How to Summarize Lectures Effectively in 6 Steps

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Lectures are a dynamic and engaging way to transmit information, depending on the lecturer and the subject matter, of course.

According to the University of Southampton, lectures usually have two main goals

  1. To first provide background information, so that students can situate the content in a relevant context.
  2. To look closer at the subject itself and provide detailed analysis and information.

Summarizing lectures can often seem like a daunting task, but these six simple steps will help you create a focused synopsis quickly and efficiently.

1. Consider the topic in advance

Sometimes, lecturers may provide some of the lecture material beforehand. Whether you have this information or not, considering the chosen topic before you arrive will help establish your level of knowledge and clarify any areas of confusion.

Spend five minutes writing down what you already know about the topic, what areas you would like to know more about, and any references or texts you have previously encountered that may help expand upon the material provided. In this way, you are already acquainting yourself with the subject and opening up a dialogue that will help you actively engage with the lecture material in a responsive way.

2. Take coherent notes

Effective note taking means picking out the key points and summarizing them in a direct and coherent manner. At first, it can be difficult not to record every word the lecturer says, but over time you can develop a good sense of what is necessary to remember.

Leaving a margin down the side of the page provides a clear space for you to further summarize later on, thus allowing you to condense the information into even smaller chunks.

Consider your method as well: for some people, taking notes by hand makes it easier to retain the material, while for others, typing them up makes them easier to digest. Maybe you want to draw diagrams, charts or graphs, or maybe you learn better with words; experiment with different methods and see what works best for you.

3. Create your own glossary

It is also helpful to have a separate page or section of your folder where you can easily write down any terms that you are not familiar with during the lecture and in your own studies.

For example, when doing your accounting homework, if you do not understand a name, reference, abbreviation, or equation, you are less likely to remember it. Creating your own accounting glossary helps you familiarize yourself with the subject's language. With so many new words and concepts, it is important to set time aside to look up ones you do not recognize or cannot define and practice using them outside of lectures.

In this way, you will be able to more effectively summarize your notes with concision and understanding.

4. Record your responses

The University of Reading has some great advice. They guide that certain points and topics being discussed will inevitably trigger a response from you. Noting this down will help you summarize the point more cohesively. Whether it is a connected idea, a question, or a potential reinforcement or contradiction of the point in hand, don't be afraid to annotate your notes with your own thoughts.

From these notations, you can start related research and expand upon your understanding of the topic. Make sure to mark your own notes in a different color or on a separate page so that you are clear which belong to you and which to the lecturer.

5. Revisit the material as soon as possible

Don't let weeks or months go by until you revisit your lecture notes; you will most likely have forgotten many of the key points and summarizing them will be much harder.

Instead, set aside a day each week where you read through the material provided and your own notes and begin the synopsis process as soon after the lecture as possible. This focused understanding of the key points and the larger context in which they exist will help you to condense the relevant material more effectively as it will still be fresh in your mind.

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6. Condense your summaries

As you continue to acquaint yourself with the lecture material, further summary becomes easier, and helps you to commit the key points to memory. Keep on reducing your notes so that you have revisited the material multiple times and have a strong foundation of knowledge on which to memorize particular concepts or models.

From the lecture material, you may summarize a few pages of key points as discussed above; then you might reduce this to more manageable paragraphs on revision cards, which remind you of the wider context when you recall them.

From here, try to reduce each point to two or three key words. Through repeated exposure to the initial notes, each point will trigger a recall of the wider network of material relating to the subject in question. The more you expose yourself to the material, the more familiar you will become with it.

Effective Lecture Summaries

Effectively summarizing lectures is a key process for efficient future recall of the material they explore. Remember to start as soon as possible after the lecture is given, and if you follow the above steps it should be easy and painless no matter what the subject!

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