Notemaking in lectures

Resource Duration:

14 minutes

Types of media:







A student helpsheet describing a process for effective strategies for notemaking in lectures. Includes notes on preperation and process.

What you need to do before, during and after a lecture to be successful:


Actively prepare for the lecture and set goals:

  • Scan module handbook: remind yourself of the course AIMS, LEARNING OUTCOMES and the assignment question. THINK: which bit of these will this lecture help me with?
  • Brainstorm: what do I already know on this topic? What do I need from this session to help me with the assignment? NB: Whilst this appears very pragmatic and ‘surface’ orientated, Buzan’s work (passim) suggests that a focussed approach allows us to draw more out of a lecture (or text) than an ‘open’ or relatively undifferentiated approach.


  • Turn your paper landscape fashion; set yourself the challenge of making key word pattern notes. Remind yourself that whilst change is uncomfortable, this passes – and that this is a proven successful study strategy – now:
  • Actively select KEY words and points: names, dates, ‘facts’, theories, arguments…
  • Roughly connect them together in a rough pattern. See these as a first draft. TIP: see most of what you do as a draft. The rush to perfection is the enemy of active thinking – it closes us off
  • Use coloured pens to keep your brain alert (awake!)
  • Draw pictures, use symbols instead of words – again making the task more difficult keeps you alert – and starts to make the notes more memorable.


This is the most important time of all – and the longest. Being a student is NOT about being in lectures, workshops and seminars (that take up about 12 hours a week) but is in the reading, writing, thinking, talking that you do the rest of the time (about 20-25 hours a week).

This is also the most active time of all – and Buzan argues that if we do not DO SOMETHING, if we do not actively revise our notes, then we will forget 98% of the information we have just heard in just three weeks! So:

  • Revise your notes – makes them shorter, more dynamic and more memorable – that is, build in mnemonic illustrations (cartoons) so that each set of notes has something that will trigger your recall
  • Discuss your notes with a study partner
  • Get a study partner!
  • Follow up your notes: read something, write something… TIP: start drafting rough paragraphs for the final assignment from the beginning of the course. Each rough paragraph will tell your brain what you are listening for in a lecture (or looking for in a book)
  • Don’t file your notes away. Filed away stuff feels finished – this tells the brain to forget. Stick the notes on your wall – revise them as you walk past. TIP: Write your assignment on the wall and add notes to the question… Build up notes that help you answer the assignment question…


Date modified:

This resource was last updated on 08/04/2023

Date added:

This resource was published on 14/01/2012

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