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How would you feel if you were forced to spend hours and hours sitting in a hard-backed chair, eyes wide open, listening to the sound of someone else's voice? You wouldn't be allowed to sleep, eat, or smoke. You couldn't leave the room. To make matters worse, you'd be expected to remember every point the speaker made, and you'd be punished for foigetting. And, to top it off, you'd have to pay thousands of dollars for the experience.
Sounds like the torture scene from the latest spy thriller? Actually, it's nothing of the kind. It's what all college students do who take a full load of courses.
Unfortunately, many students do regard these hours as torture, and they do all sorts of things to deaden the pain. Some of them sit through class with glared eyes, minds wandering somewhere. Others hide in the back of the room, sneaking glances at the newspaper or the book. Still others reduce the pain to zero: they simply don't come to class. These students do not realize that they are missing out on one of the most important aspects of their education.
One reason you should take lecture notes is that lectures add to what you read in textbooks. Lecturers combine the material and approaches of many texts, saving you the trouble of researching an entire field. They keep up to date with their subjects and can include the latest studies or discoveries in their presentations. The best lecturers combine knowledge with expert showmanship. Both informative and entertaining speakers, they can make any subject leap wildly to life.
But isn't it good enough just to listen to these wonderful people without writing down what they say? Studies have shown that after two weeks you'll forget 80% of it. And you didn't come to the lecture room just to be entertained. You came to learn. The only way to keep the material in your head is to get it down in permanent form — in the form of lecture notes.
There are three steps to mastering the art of taking good lecture notes: the preparation, the note-taking process itself, and the post-lecture review.
First, mentally prepare yourself to take good notes. Examine your attitude. Remember, you're not going to the lecture room to be bored, tortured, or entertained; you're going there to learn. Also, examine the material the lecture will cover. Read the textbook chapter in advance.
Second, prepare yourself physically. Get a good night's sleep, and get to class — on time. Even better, get to class early, so you can get a good seat near the front of the room. You'll hear better there and be less tempted to let your mind wander. You'll also have time to open your notebook to a new page, find your pen, and write the date and topic of the lecture at the top. This way, you won't still be groping under your chair or flipping through pages when the lecturer begins to speak.
Be prepared to do a good deal of writing in class. A good role of thumb for taking notes is, "when in doubt, write it down". After class, you will have time to go over your notes and make decisions about what is important enough to study and what is not. But in the midst of a lecture, you don't always have time to decide what is really important and what is quite secondary. You don't want to miss getting down a valuable idea.
Be sure to always write down what the lecturer puts on the board. If he or she takes the time to write something on the board, it is generally safe to assume that such material is important. And don't fall into the trap that some students make. They write down what is on the board but nothing more. They just sit and listen while the instructor explains all the connections between those words that have been chalked on the board. Everything may be perfectly clear to a student then, but several days later, chances are that all the connecting materials will be forgotten. If you write down the explanations in class, it will be much easier for you to make sense of the material and to study it later.
Here are some other hints for taking good classroom notes:
If you miss something, don't panic. Leave space for it in your notes and keep going. Later, get the missing information from a classmate or your textbook
Don't ignore the very beginning and end of class, often lecturers devote the first five minutes of their lectures to a review of material already covered or a preview of the next day's lecture. The last five minutes of a lecture can contain a clear summary of the class. Don't spend the first five minutes of class getting your materials out and the last five minutes putting them away. If you do, you'll probably miss something important.
The real learning takes place after class. As soon as you have time, sit down and reread your notes. Fill in anything unclear or missing while it's still fresh in your mind. Then write a few key words and phrases that summarise the points of the lecture.
Cover your notes, and, using only these key words, try to reconstruct as much of the lecture as you can. This review will cement the major points in your memory and will save significant time when you study for the exam.
To sum all this up, be prepared to go into class and be not just an active listener but an active notetaker as well. Being in class and taking good notes while you are there are the most valuable steps you can take to succeed in college.
Answer the questions.
1. What do you do during a classroom lecture?
2. Do you sit and stare at the lecturer, wondering if he or she will ever stop?
3. Do you try to write everything which is said, but can't keep up?
4. Why take lecture notes? Isn't it good enough just to listen to the lecturer without writing down what he or she says?
5. What are the three steps to mastering the art of taking good lecture notes? Discuss in class each step.
6. Could you think of some more hints for taking good classroom notes?
7. Have you got your own tips on how to make the best use of class time?
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