Taking notes at University

Your ability to take notes will develop the more you do it. No one takes perfect notes – ever!

These guidelines are to help you as you start learning about note-taking at University.

Before your lecture

It’s very easy to turn up for a lecture with no preparation, but you will get far more out of it if you prepare for it. Check your module handbook for the topic of the lecture – you may be able to do some pre-reading from your Reading List. If PowerPoint or notes are used, these will be made available before the lecture. This means that you can check vocabulary, prepare a way to take notes and have some idea of what you would like to know about.

Take the right equipment to a lecture: How will you take your notes?

  • Pen and paper – some students like to write notes in a lecture. You will need a notebook and pen. You may also need a ruler and coloured pens. You may want to write these up more neatly or electronically after the lecture.
  • A laptop or tablet – some students like to type their lecture as the lecture continues. Further sections in this course will talk about what software you may want to have with you.
  • Some students are given permission because of a disability to record the audio from their lectures. In these cases you will need a dictaphone or your mobile phone with a microphone.


It is really hard to concentrate for more than a few minutes, but a lecture or class does require concentration. You can get better at this with practice. Put your phone onto airplane mode so that it does not disturb you with notifications. You should also make sure you are as comfortable as you can be – not too hot or too cold. It’s not always easy as lecture theatres are not always designed with comfort in mind. Sitting at the front instead of heading for the back can also help with concentration. You can see the lecturer and the screen more clearly and hear better. You are less likely to be distracted by class mates.

What should you note down?

The main thing is don’t write down everything! You will not be able to keep up and there is no need to take down every word. You are looking for key points. So, if your lecturer says “There are three main points in this topic” – note down 1,2 and 3, and then you may want a few key words to help you remember what each one is. Mind-mapping is a great idea- and something we discuss on another page. Your lecture should be recorded, so keeping a note of the time is also a good idea so you can go back to any part that you need to watch again. Ideally, you want to be able to condense your notes onto 1 side of A4 in note form.

Things you should include are the key points, any useful examples, new language – words or definitions, references to follow up, questions you have (write a Q in the margin and then your question) and your own thoughts.

Your notes are for you

It is only you that will see your notes – unless you choose to share with your course mates – so what you write down is to support your learning. The way you write, add abbreviations, comments, drawings is the way that suits you best. The person sitting next to you may have the most amazing bullet-journaling approach; the person on the other side is using a tablet; but it doesn’t matter. You should take your notes in a way that suits you. You may want to look up a lecture or video on You Tube before you come to University and practice your techniques.

Consider a template

There are some excellent templates available to support note-taking in a lecture. OneNote (installed version) has a bank of page templates. Go to Insert, Page Template and then choose Academic from the panel at the side. You have a choice of Simple Lecture Notes or Detailed Lecture Notes and a few others for different subjects.

Below is a link to a sample template in Word. This could be useful if you are taking notes on a laptop or tablet. You can change the background colour, text and if you are using this away from the lecture theatre, you could use the Dictate function in Word and speak your notes.

Word document template for taking Lecture Notes

After the lecture

You should follow up from each lecture by checking that you are happy with your notes. There may be follow-up work to do – reading, or work towards your assignment. If you still have questions arising from the lecture:

  • see if you can find out the answer for yourself with further reading or watching videos – remember you can also re-watch the video by finding it on Moodle.
  • ask others on your course
  • contact your tutor and ask if you still cannot understand or find an answer

Lectures come along fairly quickly one after another and they often build on each other, so you shouldn’t delay in processing your lecture notes and making sure you are ready for the next one.

Concluding your notes with a ‘summary page’ for revision can be very helpful – can you condense the knowledge from that lecture into 1 page or even an index card?

Taking Notes Menu