Listening and Note-Taking Strategies

Many of the strategies for reading note taking also apply to listening note taking. However, unlike reading, you can't stop a lecture and review as you listen (unless you listen to a taped lecture). Therefore preparation prior to listening can greatly improve comprehension.

  • Have a clear purpose
  • Recognise main ideas
  • Select what is relevant; you do not need to write down everything that is said
  • Have a system for recording information that works for you  

Lecture survival tips

Strategies to increase comprehension and improve note-taking

Before the lecture

  • revise the previous lecture or tutorial
  • pre-read about the topic
  • check the pronunciation of any new words or discipline-specific language in the pre-readings.
  • rule up pages according to your note-taking system. This saves time in the lecture.

During the lecture

  • be on time and sit near the front
  • distinguish between main points, elaboration, examples, repetition, 'waffle', restatements and new points by:
    • Listening for structural cues (signpost/transition words, introduction, body and summary stages)
    • Looking for non verbal cues (facial expression, hand and body signals)
    • Looking for visual cues (copy the content of any visual aids used (e.g. OHTs), note references to names and sources)
    • Listening for phonological cues ( voice change in volume, speed, emotion). Generally with more important information the speaker will speak slower, louder and they will direct their attention to the audience.

After the lecture

  • revise lecture notes within 24 hours. Tidy up your handwriting and fill in any missing bits. Reviewing makes remembering lectures much easier.
  • write a short summary of the lecture (1 paragraph) in your own words
  • attach any handouts to your lecture notes. 

1. Use symbols and abbreviations

The use of symbols and abbreviations is useful for lectures, when speed is essential. You also need to be familiar with symbols frequently used in your courses.

  • Develop a system of symbols and abbreviations; some personal, some from your courses
  • Be consistent when using symbols and abbreviations

Symbols for notetaking

equals signequals/is equal to/is the same as
does not equal signis not equal to/is not the same as
is equivalent tois equivalent to
Therefore signtherefore, thus, so
Because symbolbecause
Plus symboland, more, plus
More than symbolmore than, greater than
less than symbolless than
Minus symbolless, minus
leads to symbolgives, causes, produces, leads to, results in, is given by, is produced by, results from, comes from
Increases by symbolrises, increases by
decreases by symbolfalls, decreases by
Proportional to symbolproportional to
Not proportional tonot proportional to


These can be classified into three categories:

1. Common abbreviations

Many are derived from Latin.

c.f. (confer) = compare 

i.e. (id est) = that is

e.g (exempla grate) = for example

NB (nota benne) =note well

no. (numero) = number 

etc. (et cetera)= and so on 

2. Discipline-specific abbreviations

In chemistry:

Au for gold

Mg for magnesium

In the case of quantities and concepts, these are represented by Greek letters in many fields.

A or a (alpha) B or b (beta)

3. Personal abbreviations

Here you can shorten any word that is commonly used in your lectures.

diff =different

Gov = government

NEC = necessary

Some abbreviations are so well known and widely used that they have become an Acronym - an abbreviation pronounced as a word.

For example , the word 'laser' was originally an abbreviation for 'Light Amplification by Stimulation Emission of Radiation'. It now is a noun in its own right!

2. Use concept maps and diagrams

You can set down information in a concept map or diagram. This presents the information in a visual form and is unlike the traditional linear form of note taking. Information can be added to the concept map in any sequence.

Concept maps can easily become cluttered, so we recommend you use both facing pages of an open A4 note book. This will give you an A3 size page to set out your concept map and allow plenty of space for adding ideas and symbols.

  • Begin in the middle of the page and add ideas on branches that radiate from the central idea or from previous branches.
  • Arrows and words can be used to show links between parts of the concept map.
  • Colour and symbols are important parts of concept maps, helping illustrate ideas and triggering your own thoughts.


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