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Develop your listening and notetaking skills

Have you ever looked at the different notes that people take? They probably range from little scribbles, bright coloured diagrams to laptop typed notes.

See the Listening section in Language and Learning Online for detailed suggestions on how to make the most of taking notes and listening to lectures.

Click the highlighted headings to find some tips on taking notes.

  • General notetaking tips
    • At the beginning of the semester, think about how you will store your notes and in what format.
    • File and organise your notes consistently, and always note the date, subject and topic and sequence.
  • Notetaking from lecture tips
    • If the lecture notes are available online, then skim read these before the lecture. During the lecture, you may like to have these with you and write comments on them.
    • Listen for transition words such as 'first, now let's move on to, an example of this, an alternative conceptualisation, and so on...' to note the shifts in direction of a speaker.
    • Focus on the main points and distinguish these in your notes from the evidence and examples.
    • Use a shorthand notation or code that makes sense to you, and translate this as soon as possible after the talk.
    • Don't try to get every word down.
    • Leave space so you can add further ideas from your readings later.
    • If you're taking notes using a computer, then you may like to distinguish your ideas using different font colours or different font types.
  • Notetaking from reading tips
    • Always have a purpose to your reading, and note what you need for that specific purpose.
    • Beware of relying on the lecturer's notes too much: you need to actively engage with their content and convert it into your own visual, verbal or creative summaries.
  • Visual notetaking tips
    • If you have a visual learning preference, then take notes using colour, drawing mind maps and linking ideas diagrammatically, using various shapes, arrows and connectors.
    • Use images to capture ideas for your notetaking summaries. You can draw visual images to capture ideas and make connections.
  • Auditory notetaking tips
    • If you have an auditory preference, then capture ideas in words. Write the key words and their associations.
    • If you hear a technical word and you're unsure of the spelling, ask the lecturer to spell it and write it out, or write it as it sounds and ask someone later.
  • Kinaesthetic notetaking
    • If you're a kinaesthetic learner, then observe the lecturer's body language, and take notes as a way to stay engaged. Keep your mind active and remember to stretch if you're getting restless.
    • Relate the lecture content to practical applications and ask questions about the practical world application of abstract ideas and concepts.
  • Taking notes from your readings electronically
    • If you're taking notes verbally by reading into an audio recorder device, ensure you've got a good microphone. Use signpost words in your voice notes, and vary the intonation so you bring your voice to life!
    • You can try out a Quicktionary pen Opens in a new window if you need to grab slabs of texts from a book or paper copy; this stores the information digitally.
    • If you're taking notes from a PDF document electronically, then use the highlighting options in the professional version of Adobe Acrobat Opens in a new window and use comment insertion boxes to type out your own notes.
  • Tips for using a notetaker
    • If you've arranged for a scribe Opens in a new window (or notetaker) with the Disability Liaison Unit Opens in a new window, then discuss with your notetaker your format preferences and ensure that they leave margins so you can add your own notes later.
    • If you're audio recording the lecture notes or have a notetaker, make sure you summarise the notes in your own words on the same day. You can do this either verbally or on paper. You must convert or transform the material to make it your own.
    • If you have a notetaker for tutorials or seminars then ensure that the notetaker distinguishes between the views of the lecturer or tutor and those of the various students.
    • If you're using a notetaker, then stay engaged with the content of the lecture – you could still write down key words and keep your mind engaged by asking questions of the content.
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