Outline Your Lecture Notes for Better Grades

ProfessorAre you looking for ways to get better grades?  How many of us have sat through lectures in college and taken pages of lecture notes, only to be left feeling like there is nothing to show for it?  Do you want to achieve academic success?  How about if you could do that with little additional studying time?  You need to learn how to effectively outline your lecture notes. This is an essential college study skill that will help you get better grades.


Why You Should Outline

I learned how to outline in graduate school and it proved to be the key to my success.  However, this is a good study habit for any college program.  In my first semester, I scored in the top 5% of my class.   That was achieved without spending any more time studying than anyone else.  And I am not Einstein.  How did I do it?  I substituted reading and listening for outlining and digesting


Why does it work?

When you sit through a lecture, you listen and you dictate the important points.  Reading back through those notes did little for me in terms of “putting it all together”.  When you outline, you organize the topics and digest the materials.  The process itself is the studying.  You retain the information more easily because not only are you analyzing it, but you are retyping it as you go.  This is a deeper process than reading.  You are not just taking lecture notes.  You are absorbing them.  This leads to better retention and application of the materials, which gives way to better test scores and better grades in college.Apple & Books


So How do you Outline Effectively?

Read my top 10 tips below.  Once you get the hang of it, the process is quick and simple.  It will become second nature.  It no time at all, I was outlining notes in class during the lecture itself.  Talk about time-saving.


Top 10 Tips for Effective Outlines


(1)    Take down the information first, then outline (at least at first)

  1. Don’t try to organize it in-sync right away.  Listen close enough to capture key information.

(2)    Highlight key words as you go

  1. This will help you identify headers when you go to outline.  So for instance, if you are in Psychology class, you would highlight the clinical disease names as you discussed its descriptions, treatments, etc. 

(3)    Use a uniform format.

  1. Pick an outline format and stick with it for good.  Word has a variety to choose from under Format -> Bullets and Numbering

(4)    Keep it short but effective

  1. Don’t worry about forming sentences
  2. Carry different thoughts to the next bullet point
  3. Summarize so it is easier to skim

(5)    Break it down

  1. Organize.  Go from large to small.
  2. It should flow and make sense
  3. For instance in that Psychology class, this might be your lecture outline:

(6)    Don’t extend past 7 indentations

  1. Seriously, you aren’t capturing minute details. 

(7)    Put the materials in context

  1. Make sure that you aren’t just making random bullets.  Every sub-bullet should relate as a sub-category to the larger bullet before it. 

           i.      See my Psychology example for the illustration.

Outline Example
  1. One trick is to use the CHAPTER as the header.

(8)    Use multiple sources

  1. Your outline should be a combination of lecture and materials.

    2.   Add anything important from your materials that was not discussed in class

(9)    Print your outlines

  1. Seriously, this helped so much in remembering the materials!  There is something valuable about “seeing” the organization

(10)   Use them as your last minute study choice

  1. If you want to cram at the last minute, reviewing your outline is far superior than reading a textbook or wandering through illegible handwritten lecture notes


Outlining is going to save you time and increase your academic performance.  I highly recommend it to anyone and am very thankful that it was introduced to me.  It is a good study habit and indispensable to getting better grades in college.  So go organize your lecture notes...