Knowing What’s Important

When it comes to taking notes during lectures, one of the biggest challenges is deciding what is important. If you try to write down every single word the instructor says, you are setting yourself up for frustration and failure. Instead, your notes should include the most important concepts discussed in class as it is these topics that will most likely appear on future tests and exams. Having notes that contain only essential concepts will also make studying and reviewing easier and more productive. Following are a few strategies that can help you decide whether information mentioned by the teacher should be included in your class notes or not.

    • Listen for Verbal Cues: Many instructors will offer clues that the topic they are about to discuss is important and learning to recognize these clues can help you take better notes. Your instructor may say something like, “you may see this topic again,” or, “this would make a great test question.” Some instructors will drop more obvious hints by telling the class to pay close attention to the information that he or she is about to present.
  • Pay Attention to the Time Devoted to Each Topic: Instructors will generally spend more time on important concepts and less time on material that is not as important. If an instructor spends half of a lecture on a single topic, it’s a safe bet that you will be asked about it at a later date, and a safe bet that you should take detailed notes.
  • Information Accompanied by Visuals is Usually Important: One of the best indications that material is important is when it is accompanied by visuals. If the instructor places text, graphs, or tables on an overhead projector or takes the time to write information on a whiteboard, do your best to record all of the information in your notes.
  • Topics Mentioned Numerous Times are Typically Important: If you notice that the instructor mentions the same information numerous times throughout a lecture or during different lectures, it’s usually safe to assume that the information is important.

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