6 Criteria for What to Write Down in Your Class Notes

By Christine Ascher on July 13, 2017

In order to study well, you have to start out with good study materials. This means having not only your textbook on hand but also decent lecture notes with you as well.

Initially, note-taking might seem like a straightforward task: just write down everything that your professor says during class. However, if you try to do that, you’ll probably end up getting behind and your notes won’t be of much use to you when it comes time to cram. Having concise notes that include just the information you need to know will save you a lot of time when you start studying for exams.

The first step to taking good notes is, therefore, knowing what to write down. It can be difficult to sift through all of the information thrown at you during class to settle on what you really need to know, but in general, it’s a good idea to base your notes on these six criteria.

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1. An overview of the lecture

Professors will often begin a lecture by speaking in general terms about what they are going to cover that day in class. It’s a good idea to jot down the key points that your professor mentions at the beginning, as this will help you later on when you’re studying.

If you have a brief overview at the beginning of a page of notes, you can easily flip through them until you find the page with the information that you need. This is a great way to keep your notes organized.

2. Key terms and definitions

Take note of any key terms that your professor brings up throughout class, and try to write down their definitions as you go. Leave some space under each term so that you can go back and add a relevant definition or information later on in class if your professor returns to the topic. It’ll help if you do some reading beforehand so you know what terms you can expect to pop up throughout your lecture.

If you’ve noticed that a word keeps coming up, take note of that and highlight it somehow, as it’s probably a significant one. When you look back on your notes later on, you’ll be able to get an idea of what your professor expects you to know just from the key terms that you have jotted down. Plus, you’ll already have their definitions written down for when you start studying.

3. Relationships

A good way to remember information when you’re studying is by analyzing the way that concepts or ideas relate to each other. You can save yourself some time later on by writing down these relationships as you hear them during class. While your professor might not necessarily describe these connections for you, jot them down as you understand them, and then go back after class to see if they held up throughout the rest of your lecture. Of course, if your professor does specifically mention the connection between two or more ideas, be sure to write that down as well.

4. Concepts you don’t understand

When you’re taking notes, it is especially important to write down any concepts that you don’t understand. While it’s easy to let your professor’s words go over your head when you don’t quite get what they’re saying, this is actually an occasion when it becomes particularly essential to copy everything down. That way, you can go back and revisit the information later on, perhaps with your textbook on hand to gain a better understanding of it. You’ll also be able to show your notes to your professor after class if you need some extra help, and they’ll know exactly what you’re asking about.

5. Anything your professor mentions multiple times

It can be difficult sometimes to determine what your professor expects you to know when it comes to your exams, and therefore it becomes tempting to just write down everything they say. However, rather than being thorough, this might just end up causing you to miss important information in your rush to keep up.

Instead, write down the information that your professor has hinted will come up again and again. A good indication of this is if your professor mentions something multiple times. If it’s brought up repeatedly, it’s probably a central idea that will find its way onto your midterm or final in one way or another. Make sure you write down anything that you hear come up two or more times; generally, repetition is a good clue that something is important.

6. Anything your professor emphasizes

Professors will often offer some indication that certain information is important, whether consciously or subconsciously. If they slow down speaking when they’re explaining a certain concept, that might be because it’s something they want to ensure that you understand and remember. Any time your professor changes their speed of speaking or the volume of their voice, take careful notes on what they’re talking about.

If your professor pauses before explaining something, that’s also probably important information that you should make sure to write down. Finally, if your professor writes a key term or concept on the board, that’s definitely something that you’ll want to copy in your notes.

By Christine Ascher

Uloop Writer
Hi! I'm Christine and I'm currently a senior at the University of Southern California, where I study English Literature, Economics, and French.

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