In-Class Skills for Success

How do I get more out of my lectures?

Listening Skills

Critical to your success in class is your ability to listen, understand, and learn from your professor’s lecture. The good listener can make a poor speaker useful, but a good speaker cannot make a poor listener good. The ideal situation for communication is to have both a good speaker and a good listener. However, if one must be poor, it is the speaker who is less important.

Consider the following ten points that distinguish a good from a poor listener. Check your listening skills and see if there are opportunities for improvement that might help you do better in class.

The Good Listener The Poor Listener
Looks for information that can be used even if the subject is not interesting. Judges the subject uninteresting and writes off the whole subject as a waste.
Concentrates on the content of the speaker’s message. Criticizes the speaker’s method of delivery.
Hears the speaker out before deciding whether or not to continue paying attention. Gets overly excited about early points and fails to hear the entire message.
Listens for ideas. Listens only for facts.
Adjusts their note-taking strategy to the speaker’s method. Tries to outline in a logical order even when the speaker is disorganized and not logical.
Makes a conscious effort to pay attention. Fakes paying attention.
Does not distract others or allow themselves to be distracted. Tolerates the distractions of others or creates distractions themselves.
Welcomes difficult or complex presentations of material as a challenge. Always avoids difficult presentations and never tries to develop the skills necessary to understand and learn.
Does not let words or phrases that are loaded with emotion or controversy distract them from listening and learning from the speaker. Let’s emotion‐laden words distract them and loses their ability to continue listening and learning.
Uses the ability to think faster than the speaker speaks to anticipate the speaker's next point, identify what the speaker presents as evidence, fact, and opinion, and mentally recapitulates every four or five minutes. Wastes the opportunity to anticipate where the speaker is going with his presentation by wandering off on unrelated mental tangents or listening to music, texting, or otherwise shutting off the speaker.

Note-taking Skills

Adequate notes are necessary for efficient study and learning in college. Your notes from class along with your textbook are your primary sources of information that you take away from the lectures. Without good notes, you'll be at a definite disadvantage when exams roll around. Use the tips below to improve your note-taking strategies.

Stay Organized

Label the course, date and topic covered at the top of the page. This will help you find particular topics later in the semester. Keep notes from each class together for ease of access.

Take and keep notes in a large notebook. The only merit to a small notebook is ease of carrying and that is not your main objective. A large notebook allows you to adequately indent and use an outline form.

Leave a few spaces blank as you move from one point to the next so that you can fill in additional points later if necessary. Your objective is to take helpful notes, not to save paper.

Keep Things Legible

Try to be as neat as possible, remembering that these notes are a critical resource for your success in this class. You will need to study from these notes and not being able to decipher them will not help you later. Underline headings of the different topics covered by your instructor.

Develop and use a standard method of note‐taking including punctuation, abbreviations, margins, etc. Make your original notes legible enough for your own reading, and use your abbreviations when possible. You can go back later and rewrite your notes in a different format.

Be Aggressive

Start taking notes as soon as your instructor starts speaking. Taking note of your instructor’s introductory remarks will usually help you to anticipate what’s ahead and be able to better organize your notes as you take them.

Sit where you can see and hear the instructor and the instructor can see and hear you (the T Zone). This will help you from daydreaming, texting, or doodling.

Concentrate on what is being said; do more listening and thinking and less writing. Do not try to take down everything that the lecturer says. Spend more time listening and attempt to take down the main points.

Copy down everything on the board, regardless. Did you ever stop to think that every blackboard scribble may be a clue to an exam item? You may not be able to integrate what is on the board into your lecture notes, but if you copy it, it may serve as a useful clue for you later.

If the lecture is not well organized, put down all main points and reorganize after class.

If you miss a point, get it later from another student or the professor.

Have a system for taking notes (outline form, Cornell Notes, etc.)

Write your notes in your own words whenever possible.

Leave blanks for missed information and fill it in later.

Copy important names, dates and formulas carefully.

Good points always come up during a discussion. So, it is important to capture them as a part of your notes too.

Listen Actively

Listen for cues as to important points, transition from one point to the next, repetition of points for emphasis, changes in voice inflections, enumeration of a series of points, etc.

Many lecturers attempt to present a few major points and several minor points in a lecture. The rest is explanatory material and samples. Try to see the main points and do not get lost in a barrage of minor points which do not seem related to each other. The relationship is there if you will listen for it. Be alert to cues about what the professor thinks is important.

Although the person sitting in front of you may be texting and having a good time, try not to let that person distract you. The better and more complete your notes are the less time you will have to spend on them when studying.

Fact vs. Opinion

Label your professor’s opinions with an abbreviation or symbol so that you will not confuse it later with facts. While your professor’s opinion is important, it is unlikely that their opinion will be on the exam.

Be open‐minded about points you disagree on. Don't let arguing interfere with your note‐taking.

Be an Active Student

Remember, every class missed is an extra chapter or two of information you will have to try to digest and learn on your own. This increases your risk of not interpreting what you are reading consistently with your instructor and not making the necessary connections to fully understand what your instructor expects to you learn.

Don't be afraid to ask questions in class to clarify or expand on points in the lecture. It's likely one of your peers has the same question too.


Source: “Note Taking and In-Class Skills.” Virginia Tech Cook Counseling Center. Virginia Tech University. 15 September 2009. https://ucc.vt.edu/academic_support/study_skills_information/note_taking_and_in-class_skills.html.