Taking notes in college is often a far cry from the days of copying concepts from the board in high school. Rather than telling you exactly what to write down, professors will expect you to discern key concepts and important details for yourself. Even during the fastest lectures, you can still take effective notes by improving your listening skills, developing a system for note-taking and reviewing your notes later for better comprehension.
Be Attentive and Selective
Good note-taking doesn't mean writing a transcript of the lecture. If you try to write everything down, you'll get overwhelmed and be more likely to zone out. Instead, listen carefully and concentrate on the most important points. Seton Hill University professor Dennis Jerz suggests listening for definitions, key facts, examples and anything the professor does write on the board. If your professor says something is important, write the point down word for word and underline it or mark it with a star. This is information that will likely appear on future tests or be further discussed in other lectures.
With the advent of texting, most college students are no stranger to abbreviations. You can put this skill to use when taking notes to maximize your writing speed and capture more information. In addition to common abbreviations like "&" for "and" and "b/c" for "because," you can also develop your own shorthand specific to each class. For example, you might use "C" to avoid writing the word "Constitution" multiple times in a history class. Typing up your codes and taping them to the inside of your notebooks can make them easily accessible for lectures.
Leave Blank Spaces
If you miss something your professor says, it isn't time to panic. Instead of trying to backtrack, leave a blank space and continue following the lecture. After class, you can speak with the professor and ask for the information so you can add it in. Paying attention to assigned reading in your textbooks can also help you fill in blank spaces, since college lectures typically follow the chapters you read for homework the night before. Even if there are no worksheets to complete like in high school, doing the reading carefully can prepare you to take good notes.
With the rise of digital technology like smart phones and tablets, recording a lecture no longer means carting a bulky cassette recorder to class. Apps such as Audio Note, Quick Voice and iTalk can help you conveniently record your professor's points to review later. This can free up some of the pressure of taking notes from a fast-paced lecture. If your professor has a policy against electronic devices in the classroom, you can explain your desire to record the lecture and ask if you may leave your phone on the corner of your desk during class.
Review Your Notes
One of the worst things you can do at the end of class is shove your notes in your backpack and not look at them again until it's time for a test. According to a 1998 study at the University of Texas at Austin, you forget 47 percent of new information within 20 minutes and 62 percent is lost after a day. To prevent loss of information, review and revise your notes immediately following class. It's likely that rereading them will jog your memory and remind you of ideas you didn't write down initially.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.