Note-Taking Tips for IELTS and Academic Success

Learn to take effective notes at Language Link VietnamSometimes, my students make me laugh.

Not long ago, I was teaching a TOEFL preparation class, and I asked my students to listen to a lecture and take notes.

I pressed PLAY on the CD player…and immediately they all began writing so quickly, I couldn’t see their hands! Their pens moved so fast, they began fanning the room!

I stopped the activity. “No! No! No!” I cried. “Don’t try to write down EVERY word!” They all looked up, confused.

Then I told them what I am going to tell you now:

The key to good note-taking isn’t writing MORE notes, it’s writing more EFFECTIVE notes.

Effective Notes
How do you know if your note-taking is effective? Effective notes:

  • Contain only the MOST IMPORTANT points
  • Do NOT use full sentences
  • Use symbols and abbreviations
  • Use visual space effectively

Take a look at this example, from a lecture on earthquakes:

Example of effective note-taking

What makes these notes effective?

  • They are not filled with useless details
  • They include common symbols and abbreviations that are easy to understand
  • They use space to indicate the relationship between ideas

Can you understand from the notes what the lecture was about? The actual lecture was this:

More than thirty thousand earthquakes occur every year, most of them minor. Only about 75 earthquakes each year are significant, and most of these occur in unpopulated areas.

If I wanted to, I could give you a summary of the lecture just by looking at the notes. And that’s what you want notes to do.

Does this sound like an IELT/TOEFL skill? It is! But it’s also a skill that will help you when you start your university career.

Let’s Practice Taking Notes
The audio below is a 40-second talk about the city of Seattle, in Washington State, USA. To practice, I want you to:

• Grab a pen and paper
• Listen ONCE to this talk.
• Take notes and try to capture ALL the main ideas and important details.
• When you are done, click the link below to compare your notes to mine.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Now click the link below and compare your notes to mine:

See My Notes

How did you do? Did you catch all the main ideas? Was it easy or difficult? Don’t worry if you had trouble: good note-taking takes practice. But with time, you will get better.

Coming Soon: More On Effective Note-Taking
This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing on effective note-taking. In these posts, I will help you:

  • Pay attention to key words that help you recognize the main idea
  • Recognize and use common symbols and abbreviations
  • Organize your page so you can easily read your notes
  • Find free online resources that will help you practice these skills on your own

For now, feel free to download this list of common symbols and abbreviations. We’ll look at these again in the future.

What Do You Think?
Are these tips helpful? Do you have any tips you can offer, or questions you want to ask? Let us know in the comments area below!

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