mysterious, flag it some way to remind you to ask questions during discussion time, or during the instructor's office hours.

Make this note-taking process a habit. During exam week, you'll thank yourself!

Kathryn Bell has 13 years of experience teaching undergraduates at Douglas College, the University of British Columbia, and other postsecondary institutions.

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