Attending class lectures is one of the most important things you can do for your academic success. Taking effective notes in class ensures your time spent in class is productive and useful. According to experts, taking notes in class has two primary functions: (a) it keeps you alert, attentive and accountable as you listen, and (b) the notes themselves become a record of what was said in lecture or discussion that can be used later for studying and review (Seward, 1910). According to Hartley & Marshall (1974) students who take notes experience increased attention and concentration in class (as cited in Cuseo, Fecas & Thompson, 2007). In addition, writing during class and reviewing notes before tests produces better recall which is important to your performance on exams (Kiewra, 1985). When evaluating your own note-taking strategies, ask yourself if you are achieving those two primary functions. If not, consider ways you could alter your strategies to be more effective.
First, consider the different levels of note-taking. Surface-level note-taking involves writing down the words you hear but not really paying attention to the meaning or topic. This might be similar to a court reporter taking a transcript of a trial. They record information but may not be personally processing it (Anderson & Armbruster, 1991). In comparison, you should aim for meaning-based note taking which is characterized by thinking and processing what is being said. This level of note taking is ideal for the classroom lecture when you listen for main ideas, make inferences, and identify question areas.
This gives you a taste of the science behind effective note-taking; visit our tips page to learn even more.