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Take The University Challenge
Listening, Notetaking, and
Reading Critically
The Academic Skills Centre
Trent University
For Both Reading and Listening…
• Avoid Being Passive!
• Listen actively at lectures
• Read your texts actively
• For both, this means thinking about the material and
taking notes for understanding (what is this about?) and
analysis (why does this matter?)
For Both Reading and Listening…
The best results come from working through three steps:
Reading: survey reading
Lecture: finish week’s readings beforehand
2.Be an active learner
Take notes
Ask questions
Check your understanding
Ask questions
Reading Critically
• Read Actively and Engage with the Text
– for regular course readings and for essay research
– this process facilitates critical thinking and participation in
academic discussion
• Understand Context
– refer to the syllabus – course objectives & themes,
schedule & workload
– make connections – relationship between readings,
lectures, tutorials, & assignments
Reading Process
1. Skim or pre-read
2. Read for understanding
3. Read actively and analytically
4. Take notes
5. Reflect on what you have read
Types of texts
• Argumentative articles & books
– present a thesis or specific argument, supported by evidence
and analysis
• Empirical articles
– offer a reporting of an experiment
– often following a particular structure: intro, methods, results,
• Text books
– offer information rather than argument
– give a broader sense of the field (e.g., theoretical concepts,
terminology, applied frameworks)
Reading Process, Step 1
Pre-Reading: Mapping the Text
1. Read the title carefully
2. Read the abstract and/or intro (preface)
3. Read the summary, conclusion or discussion
4. Skim through looking for main ideas: note
headings, illustrations, tables, graphs, etc.
articles: headers in articles, paragraphs following
headers, topic sentences of each paragraph,
b. books: intro and concluding paragraphs of each
chapter, also check book cover
Reading Process, Step 2
Read for Understanding
Reading for Understanding means making sure that you
• Key words:
• Key ideas: the thesis or main argument, research
question and findings
It also means, making sure you understand and note
• How is the thesis, main argument is supported? What
evidence is used?
Or, for empirical articles,
• What methods were used? What was found? What are
the implications?
Reading Process, Step 3
Read Actively and Analytically
• Read critically – Ask questions!
• Ask questions of what you are reading: Is the reading
factual or interpretative or a combination? What is the
relationship between fact and interpretation?
• Ask questions about how an argument is developed, if
evidence is valid, why particular methods were selected,
how data were analyzed.
• Ask questions about how the information fits with the
lecture, how it could be applied, your opinion about how
it works/doesn’t work.
Reading Process, Step 4
Take Notes
• Consider the purpose
– Consider course themes, reading objective (e.g., lecture, paper,
– Adjust strategies to work best for you
• Be selective
– Set yourself a limit and don’t recopy the reading
• Take notes by section
– Use headings made from your first survey of the reading
– Ask yourself, “What is the most important thing to remember from this
paragraph? Or this section, or this chapter? What is its main idea?”
- Show how main ideas are illustrated or shown in examples, applied, or
• When finished reading, put away and write short response to it, one or
two sentences
Reading Process, Step 5
Review Your Reading Notes
• Before class, whether lecture, workshop,
seminar, briefly look over notes to prepare for
upcoming class.
• If you have time, go back over notes from
previous reading as well, so you can keep in
mind the big picture
How to take meaningful notes, not just a transcription of the
entire lecture.
Why Take Notes?
• Good lecture notes can end up being more
practical, meaningful and up-to-date than a
• Taking and reviewing notes forces you to listen
carefully, test your understanding, and
determine what is important
• Note-taking helps your memory
Prepare to Listen
1. Read the syllabus and your notes from previous
lecture: think about where the lecture fits into the
2. Read assigned chapters or articles.
3. If PowerPoint slides are posted before, look them over
and print them for the lecture to simplify your note
4. Note how readings and slides relate to the lecture
ahead: don’t write the same thing down twice.
Be an Active Listener
• Go to lectures & be prepared
• Sit where you can hear & avoid
• Don’t multi-task & try to concentrate
Be Methodical and Organized
• Date your notes. Keep notes for one class
together (folder, binder, notebook).
• Don’t write what you already know and what is
elsewhere: fill in outlines or add to info on slides.
• Listen as much as write. Remember your goal is
not to transcribe the lecture. Strive for 50/50 and
don’t be distracted by writing/keying around you.
• Don’t write in sentences. Be brief.
Try the Cornell System
• This system advises using a two-column note
sheet, one column much wider than the other
• In wide column, write lecture notes
• In narrow column, write key words and
questions or thoughts as you take the notes
and as you review them
• In space at bottom, summarize your notes on
the page in one or two lines right after lecture
when you first review the notes
What’s Important?
Pay attention to these cues.
Material that is
• repeated – the same idea, topic or theme is
presented several times
• emphasized by tone and gesture, by the amount
of time spent on a point or examples
• listed or described in a process
• included in the end-of-lecture summary
• written on the blackboard
Make Use of Power Point Slides
• Available before lecture: Review and print. Add your own
notes to printed slides during lecture.
• Available after lecture: Review slides after lecture.
Compare your notes to slides, and see how they
complement each other.
• Don’t rely on slides alone – they are a tool to support a
lecture, but they do not cover all of the material in a
Note: Not every professor will use PowerPoint slides in a lecture.
The Value of Webcasts:
Review and Reinforcement
• Research has shown that lectures that have been posted
afterwards as webcasts are useful as a way to reinforce
or clarify information.
• Webcast software allows you to skip from one section to
another, so you don’t have to listen to the lecture again
in its entirety.
• Webcasts take the pressure of you as a notetaker.
• Lectures and webcast work best as complements to
each other.
10 minutes well spent
Take 10 minutes to go over your
notes after lecture while the info
in still fresh in your mind.
Studies show that without review
47% of what is learned is
forgotten within 20 minutes.
1. Clarify information. Compare your notes to PowerPoint
2. Write a two-line summary of the lecture.
3. Reflect and respond to lecture by asking: How does it fit
with readings & general course themes?
4. Give your notes a title. It means you have understood
Prepare for Next Lecture by Completing the
Assigned Readings
Active Learning
• Fire up your brain!
• Be engaged with
your classes.
• Prepare. Think. Ask
questions. Write.
Come Talk to Us!
Do you want to ask questions about something you heard today?
Do you want an instructor to look at work you did during these sessions (sample
thesis, lecture notes, paraphrase)?
Come see us at the Academic Skills Centre!
We have in-person and online appointments
Book an appointment through the Online Appointment Booking System: OR visit us during our Library Drop-In Hours!
The Academic Skills Centre
Check out our online resources.
Give Notetaking a Try
Prof. Steve Joordens, U of T
Psychology: "Critical Thinking”
(video clip)
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