Good study habits will make you a more successful student, this includes knowing how to take notes during a lecture. When you’re good at taking notes, you’re able to capture the most important information and digest key points. Of course, this is helpful when you prepare for taking an exam or quiz. But it’s also a valuable skill to have. Good lecture notes are concise, allowing you to quickly review them in the future. Follow these tips to get the best note taking strategy possible and spend less time studying. For example, if you’re writing a note that doesn’t tie back to a lecture learning objective, you probably shouldn’t write it down.

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Establish Your Note Taking Method First

Once you start a course, your note taking method should be the same over time. This will train your brain to listen to the lecture in the same way each time. So, decide in advance if you prefer digital notes or handwritten notes. There are benefits to both. When you are handwriting notes, the activity of writing the words can actually help you digest the material more effectively. So, you’re learning as you write.

However, digital notetaking has its perks too. When you type your lecture notes, you’re able to capture more information more quickly. This is great when there’s a lot of material the professor covers, or they talk fast. Additionally, typed notes are more legible and usually quicker to access. This can make them more convenient for you to review in the future.

The bottom line is, the best notes are the most effective notes for YOU. If you don’t know what works best, do this. Listen to two different audio lectures and take notes each way. Prepare for a quiz by reviewing them separately. Then see how you perform on the learning activity, and also assess how easy it was for you to learn the information. Go with your first reaction and make it your note taking strategy.

Use Learning Objectives As Your Guide

In a well-prepared class lecture, the learning objectives at the beginning of the lecture slides aren’t just a preview of what’s to come. Instead, they’re part of a larger learning strategy and useful for you to take the best class notes. Information that relates to the learning objective is the only information you will be tested on. If it doesn’t roll up to the objective, chances are you won’t see a question on the exam about it. Pause when you see the learning objectives come up and write them down (or type them). Each one is a main point where you place your notes under throughout the lecture. Take this as an example:

Learning Objective: Define the three anatomical planes of motion.

Related Information: There are three planes of motion which the body moves. The sagittal plane divides the body into a left half and right half. This means, motion occurring in the sagittal plane of motion is forward and backward motion. Sagittal plane motions are very common, especially in the exercise world. You’re moving in this plane of motion when you walk, run, bike, squat, and more. The frontal plane divides the body into a front half and back half. Therefore, these planes slide side to side. They’re a little less commonly seen in exercise but can include lateral or side lunges, lateral raises, and more. Lastly, is the transverse plane of motion. This bisects the body into a top and bottom half. Any movement that’s rotational occurs in this plane of motion. Stop now and think about how many exercises you do that are rotational. Not many, right? That doesn’t mean exercising in the transverse plane of motion isn’t important. In fact, the majority of ACL tears happen when an athlete or client is moving in the transverse plane of motion. This is one of the reasons why we should train the body to work in all three planes and not the sagittal.

In this example, the learning objective only wants you to be able to define the planes of motion. Your notes could look like this:

Planes of Motion

  • Sagittal: Right half + left half- forward and backward movement
  • Frontal: Front half + back half- side to side movement
  • Transverse: Top + bottom half- rotational movement

From this part of the lecture, we only included a note on the actual definition of each plane. That’s because it relates to the lecture objective. Although the information on injuries in the transverse plane of motion might be interesting, it isn’t necessary for you to know. 

Keep Your Notes Concise

It’s better to write less than more. If you try to capture all the information in a lecture, you won’t be able to keep up. You also won’t be digesting the information as the professor explains it. When you refer back to your class notes later, if it seems like they’re missing the detail you need, then go back through your text and add more information in. The most effective notes will be the ones you use. If you have pages and pages of lecture notes, you either won’t use them or you’ll try to memorize too much. 

In our Planes Of Motion example, note how we kept it tight and concise. We even used the ‘+’ symbol rather than the word “and”. We also did not include the exercise examples that the instructor did. This is good information, yes. But it's also unnecessary writing that you can look up or add to later.

Consider The Exam 

Again, the learning objectives should guide what you include in your class notes. Ultimately, the point of taking good notes in the first place is to use them for your final paper or examination. Take the time to look ahead in the syllabus to see what you’re most heavily graded on. Let this guide you into ruling in or out what’s an important note or not.

Review Your Notes Regularly

An efficient student knows that notes aren’t just for during the lecture and for the final assignment. Follow this note taking method:

  1. Write your notes during the lecture.
  2. Review your lecture notes within 24 hours after the lecture (add missing information, highlight key ideas, and strike out unnecessary points).
  3. Review your note just before your next course lecture. Information will build on itself. Even if you only spend five minutes looking at the previous notes, it will help you digest and retain the upcoming material.

Make this a part of your process, every time. Think of it like a habit you would build for going to the gym. You think about your last workout, what you want to work on this next training session, then you plan what you’re going to do. Using your lecture notes is no different.

Some recommendations for taking notes include mind mapping, creating symbols and legends, and more. You could get lost in all the ways others say to take effective notes. However, the tips listed here are the most relevant. If you make these part of your study habits, you’ll find learning is easier and faster. This is the entire goal.

When you get a degree in exercise science from Lionel University, you’ve got an entire team invested in the success of your academic studies and professional future.  Therefore, we’re here to help! Regardless of what degree program you’re in (associate's degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree), these tips for taking notes apply.