Taking Notes in Class

Strategies for taking notes in class should be focused on ensuring you get the most out of the live time with your facilitator

– LawStudents.Solutions

Firstly, Can you listen and take notes?

As I just mentioned, for me note taking and doodling helps me listen and concentrate. But I know that not everyone works the same way. During my time as a law lecturer I’ve witnessed so many students who are so busy writing everything down that they miss what I’m actually saying – or worse, they’re not thinking about what it means.

Next, should you handwrite or type?

There’s a reasonable amount of research that demonstrates that if your goal is to retain information and make connections, taking hand-written notes is the best approach (in a nutshell, the more different parts of your brain you use to take in information the more likely you are to retain connections – writing involves more of your senses than typing and according more regions of your brain are activated. Similarly, if you’re listening to a lecture online you’re likely to retain more information if you’re going for a walk at the same time, or even just standing up… it’s science!)

Of course, when it comes to law lectures, there is so much information to take in that it can be difficult to keep up without getting a very sore hand. Many of us can type much faster than we can write, though when that’s the case, we end up typing all the words without necessarily listening (well I do anyway).

I often find that I doodle… draw pictures and processes. This is because a large part of what the note taking process is for me is about helping me pay attention and focus. I consolidate the notes and readings after class for future reference.

How do you work out what’s important enough to write down?

Well this is going to vary from class to class, but the following tips might help:

  • Introductory remarks often include summaries of overviews of main points.
  • Listen for signal words/phrases like, “There are x main…” or “To sum up…” or “A major reason why…”
  • Repeated words or concepts are often important.
  • Non-verbal cues like pointing, gestures, or a vocal emphasis on certain words, etc. can indicate important points.
  • Final remarks often provide a summary of the important points of the lecture.

Having said that, you don’t need to write everything down. You might find that writing down the key words and points (HINT: When the lecturer says “This is important”, “You’ll want to remember” or “The Exam is likely to include a question about…..” you want to make a note!*

*If you’re making a recording, your note might be of the time / slide number that the important point was made, so you can check off against the recording when you consolidate your notes later.

people sitting in a lecture theater
Strategies for taking notes in class should focus on ensuring you get the most out of the class

Make sure you also check out the resources about note formats and keeping notes organised.