A System for Effective Listening

You can think about four times faster than a lecturer can speak.

Effective listening requires the expenditure of energy; to compensate for the rate of presentation, you have to actively intend to listen.

Note taking is one way to enhance listening and using a systematic approach to the taking and reviewing of your notes can add immeasurably to your understanding and remembering of the content of lectures.

Before Class

  • Develop a mind-set geared toward listening.

  • Test yourself over the previous lecture while waiting for the next one to begin.
    Skim relevant reading assignments to acquaint yourself with the main ideas, new technical terms, etc.

  • Do what you can to improve physical and mental alertness (fatigue, hunger, time of day, and where you sit in the classroom all affect motivation).

  • Intend to listen.

Notebook Selection and Use

Adapted from How to Study in College, by Dr. Walter Pauk.

Choose notebooks that will enhance your systematic note taking: a separate notebook with full-sized pages is recommended for each course. You might wish to mark off the pages as shown below:


The Cornell Method is one technique for notetaking where a notebook page is divided into 3 sections - Cues, Lecture Notes and Summary:

  1. Lecture Notes, in the main section, often contains list with sublists of important lecture points.

  2. Cues, on the left side of the page, about 2.5 inches wide, include questions to go with the Lecture Note points. Cues should be thought-provoking questions typically starting with Why, What is, How can.

  3. Summary, located at the bottom 2 inches of the page, contains statements that summarize the material.

For more information on the Cornell Method for notetaking, refer to

During Class

  • Listen for the structure and information in the lecture.

  • Resist distractions, emotional reactions, or boredom.

  • Be consistent in your use of form, abbreviations, etc.

  • Pay attention to the speaker for verbal, postural, and visual cues to what's important.

  • Label important points and organization clues: main points, examples.

  • When possible, translate the lecture into your own words, but if you can't don't let it worry you into inattention!

  • If you feel you don't take enough notes, divide your page into five sections and try to fill each part every ten minutes (or work out your own formula).

  • Ask questions if you don't understand.

  • Instead of closing your notebook early and getting ready to leave, listen carefully to information given toward the end of class; summary statements may be of particular value in highlighting main points. There may be possible quiz questions.

After Class

  • Clear up any questions raised by the lecture by asking either the teacher or classmates.

  • Fill in missing points or misunderstood terms from text or other sources.

  • Edit your notes, labeling main points, adding recall clues and questions to be answered. Key points in the notes can be highlighted with different colors of ink.

  • Make note of your ideas and reflections, keeping them separate from those of the speaker.


  • Review your notes: glance at your recall clues and see how much you can remember before re-reading your notes.

  • Look for the emergence of themes, main concepts, methods of presentation.

  • Make up and answer possible test questions


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