EP9: Taking Lecture Notes

“Hello, everyone, and welcome back. This is Episode 9 Season 1 of The Autodidactic Podcast. If this is your first time, I welcome you, and if you’re a returning listener, thanks for coming back.

Today I want to cover the topic of lecture notes. As an Autodidactic, self-learner you’re probably not gonna attend many formal lectures, although you might. Other than attending class every day, taking good lecture notes is probably the single most important activity for college students, but if you’re self learning, you might not think you need to worry about this sort of thing.

However, like I pointed out last week, a lecture may take many different forms. It could be an online lecture, or it could be a class from an on line tutor. It could be a speech at a conference, or it could be a podcast or YouTube video. If someone is verbally imparting knowledge to you, you should consider it a lecture and try and take some notes.

If it is recorded audio or video lecture, you could re listen. But this isn’t a very efficient use of time. With these types of information, you’re not going to get things spoon-fed to you like you did back in high school. There probably isn’t a blackboard where the important stuff is itemized in a list for you. You’re going to have to listen closely and pick out the most important parts for yourself.

Developing good note-taking skills takes both time and practice. Taking lecture notes

promotes active listening, provides an accurate record of information, provides an

opportunity to interpret, condense, and organize the information, and provides an

opportunity for repetition of the material. Learning and practising effective strategies for how to take lecture notes will help you become a more successful autodidactic.

By taking notes, you can improve your concentration because you’re focusing your intention on what is being said. You have a purpose, which is listening for the next point that the speaker will make so you can write it down.

Taking notes is a very active process. You can generate a high level of involvement in your own learning by taking notes. Note taking involves more than just writing down what the instructor is saying however, it includes thinking about what is being said, determining what is important, recognizing the different points and how they relate to each other. Anticipating what will be said next and putting the information into your own words and organizing the information in your notes, condensing and interpreting the information helps make it more meaningful for you, which helps you to learn it. The process of taking good lecture notes can help you become both an active listener and an active participant.

Research studies indicate that without rehearsal, you may forget 50% of what you hear in a lecture within 24 hours and 80% of it in just two weeks. And in fact, in one month you may have forgot 95% of it. So you can’t rely on your memory of the lecture, you need your notes too. Taking lecture notes forces you to interpret, condense and organize information.

You’ll quickly find that you can’t write a quickly if someone can speak. If you could write that fast, you could simply write down a lecture verbatim and then re-read it later. But re-reading is the same as re-attending or reviewing a video recorded lecture. It just isn’t an efficient use of your time.

You have to condense the information and you have to think about each sentence and interpret it, often putting the information into your own words as you write down the information in a condensed form, you’re also forced to create a system of organization that separates the main and supporting points. You structure the information your way and in a way that will make sense to you.

So now that we know why it’s important to take notes, how do you do it? You can judge the effectiveness of your notes by reviewing them against recorded lectures were possible in making sure that you’re picking out the important information and condensing it properly.

I wrote a book about note taking; and the majority of the book covers ways of making notes faster by using abbreviation and speed writing and also some general methods for note taking and meetings, etcetera. I’ll put the link in the show notes. (Effective Note-taking: Note-taking for business)

When you start doing lecture notes, you need to consider the organization of the notes and the way that you’re going to structure the material. If you just try and write down everything as quickly as possible, you’ll end up with a tangled mass of disassociated ideas and sentences so it’s important to separate the main points from the details and show the relationships between the ideas.

Therefore, before you even start to watch the lecture or enter the lecture hall or go to the conference centre, you need to have prepared your notebook or your app or whatever you’re going to use. You should try and be familiar with what’s going to be discussed a much as possible. And if you have a textbook on the subject, study it before the lecture so it’ll be easier for you to pick up on the main points and organize your notes if you have a good idea of what’s gonna happen next.

Personally, I recommend that you use a paper based notebook simply because it allows more freedom and it allows you to do some additional work with it after the lecture, and we’ll cover that a bit later. Now, remember that you only get one chance to listen to a lecture unless, of course, it’s been recorded. But you can read the textbook or your notes as many times as you want.

Try to make sure that you see and hear the speaker and that you’re not going to be distracted. So to take the notes, you need to:

  • Decide that you want to listen.
  • You need to be paying close attention to the lecture.
  • You need to select the relevant information and ignore any distractions.
  • You need to interpret the information to make sure it’s meaningful. And you need to condense the information before writing it down.
  • organizing the information into appropriate headings and subheadings
  • you take notes

When writing down the notes in your notebook, never, ever right on both sides of the notepaper. And I’ll tell you why in a little while.

