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Listening and note taking

Listening and hearing are not the same thing!

In class you need to do all sorts of listening—to teachers, students, oral presentations, class discussions, radio, television, etc.

Listening is different from hearing. Hearing refers to sounds, while listening refers to meaning. You listen for ideas, not words. To listen effectively you need to pay attention to how something is said, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body. Listening takes a great deal of focus and concentration and is a key skill for your success both at school and beyond, because 80% of what you know comes from listening!!

Being an active listener

Just like reading, you likely know something about the subject you are listening to, and linking new material with what you know will help you listen more actively. Listening with questions in mind will also help you listen better and remember more. While listening, ask yourself:

1. What is s/he saying; what does it really mean?
2. How does that relate to what s/he said before?
3. What's the point s/he's trying to make?
4. How is that helpful; how can I use this?
5. Does this make any sense?
6. Am I getting the whole story?
7. How does this relate to what I already know?
8. Is s/he leaving anything out?

Stay alert physically

While you need to be seated comfortably in class, you should adopt a position that will help you concentrate. Sit upright, respond appropriately to the speaker and be prepared to take notes. Sitting near the front of the room will help you feel more involved and ensure that you can see and hear, as well as avoid possible distractions.

The purpose of class notes

After class, even if you have been an active listener, you may very quickly forget much of what has been said, so class notes are very important as they provide you with a summary of relevant and important points which can be useful for revision. Writing notes can also help you to concentrate on what the speaker is saying.
If you develop effective note-taking skills your notes can also serve a whole range of other purposes. Generally, by attempting to think about the main points to include in your notes, you are analysing the topic and producing an outline for your revision.
Your class notes can also highlight significant references to follow up on and be a forum for your own thoughts and comments.

Good lecture notes must:

  • present a neat, attractive appearance.
  • indicate the main points of the talk.
  • show the relationship of the details to the main points.
  • include enough illustrative detail to enrich notes and content.

To take good notes:

  • Be sure to do any pre-reading to prepare for class!
  • Watch the speaker as much as you can.
  • Use a pen! Notes in pencil will smear and are hard to read.
  • Use a large notebook so you can leave wide margins and not crowd your lines together.
  • Date your notes for reference in test preparation.
  • Concentrate on the ideas/argument the speaker is developing.
  • Don't take too many notes—do more listening than writing.
  • If points are repeated, underline them to show they were stressed—don't write them more than once.
  • Use abbreviations and shorthand to reduce as many ideas as possible; don't use complete sentences.
  • Listen for signals, e.g., 'The first point I want to discuss today…'

After class

Read your notes over as soon after class as possible to fix handwriting, spelling and clarity. Expand where necessary, tie points together, and/or consult references mentioned to develop points or further clarify certain concepts. These notes have now become your own set of revision notes and a valuable reference for the future, and re-reading them is a key way to help you remember key concepts.

Find a note taking technique that works for you

Have a look at some example note taking techniques/methods and find one that you think you could use. Any you choose can be adapted any way you like—there is no right or wrong, as long as your notes work for YOU. Some note taking methods are the Cornel, the outlining, the charting and the mapping methods—Google can find these and others for you, and you can choose the one you think is best.


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