Employing handouts as a study guide to highlight important concepts

In lectures, students often have difficulty discerning what is most important. Some students resolve this dilemma by frantically copying down as much as they can, whereas others might assume the most important information will appear in assignments. Both of these sets of students leave class without clear takeaways. Dan Levy gets around this challenge by offering interactive handouts that serve as in-class note-taking guides and after-class “study guides.” Levy uses his handouts to orient the class to the key questions, and he provides students space on the handouts to answer those questions. As a result, students leave class with consistent takeaways.


Dan Levy, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

Student Group  



Harvard Kennedy School


Advanced Quantitative Methods

Group Size

74 students

  • Higher mean quiz scores over time were linked to the use of guided notes for students in an undergraduate psychology class (Austin et al., 2002)
  • Undergraduates in an applied psychology class recorded a higher number of critical points and lecture examples when the instructor used guided notes (Austin et al., 2004)
  • In their review of the use of guided notes, Konrad and colleagues conclude that guided notes are an effective way to incorporate opportunities for active engagement and are generally associated with improved academic performance (2009)
  • Provide students with a lecture outline (headings and subheadings of lectures and blocks of blank space below them) so they know to listen for the most important ideas and can write down key takeaways without drowning in potential information to be copied
  • Insert diagrams, equations, and complex problems into handouts or a teacher-provided appendix. This helps students extend their learning and controls for errors that students might otherwise make when copying detailed information from the board.
  • Explain your purpose. Be up-front about why you provide the notes and encourage students to use them as study guides before exams.