How to Effectively Take Notes During a Lecture


20th June 2024

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Taking notes during lectures is essential for all students, including PhDs. It not only aids in retaining information but also serves as a valuable resource for your research and studies. Although as a PhD student you may not attend traditional lectures, improving your note-taking skills is still crucial for other instances, such as supervisory meetings, academic conferences or specialised classes you may need to attend to improve your research skills in a specific area. Note-taking can be challenging, especially when dealing with complex topics. In this blog post, we will explore how to take lecture notes to maximise your learning and academic success.

Why Note-Taking Matters

Before delving into note-taking tips, let’s briefly discuss why taking notes during lectures is essential for PhD students:

  1. Retention of Information: Writing down key points and concepts helps reinforce your understanding and memory of the material. Actively summarising and paraphrasing during note-taking aids in internalising information more effectively than passive listening alone.
  2. Reference for Research: Notes serve as a valuable resource for future reference when conducting research or writing papers. They capture insights, references, and key findings that can significantly enrich your scholarly work and provide a solid foundation for building arguments.
  3. Active Learning: Engaging in note-taking promotes active listening and participation during lectures, leading to deeper comprehension of the subject matter. When you actively process and organise information into coherent notes, you are more likely to identify connections, ask relevant questions, and integrate new knowledge with existing understanding.

Effective note-taking isn’t just about transcribing what’s said—it’s about synthesising information, making connections, and preparing yourself to apply knowledge in various contexts throughout your academic journey. By mastering this skill, you enhance your ability to learn, analyse, and contribute meaningfully to your field of study.

How to Take Lecture Notes: Note-Taking Tips for All Students

1. Prepare Before the Lecture

  • Review the Topic: Familiarise yourself with the topics that will be covered in the lecture or conference to have a basic understanding beforehand.
  • Gather Materials: Ensure you have the necessary note-taking tools such as notebooks, pens, highlighters, and digital devices if you prefer electronic notes.

2. Adopt an Effective Note-Taking Method

  • Choose Your Method: Experiment with different note-taking methods such as the Cornell method, outline method, or mind mapping to find what works best for you.
  • Stay Organised: Use headings, bullet points, and indentations to structure your notes and make them easier to review later.

3. Actively Engage During the Lecture

  • Listen Actively: Pay close attention to the lecturer’s main points, explanations, and examples.
  • Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek clarification if you don’t understand a concept. Your notes should reflect any uncertainties for further exploration.

4. Capture Key Information

  • Focus on Main Ideas: Identify the main themes and key concepts being discussed and prioritise them in your notes.
  • Use Abbreviations: Develop a system of abbreviations and symbols to speed up your note-taking process without sacrificing clarity.

5. Utilise Technology Wisely

  • Digital Tools: Explore note-taking apps and software that offer features such as syncing across devices, searchable notes, and audio recording for challenging lectures.
  • Backup Your Notes: Regularly back up your digital notes to prevent the loss of important information.

6. Review and Revise Regularly

  • Review Your Notes: Set aside time after each lecture to review and revise your notes while the material is still fresh in your mind.
  • Fill in Gaps: If you missed any information during the lecture, consult classmates or supplementary resources to fill in the gaps in your notes.

7. Reflect and Connect

  • Reflect on Your Learning: Take time to reflect on the connections between lecture topics, previous knowledge, and your research interests.
  • Make Connections: Link lecture content to your ongoing research or future academic pursuits to deepen your understanding and relevance.

How Do You Take Notes in Class with Electronic Devices?

Using electronic devices for note-taking provides several advantages that can significantly enhance your academic experience. Here are some note-taking tips if you prefer to use your laptop or iPad.

Searchability: Utilise advanced search functionalities in note-taking apps to quickly locate specific information within your notes. By simply entering keywords or phrases, you can swiftly retrieve relevant content, saving valuable time during revision or research.

Organisation: Leverage digital folders, tags, or categories to meticulously organise your notes by topic, lecture, or project. This systematic approach ensures that your notes remain structured and easily navigable, facilitating efficient study sessions and research endeavours.

Sync Across Devices: Take advantage of cloud-based syncing capabilities offered by note-taking applications. This feature enables seamless access to your notes across multiple devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Whether you’re in the lecture hall, library, or at home, you can effortlessly review, edit, or add to your notes wherever you are.

Audio Recording: Many note-taking apps support audio recording functionalities, allowing you to capture lectures or discussions while simultaneously taking notes. This feature proves invaluable for revisiting complex topics, verifying details, or clarifying information at a later time.


Effective note-taking is a fundamental skill for all students: it enhances learning, retention of information, and academic success. By learning how to take notes in class you can optimise your learning experience during lectures and leverage your notes as valuable resources for your research and studies.

Remember, note-taking is a personal process, so feel free to adapt these tips to suit your individual learning style and preferences. With practice and perseverance, mastering the art of note-taking will become an invaluable asset throughout your PhD journey.

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