How to Take Effective and Structured Lecture Notes

Pre Med Students

Lectures in medical school can range from incredibly interesting (and even fun!) to monotonous, boring, and difficult to understand. Note-taking is one of the best ways to keep yourself engaged in the lecture and ensure that you are getting all the knowledge you need for later study and review. Below are some tips for creating effective, structured notes that will serve as a solid study tool for the entirety of your school years. 

Start with the Right Supplies 

Before you go to your lecture, make sure you have all the tools you need to take notes for the duration. At the very least, you will need paper and a pencil or pen, but there are a few specific things you can use to make sure the end result is a structured, easy-to-read study tool. Some recommendations include:

 

  • College-ruled or graph-ruled paper. In medical school lectures, you’ll be given a lot of information in a very short period of time, so you’ll find yourself writing a lot. Using college ruled paper – or even graphing paper – will provide you with ample space to capture more information on a single sheet. Graphing paper is also excellent for creating structure in your notes so that they are more aesthetic and easy to read later. 
  • Colored pens or highlighters. Though any pen or pencil will certainly do in a pinch, investing in a set of colored pens or even colored highlighters can help you create structured lecture notes in which each topic is easily discernible at a glance. You can highlight or write your major topics in one color, then highlight your subtopics in another, and then use another color to highlight definitions, for example. 
  • Notebooks, divided binders, and/or folders. Now that you have the tools you need to take your notes, you’ll need a way to organize them. Options include utilizing a different notebook for each course, purchasing a specific folder for each course, or even utilizing a divided binder. The latter option is often the simplest as you can carry everything with you to every lecture and never find yourself without the proper folder or notebook. 

 

What Should You Write?

If you’re not lucky enough to have a professor who either writes notes as he or she lectures or maybe tells you what you should write down, note-taking can get a bit confusing, to say the least. You certainly can’t write everything down, so here are some tips for taking notes that you can actually use later. 

 

  • Listen carefully and use a voice recorder. No matter how hard you try, capturing everything your professor says is going to be a serious challenge. A voice recorder will come in very handy since you can go back and listen to the lecture as many times as is necessary. During the live lecture, if you don’t have time to write out important information, make a note reminding yourself to go back and listen to that part of your recording again later. 
  • Document things that you don’t already know. There’s not much point to taking notes on things you already know and feel comfortable with, so listen closely for terms, words, subjects, and topics that are new to you or difficult to understand and take notes on those. If they tie into information you already know, be sure to jot down how so that you can get a better understanding later. 
  • Annotate your textbook. Simply using a highlighter, pen, or even a pencil to annotate right inside your textbook is much quicker than rewriting sentences and phrases, but before you do this, consider whether you’re planning to sell your textbook – or even whether you’re using a rented one. Marking in textbooks will reduce their resale value.

 

Finally, another option that can help you (and other students in the lecture) a great deal involves creating a study group or meetup after the lecture to share notes and discuss the topics that were presented. The new perspectives are important for learning about new material, and everyone can benefit from seeing someone else’s notes from the same lecture.