How to take GREAT Lecture Notes

What is a Lecture-based class?

A lecture course is typically found in upper levels of education (upper-class high school, college, post grad) and in seminars. Usually there are many students in a classroom or auditorium and the professor and/or expert in the particular field of study does not have an open conversation with the individuals in the class because it would be too complex to utilize within the time constraints and size of the class. 

A lecture class can be defined as a course/seminar wherein an expert speaks about a particular subject to an audience but does not have a response-oriented lesson. Rather, the professor/expert shares what he or she knows about the subject in order for the students to gain knowledge by simply remembering the subject material.  In order to remember the material, students either record the lecture using an audio recorder (some lectures do not allow students to record material) or take notes of the information.

Taking notes can be particularly difficult if there are many slides the professor shares a lot of information at one (like on a powerpoint or model). That’s why it’s imperative that students have a method of note taking that allows for paying attention while taking notes, because oftentimes there are not summaries or worksheets that the professor passes out to aid the students. The professors expect the students to know how to take notes if they are in a lecture-style course. 

*When* to Take Notes

Choosing when to take notes during a lecture can make or break your notes. Taking too many notes distracts from the overall lecture as typing or writing is typically not as fast as speech, and deciding how to take notes and creating an electronic (or manual) format during a lecture will absolutely set a student up for failure. True multitasking is rarely achieved, and here at Planting Seeds Tutoring & Test Prep, we never assume that a student can truly multitask. If one is writing, one is not fully taking in the information shared from the professor. 

So, if we as humans cannot naturally multitask well (as multitasking sabotages our memory), then when and how do we take lecture notes?

(Side note: Take heart – lecture-based teaching is slowly losing traction in the education world. However, if you’re a student caught in a lecture ill prepared, this blog post is for you!)

  • Take notes before, during, and after a lecture (more about during and after in a moment)

Just like a good day at school starts with a good night’s rest, good note taking must start the day (or a few days) before. Often a syllabus is provided to the attendees of a lecture, and reading up on the material is a must. If a professor has written a book and plans to use that book during the school year, you bet your buck that the book WILL be apart of the lecture. Take notes on who the speaker (or teacher) is, outline your notes beforehand, and even creating a table of contents for your notes is an effective way to preplan for your lecture. 

*How* to Take Notes

Method 1: Bullets

The Bullet Method is when you create separate headers either horizontally or vertically across the page. If you know what the lecture is going to be on, this may be a helpful choice by predetermining where each bullet point will neatly fit. The downside? Knowing how much space to arrange for each point. 

Method 2: Cornell Style

The Cornell Style of note taking is a simple method that many students use and modify to their liking. It also takes into account that you will be reviewing your notes later on, which is a key element of note taking during a lecture. There is a column to the left where main ideas, questions about the topic, or whatever can continue the conversation between your notes and your memory will be placed after class when reviewing the notes. There is a central margin that will be for quick note taking during the lecture. At the bottom of the page, leave a few lines or moderately small space for summarizing the notes. The downside? A lot of paper is used. Try a Rocketbook for this method!

Method 3: Outlining

Outlining is the most intuitive method of note-taking besides writing complete sentences (and we’re talking about lecture-based note taking…so let’s throw sentence writing out the window). Outlining is exactly what is sounds like: outline! 

  • Main topic
    •  Subtopic
      • Point about subtopic

This method is what students are most familiar with when they begin their note-taking journey. The downside to outlining is that it is less helpful for memorization, as students rarely think and recall in an outline format. Modifying outlining with mind-mapping is a helpful way to combine the ease of outlining with the strength of recall. Try it out! 

*After* Class Studying

This is the most difficult part of note taking – the studying. Many times, students cram the night before tests and they wonder why their brilliant note taking system didn’t work!

Needless to say – cramming is never the method suggested by teachers or tutors. Memorizing, forgetting, and re-familiarizing yourself with your notes is an essential part for long term memory usage. That is particularly important for comprehensive final exams. 

If you take gorgeous instagram-worthy notes, but forget to review them…you’ve wasted time and effort. 

  1. Summarize your notes the same day 

  2. Confirm information in your notes in your textbook and expand your notes to accommodate textbook notes. 

  3. Quiz yourself

  4. Revisit your notes after you have trouble remembering them on the spot.

When you have preplanned and formatted your notebook, taken efficient notes during class, and reviewed them after – you are well on your way to acing your test! How do YOU take notes? Do you have a favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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Would you, or your student, benefit from our in-home or online tutoring offered in Austin, Dallas, South and Central Texas this school year? Absolutely! Contact us today to receive information regarding tutoring for English, Reading, Math, Science, History, and Test Prep. Curious about what subjects we teach? Click here to visit our website at You can also contact Planting Seeds Tutoring with your questions at (972) 342-6496, or via email at

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