People often confuse hearing with listening on listening means that you’re engaged in. You’re paying attention and you’re interpreting what you’re hearing, and you’re trying to assign meaning to it. Active listeners air physically, intellectually and emotionally involved in the lecture. Some strategies to become Active listener are:

  • read any text you can before the lecture to build up a background on the topic
  • review your last set of notes before a lecture begins. (If this lecture is related to a previous one)
  • make sure that you want to listen.
  • Focus your attention by physically sitting up and making eye contact with the speaker. (If the if the lecture is live but otherwise sitting forward and paying attention to the screen or the audio, focus your attention mentally by eliminating or avoiding distractions.)
  • Listen with an open mind and set aside your own biases. So don’t be distracted by things you might find unappealing about the message or the messenger and concentrate on what’s being said.
  • Try and control your emotional response to what is being discussed.
  • Listen for the main points and the related details.
  • When you’re taking your notes, ask any questions if that’s possible for recorded materials right down the questions as they occur to you so that you can review and look up later.
  • Monitor your listening. In other words, check that what you heard or think you heard is what was actually said. So you can do this by checking with the lecturer or another audience member if it’s live or if you’re unsure the information, or you can just watch it again if it’s recorded. So basically, just monitoring to make sure that what you thought you understood, you actually understood and then hold yourself accountable for the material that was presented, you know, make make yourself learn what is being discussed.

One of the systems for note taking is the Cornell system developed at Cornell University, which has an excellent format for setting up your note page. But I recommend that you have different notebooks for different topics. So don’t mix up your I don’t know mathematics study with your Electronics study, for example.

Although there are many, many note taking systems, there are three that worked particularly well for lectures.

They’re called the Informal Outline, the Block and the Modified Block style, and they all work well in lectures. So try them all and see which one works best for you.

The informal outline is similar to the formal outline that many people learned in school where you have the headings with a capital A and in subheadings are 123 etcetera. The end former outline is a very similar system, but you just don’t label things you know ABC or 123 etcetera. In addition on informal outline contains a lot more information. So you’re not just putting single word headings and subheadings you’re actually writing, you know, full sentences. And after writing the main points next to the you know margin line. You just use indentation to show that the following points are subordinate to the lines above.

And now the block style of note taking is another very simple system. Block notes are especially useful if you need to record a great deal of information very quickly. Are you listening to someone who talks so fast that you can’t keep up who never goes back over information? Well, when taking block notes, you need only to write down the heading and then focus on writing as many details as you can. So block notes are written continuously across the page, separating any details by dashes or slashes.

The modified block method is similar to an outline. However, you simply have a heading and then a paragraph underneath of it with all of the details.

The block and modified-block methods allow you to take notes efficiently and

effectively because you have to concentrate on only two things:

  1. writing down the main points (headings) and
  2. writing down any details about them.

You don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out where to place or how to label

each new piece of information.

But still, there’s the question. What should I write down? Or perhaps you find yourself thinking. Should I write that down? If you’re asking yourself the question, should you write that down? Then the answer is yes.

After you’ve written your notes in the lectures done, congratulations. You have completed the first draft. Now you have to edit your notes.

You need to edit, revise your notes and correct errors. Clarify meanings. Make additions improve organization etcetera. Editing your notes helps you become a better note taker because you’re basically giving yourself feedback on the quality of your own notes. And as you go through the notes checking for accuracy and filling in gaps and information and proving organization, you can see where you made mistakes, and this feedback will help you take better notes next time.

Editing provides you with an opportunity to review both the text and the lecture material, and it gives you a chance to integrate the course material textbooks or other subsequent information. This additional repetition, which requires both critical thinking and active structuring of the data, helps you to reinforce what you read and heard and leads to a better understanding of the material.

So editing your notes, you need to do within 24 hours of the lecture, because if you wait too long, you’ll have for gotten too much.

Note editing is very straightforward. There’s basically five steps that you’re trying to do.

  1. Fill in the gaps and missing information. As you read your notes it will jog your memory and you’ll be able to add more detail.
  2. Refer to a textbook or other information sources to help fill in gaps in your notes.
  3. Check for accuracy. If you notice some incorrect information in your notes or if you’re unsure of the accuracy of some points, check with the lecturer if possible or textbook or other sources of information to verify whether the information is correct.
  4. Expand your notes. Make your notes more understandable, expand abbreviations, finish sentences, correct spellings, etc.
  5. Rewrite your notes in order to improve the organization of the information.

This last point is the reason why I said earlier, never right on the back side of the paper. As you’re taking your notes, the back side of the page is blank, but because it’s related to the information other side, you can rewrite your notes on the back in a more organized and accurate way. And then later, when you review your notes, review the back side of the notepaper, not the front.

And to review your notes is similar to the other reviews that I mentioned in previous podcasts. You need to develop recall questions and generate many quizzes to test yourself. If you need to go back and review previous a podcast, now would be a good time to do it, because now you know how to take lecture notes while you’re listening.

Okay, so that’s it for me this week. Next week we’ll try and cover concentration while studying. So how to make sure you’re concentrating on your studying your concentration levels, concentration problems, strategies for overcoming issues?

Thanks for listening and as always if you have any feedback I would love to hear from you. You can email me at: rick@autodidactic.info or you can put comments on the website. Thank you very much for attention on. I’ll see you soon.

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