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Sunday, November 28, 2021

How to manage to write lectures

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A university is very different from a school. Once you get there, you get a new status. A pupil is a child, but a student is a different matter. Even studying is different: it requires much more self-discipline. 

At school, you were used to writing from dictation; now you won’t. The teacher can spend a couple of hours mumbling to himself, not caring whether you keep up with him or not. You will have to learn new ways of taking notes.

Should I take notes or not?

Someone who takes notes will be 100 times better prepared for an exam or a test than someone who does not. It is also much easier to prepare for homework with an outline, while others have to buy a definition essay to get a good grade. You may think it’s a waste of time because all the information can be taken from textbooks or even the internet. But as for the latter, it is far from being the most reliable source of information, and reading a textbook will take many times more time than revising an outline.

Some tricky ones solve the problem by using a dictaphone or even video recording. It looks very tempting because you can rewrite the text into the notes at home. But why do you have to do double work? It is better to take notes during a lecture than to waste time on it later.

The same goes for taking photographs of presentation slides. It is better to have a neatly organized image database on your phone, but if lecture photos are mixed up with selfies and photos with friends, finding the information you need will be extremely difficult.

Even if you have some of the information in the form of photos or audio files on your phone, you need to rewrite it in your notes. This will ensure that you have at least some level of comprehension. After all, it is you, not your mobile device, who needs to memorize the lecture test.

Quick note-taking techniques

It is good if you have mastered the speed of writing by the time you get to university. If not, you will have to use several tricks.


Every profession has its own specifics, a number of terms, and notions. They will appear very often in a lecturer’s speech and there is likely to be a system of notation for these words that have been built up over many years.

Sometimes lecturers share with first-year students the secret of taking notes quickly, but if this is not the case, you can ask a senior lecturer or look for information on the internet. 

Clearly, there is no need to write in words the signs of geometric shapes, equals, and inequalities. From the first grade, you are well aware of the signs that replace these words.

Some words are not terms, but they are very common in lecture texts. It makes sense to think of an abbreviated version of them. 

The main thing is not to get confused with your system of abbreviations. Therefore, it is better to think it through in advance and write it down somewhere on the last page of your notebook so that you can decipher what you don’t understand at any time.

The Cornell Method

This is a whole system developed by Cornell University professor Walter Spider. Its essence is to systematize information, structuring it immediately while writing it down. 

One method involves dividing the page into two columns. The right-hand column, a little larger, is used to record the text of the lecture. The smaller left-hand column is for questions and key concepts. The bottom part of the page (a few lines) should be left free for summarizing.

The keywords in the left-hand column should be helpful in retelling the text in the right-hand column from memory. There you should also write down questions that were left after the lecture so that you can ask them later to the teacher or look up the answer in the textbook. Conclusions should be strictly self-reported, formulated in a few short sentences. 

Each of the above techniques will help you to write quickly after the lecturer and not to lose anything on the way. And finally, a few more recommendations:

  • start each new topic on a new page.
  • write in a neat handwriting style, without spreading the lecture on one topic over half a notebook.
  • use graphic emphasis, e.g. paragraphs, indentation, underlining. 
  • be sure to organize the information if it is too much. Try to present it in the form of a table, diagram, or even a small drawing. 
  • reread the outline from time to time, supplementing it as you learn new information to tie all the topics in the subject together in a logical chain.
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