Skills Hub

Taking notes in lectures

Lectures form an integral part of the taught component of undergraduate courses. Do not expect to get all the information you will need from lectures. Lectures give you a framework for further study.

Lecture recordings can be a really helpful study tool especially for revision purposes, see our page on Using lecture recordings to find out how to make the most of them.

It is easy to lose the thread of a lecture. Your mind can easily wander, so taking notes can help you to concentrate. Here are some tips on making good lecture notes we've divided this into advice for what you can do before, during and after the lecture.


Second year Psychology

View Veronika's student perspective


A typical lecture gives you a broad overview of the topic that you then have to read up about in more detail later on by yourself and usually they'll have lecture slides and you can access them on the internet later on if you want to revisit the material or recently they've started to do Sounds Direct which will be on Study Direct which is really useful for revision and just if you miss a lecture or anything like that it's good to be able to hear it again.


Third year Physics with Management

View Seb's student perspective


It depends really, sometimes lecturers are kind enough to put all their lecture notes, all their slides, everything on Study Direct. Sometimes they don't so what I do, if those lecture notes are available I print them off and I make notes while the lecturer goes through them, however, sometimes I just have to take notes and because in Physics they write everything on the board so you just  need to copy it down from the board. In management note taking is very important because lecturers like to talk about their own experience because they mainly come from industry so they're not the biggest fans of writing everything on the board, so  they just talk away and you have to learn to write down the key points they make. Sometimes they do put slide shows on the web which is helpful but it's not enough -  to write essays you really have to listen to what they say.

Tips on taking notes in lectures

  1. Do some background reading. Make sure you know what the topic of the lecture is going to be and do any suggested reading. If you have any questions about the topic of the lecture write them down and take them along.
  2. Work out how this particular lecture fits into the overall structure of the module - where you have got to, how you got there, where you will go next.
  3. Look at handouts. Your lecturer may have lecture notes or Powerpoint handouts available on Study Direct. Make sure if you have online information that you have read it before the lecture. You may want to print out or save a copy of the lecture notes and use them as the basis for your own notes. You can highlight or annotate handouts with your own ideas and thoughts. 

If you have never been to a lecture before you might not be sure about how to behave. You are expected to switch your mobile phone to silent and not talk to friends during the lecture. Only use your mobile, tablet or laptop for viewing notes and making notes during the lecture. If you wish to record the lecture you should ask permission from the lecturer. Many lecturers will record their lectures and make them available for you via Study Direct. 

  1. Arrive early. Don't miss the very beginning of a lecture since that is often the most valuable part, for instance because it reviews previous lectures or outlines objectives and lecture structure. If you easily get distracted by other students, sit near the front.
  2. Label your notes - including the title and date of the lecture - and keep track of your page numbers. This will help you find information later on when it comes to revising for exams or writing assignments.
  3. Make your own notes. Don't rely entirely on your lecturer's notes or on notes written by friends because by writing your own notes you will improve your understanding.
  4. Organise your notes. Leave plenty of space in the margins so that you can easily add to your notes later.There are a number of different ways in which you can organise your lecture notes, you could use a ring-binder for your notes so that you can add material close to the notes on the relevant lecture or you could create a system of files and folders on your personal device or in your university login. Alternatively you could use a digital note-making tool like OneNote or Evernote which allow you to tag your notes with key terms making them easily searchable.
  5. Do not attempt to write everything down. It is impossible and unnecessary to reproduce the contents of a lecture exactly. Your notes should be an interpretation of the material presented. Try to follow and capture the logic of the argument or key points of information. Use headings and sub-headings in your notes to make this clear. Lecturers often provide explicit guidance as to the structure and format their lecture will follow. Look out for phrases such as 'there are three key reasons for x' or 'it is essential to note that y'.
  6. Indicate any points you do not understand or questions. Follow these up through individual research, in tutorial or during the office hours of your tutor.
  7. Include details so that your notes will make sense to you when you come back to them again. Write down any specific examples given that will help you remember key points and sufficiently label graphs, tables or charts.
  8. Don't leave early. The last 10 minutes or so of a lecture is when the lecturer may help you enormously by repeating points, drawing out conclusions and summarising material.  
  1. Look up new terms. Check spelling, meaning and appropriate use. Review your notes as soon as possible after the lecture. These notes should provide the foundation upon which your understanding can be built. Here are some useful questions you can ask yourself about your notes:

    • Have you accurately recorded all main points?
    • How were these developed?
    • How do they relate to each other?
    • Which issues were clarified for you?
    • What will be discussed in the next tutorial/seminar?
    • Can you summarise the material into only one paragraph? 
    • Do you have further questions to jot down and talk about in class?
  2. Reflect on your notes. Lectures are not an end in themselves but a means to understanding. Since they are usually a one way process, using and discussing your notes with fellow students will help you understand your lectures more fully.
  3. Avoid recopying your notes several times to make them neater. This wastes time, and can be avoided by making good notes in the first place. However, if you take handwritten notes in lectures it is sometimes useful to type up your lecture notes because this can help you reflect on the lecture and reinforce what you've learnt whilst also allowing you to organise your notes in a structured way. To do this you could use tools such as Word, Google Docs, OneNote or Evernote.

Download tips on taking notes in lectures as PDF file

Print Friendly and PDF