Strategies for listening & notetaking

Key words: active listening, lecture, podcast, notetaking, transition signals

Studying at university involves listening to lectures and/or podcasts and taking notes. There are a number of strategies that will enhance your listening and notetaking skills.

Active listening

Active listeners are able to focus on their listening, think about what they are hearing, take effective notes, and remember much of what they have heard.

Active listening involves:

  1. preparing to listen – what do you already know about the subject?
  2. observing the speaker (if possible) – learn to read their body language
  3. focusing on what they are saying
  4. thinking about what they are saying
  5. notetaking key points
  6. writing notes in your own words
  7. actively responding to questions or directions
  8. showing your interest (e.g. giving eye contact, leaning forward).
NOTE: Active listening does not mean you have to agree with the speaker; you merely need to understand what they are saying.

Identifying parts of a presentation

Good speakers/lecturers help make the structure of their presentation clear by indicating to listeners:

  • What they will talk aboutintroduction
  • When they start a new sectiontransition
  • When they are departing from the main subject – digression
  • When they are returning to the main point/topic
  • When they are repeating information – restatement
  • When they are concluding or summarisingconclusion

The stages or direction of a presentation may often begin with a word or phrase to signal what will follow. We call these ‘transition signals’. If you listen for these transition signals, the structure of the presentation and the most important points, will be easier to recognise.

Exercise 1: Parts of a presentation

Print this Transition_signals, showing the phrases frequently used to signal different stages of a presentation. Refer to this table during your next lecture/podcast to help you identify the stages.

Listening and notetaking

Whether you are attending a lecture or listening to a podcast it is important that you take notes. With a presentation, you may have only one chance to take notes so it is important that your notetaking skills are well developed. To learn more about notetaking and notetaking strategies you can use, go to the Notetaking workshop on this site.

Notetaking for lectures and podcasts is much more than just writing down what the lecturer says. You need to:

  • Note the title and date of the presentation.
  • Take notes selectively. Record:
    • main ideas and key elements
    • useful quotes and examples
    • sources (references) and details of further information
    • things you don’t understand – don’t leave these out – check them out later.
  • Remember to listen with your ears, your eyes and your other senses.

Listening to podcasts

Podcasts are generally recordings of actual lectures that you can download and listen to. You can use some of the strategies that you use when listening to lectures; however, there are some features that are different and which call for different strategies.


The speaker is speaking to people in a lecture room. Therefore:

  • You have no visual cues:
    • The speaker will use language that refers to the immediate physical environment (of which you are unaware).
    • To help convey their message, the speaker will use body language (which you are unable to observe).
  • You may have difficulty hearing some of the recording, particulary if the microphone is at the front of the room. For example:
    • If the speaker moves away from the microphone.
    • If the speaker asks a question, you may have difficulty hearing the answer.


  • You need to listen carefully for verbal cues:
    • Listen for changes in tone and volume, used by the speaker to emphasise points.
    • Listen for the structure of the presentation (see Identifying parts of a presentation above).
  • Choose when and where to listen – in a place and at a time that enhance effective listening.
  • Use the pause, replay, stop and restart features that the podcast allows.
If you are an internal student (studying on campus), take advantage of both the face-to-face medium and online podcasts (if they are available).

Listening and notetaking exercise

Before attempting this exercise you should work through the Notetaking workshop on this site.

Exercise 2: Listening and notetaking

Before listening to this mini-lecture on Listening and notetaking, take time to prepare to listen:

  1. Prime yourself to listen – what do you already know about this topic?
  2. Prepare to notetake:
  3. Remember, podcasts can sometimes be difficult to hear. Give yourself time to ‘tune in’ to the speaker. However, if you are having difficulty hearing, you may like to read the full transcript before listening again.

This podcast is in two parts:

  • Part 1 – the mini-lecture – TAKE NOTES on this part.
  • Part 2 – the lecturer asks students about the notes they made – listen to this section but DON’T take notes.

Listen to the podcast and start taking notes.


Which notetaking strategy did you use? Compare your notes with the examples below. You may also like to try one or two different notetaking strategies using the podcast.

  • Cornell system – see an example.
  • Mind map (branching notes) – see an example.
  • Keywords – see an example.