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Balancing Notes and Listening

It’s important to strike the right balance of note-taking and listening so that you hear and remember all the important information.  You can do this by making your notes an extension of, rather than a distraction from, your listening by learning to listen and take notes actively. These tips may help you find the ideal balance.


Infer a bit

Part of listening actively is putting in your opinions and reactions along with the information expressed in the lecture. Not only will this make the note-taking process more interesting (and therefore help you maintain concentration), but by connecting personally to the recordings, you’ll give your memory a boost when you answer the questions.

Of course, your priority should still be to record the facts. But even putting an emoticon (smiley face or sad face) to mark information that you agree or strongly disagree with can help you to connect with (and therefore remember) the information on a deeper level.


Write often

While you’re listening, your pen should never leave your hand. You will not write every word, or even every sentence, but you will never forget about your notes. Listen to a thought or sentence, figure out what they’re saying, and then ask yourself, “Is this important enough for my notes?” Focusing on your notes not only helps you to remember important details, but also helps you focus on the big picture—the structure of a lecture or the main problems and emotions of a conversation.


Write what you understand, not what you hear

Don’t try to write out complete sentences. If you try to copy word for word what is said, you will be left behind and then you will miss important information. Test-takers who write too many notes end up confused and frustrated. Instead, listen carefully and try to understand the main messages. When you do understand a concept, note it down briefly. Every major idea that you hear about can be noted with just a few words—and many of those words will be abbreviated or represented by symbols.


Try to structure

The act of physically putting words on paper is an important skill for doing your best on the TOEFL, but it’s not everything. You also want to separate the big ideas from the small ideas. For many test-takers, only the big ideas need to go on the paper at all—memory will help for the small ideas. But that’s not for everybody, and there are some “small” ideas that are actually pretty important. Make it clear which parts of your notes feel like larger concepts and which parts are smaller but important details while you listen.


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