Taking notes - with or without lecture slides

If you're a returning student here at Monash - welcome back! You’ve had some experience of being in lectures and tutorials, and have seen what works for you...and perhaps also what doesn’t. If this semester is your first, welcome to Monash! You can review our tips and tricks from last semester, but for those seeking to build their skills, look no further...

Materials used in lectures (such as slides) are typically made available to students either before or after the lecture - you’ll usually find them in Moodle. But what if the slides aren’t published? This does happen sometimes, for a number of reasons - it could be connected to the way the unit’s content is assessed, for example. It can be frustrating, but try to remember everyone else in that unit will be facing the same situation, so it’s still a level playing field.

Key ideas

So with no slides to guide you, how can you approach note-taking? Try to resist the urge to write down everything that you can see on the slides, along with everything that your lecturer says...it’s an impossible task, and while you may be able to manage it for the first week or two, you’ll soon run out of steam. Think about information in terms of key concepts and explanations: Write down the key ideas presented on the slides, and listen to what the lecturer says to fill in your knowledge of these ideas. This handy infographic gives you some tips to help determine what information is going to be most useful for you later on, as well as some nifty shorthand for when the pressure’s on!

Get organised

Organising your notes once they’ve been written is an important step that is easier said than done - it can be difficult to find the time to go through what you’ve written, especially when assessments start rolling in. Try and set aside a few hours each week to go through the week’s notes for each of your units. Aim to organise them into something that will be useful later on, when you’re beginning your research for assignments, or revising for exams. You don’t have to do it all in one block - half an hour before dinner each night can make things a little more manageable. Apps such as Evernote are a popular organising tool, and if you’re a more visual person, a mind-mapping tool such as XMind may be the answer. It can be tempting to try to skip a step and just use these apps in class, but things move at such a fast pace, that it’s rarely a good idea. Plus, using tablets and other devices in class means infinite distractions at your fingertips, which only those with the strongest willpower will be able to ignore! Best to keep it lo-fi in class, and save the fun gadgetry for later on...

It goes without saying, of course, that during lectures you should not only try to minimise distracting yourself, but also distracting others - in other words, please don’t talk during lectures, unless you are asked to! It can be hard to concentrate for two (or more…) hours at a stretch, but you’ll receive far fewer death-stares from your classmates if you save the chatter for the all-important post-lecture coffee. If you were feeling really dedicated, you could even invite a few friends from your class and swap notes...okay, I’m pushing things a little too far here, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds!

Don’t forget to have a look at the Library Class Booking System - we run a variety of skills classes throughout the semester. Search using keywords such as ‘note’ ‘skills’ ‘lecture’ ‘listen’ or ‘study’ to see if there are any relevant classes you can go along to! Or, chat to a Librarian or Learning Skills Adviser at your Library’s Research & Learning Point - check for opening times here.

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About Rosemary Miller

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