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How to Take Lecture Notes. Effective note-taking is not recording or transcribing. It is an active part of the learning process that requires you to quickly digest the lecture material and write down its key elements in a manner that suits your learning style. After properly preparing for the lecture, optimize your process for taking notes. These steps, along with prompt revision and reorganization, you can become a better lecture note-taker. Complete notes before the day’s lecture.
Teachers assign notes so that you will be familiar with the topic being discussed in class. If you do the assigned notes before class, you’ll already know many of the background details. Then you can focus your note-taking on key concepts. Read through your notes from the previous lecture before class as well. This will help you get back up to speed on where you last left off in the class.
Check for online course materials and lecture outlines. Think of it as the framing for a house, which you will then complete and furnish with your note-taking. It may be tempting to just print out that lecture outline or slideshow and figure you can skip note-taking during class — or just jot down a few things on the printout here and there. But it is much better to use these materials to structure your notes. This is the best way to process information, which is after all the goal of note-taking.
Consider the pros and cons of typing notes during a lecture. Many students are more comfortable typing than writing, but there are still reasons to consider the tried-and-true method of putting pen to paper. It can be easier to fall into transcription mode on a laptop. This is when where you try to type everything said instead of actively discerning what is most important to write down. Writing things down by hand can help you achieve greater focus. These may be lifesavers or distractions for you.
Only you can judge what works best. Some instructors and institutions ban the use of laptops in class, so don’t discount the need to know how to write notes by hand. Sit near the front of the room. Choose a spot in the class where you will have few distractions.
Then you will be able to pay attention better and take better notes. Find a spot where you can see and hear the lecturer clearly. You should also be able to see the board clearly. Show up to class a little early to ensure you get your pick of seats.
If you find yourself distracted by noisy fellow students, an air conditioning vent, or an unfortunate glare on the projector screen, discreetly move to a new seat if you can do so without causing a significant disruption. Otherwise, do your best this time and find a new spot for the next time. Make sure you are well-stocked with note-taking supplies. If you take notes by hand, bring extra pens or pencils and paper. If you take notes on a laptop or other electronic device, make sure it is sufficiently charged and ready to go as soon as class begins.
Some people prefer using loose note sheets so they can lay them out on the table or floor when studying, while others find bound notebooks more tidy. Label your paper with the date and topic of the lecture. Make sure your notes are clearly labeled for future reference. Write the date of the lecture and the topic at the top of each page.
If you have multiple pages of notes, include page numbers as well. This will help you keep your notes in order. Consider formatting options for your notes. The more orderly your notes are at creation, the easier they will be to understand, revise, and study. In this format, you’ll have section headings. Underneath each section heading, write down ideas in bullet form and supplementary ideas with indented sub-bullets. This is much better than just writing down everything as a new point.
Be warned that lecturers are not always organized about following main points with subpoints. Keep in mind that you may have to reorganize your notes after the lecture. Remember to take notes instead of transcribing the lecture. This means that you don’t just record what is said. Instead, you should engage with the material and determine the essential elements of what is being said.