As part of my orientation for first year uni, I attended a session on how to make the most of lectures. Some of these tips and tricks are pretty straight forward, and can carry on from high school depending on the type of student you are/were. However, some of these also encourage you to become a more critical thinker, and help to better understand the content you’re learning in your lectures!
FIRSTLY, it is important to know WHY we go to lectures.
- Lectures give us the essential and practical information we need to know about each subject we’re learning - Typically, lectures give you all the information you need to know for that week, and then you use that information in your tutorials later on.
- Lectures provide an expert’s perspective of the content - Lecturers are usually well equipped with the knowledge surrounding your subject and provide useful perspectives, ideas and points of view regarding what you’re learning. This helps you to understand stuff more thoroughly, even if you don’t feel that way at first.
- Following on from the previous point, lecture help to understand difficult concepts - Having someone talk through the information can help sort it out in your head rather than just reading a slab of text. Many lecturers will also use examples and anecdotes to substantiate the content, which not only helps you to understand, but can also be useful in assignments.
- Lectures also encourage discipline specific styles of thinking - Different subjects require you to think differently eg. languages as compared to philosophy or a science. Going to lectures can expose us to these different thinking styles, which we also may adopt to other subjects should it suit.
PREPARING FOR LECTURES
Before your lectures, it’s important and helpful to have a general idea of what you’ll be expected to learn.
- Review your lecture outline - This would usually be in your subject outline if you have one. It should specify what you’ll be learning each week. Try to determine what the aims of the lecture will be.
- Consider how the topic fits in - Think about what you’ll be learning and how it’s connected to your subject. This causes you to think critically about what you will be learning.
- READINGS - Make sure you read all the required readings before your lectures and tutorials so you can apply them to what you’re learning in class.
- Make up questions - So while you don’t exactly know what you will be learning yet, you have a kind of general idea. Make up some questions of what you want answered in that lecture. If you have questions that follow the lecture or are during the lecture, write them down so you can ask them in your tutorial.
Now that you’ve prepared for your lecture, what do you do? Let me tell you that it is not to use the free uni wifi to do some online shopping!
- Make a written record - Write down what you hear, see, feel. Obviously you want to mostly be taking notes of what your lecturer is actually saying, but adding reflective commentary helps to make your notes more memorable of the moment in which you actually learnt the content.
- Listen for main ideas and clues to details - Your lecturer will be emphasising certain parts of their spiel so keep an ear out for them because they’re important!
- Copy/create graphic aids - If your lecturer has included them in their slides then it clearly is meant to be helpful. Creating your own also helps you to better learn and understand.
- Write down examples - Your lecturer may often refer to examples which help back up and explain what they are trying to say. These are important to help you understand and can also be useful in your essays and papers.
- Write down any questions - Keep these for your tutorials so clarify anything you’re unsure about.
Actually listening in a lecture can be hard when there’s one person at the front of the room monotonously saying words that somehow sound like gibberish. So how do we make sure that we’re taking in everything we need to be?
- Posture - Make sure you’re sitting up straight and not slouching in your chair! This engages your muscles, making you more alert and encourages blood to pump more efficiently through your body. Also try to sit in the first third of the theatre, closest to the lecturer to help you engage with the lecturer and reduce your likeliness to get distracted.
- Look up from your notes and engage with your lecturer - Lecturers like this because it means you’re actually interested, and it can also force you to actually learn something instead of passively looking at your laptop or pen and paper.
- Anticipate - Try to be at least one step ahead of the lecture. Not literally, but try to think about what they could be talking about next. This means you’re processing what they’re saying and grasping a better understanding.
- QUESTIONS! - I’ll say it a million times, questions concerning anything you’re confused about are so important because it means you know what you don’t know and you have some intention of figuring it out.
- Alternate listening, thinking and writing - You’ll have to be doing al three in your lecture so it’s important to master the rotation of them all.
BALANCING LISTENING AND NOTE TAKING
Sometimes note taking can affect our ability to listen to what the lecturer is actually saying, or sometimes we get so invested in what the lecturer is saying we forget to write it down. So where’s the happy medium?
- Listen for clues - These may be any notes or graphics they put up on the screen, repetition, pauses or emphasis, their tone of voice, or the amount of time they spend on a particular topic. These are good to keep an ear out for as they can help you what to write down.
- Listen for sign posts - These include words such as “this illustrates…”, “we know this because…”, or “scholars debate…” Lecturers are providing examples, evidence and issues within the topic here, which are important for you to have a better understanding and influence you to really reflect on it later on.
All this stuff about note taking, but why do we actually do it???
- Helps us concentrate
- Identifying what is most important
- Helps embed the content into our memory
- Improves analytical skills
- Helps in later assignments for that subject
So how do we effectively take notes?
- Obvious one, but don’t write everything down! - only what appears to be useful and the key points
- Examples are really useful to have so take note of those
- Questions (again lol), thoughts and reflective comments
- New terminology, references and readings - create a glossary with any new terms you’re unsure of and take note of what your lecturer refers to and recommends that you read because these can extend you in your assessments and exams
- Determine if the information is available elsewhere - if you have access to lecture slides then copious notes are not as necessary because the information will be readily available. If you won’t be able to get access to the lecture again make sure you have everything you need to know!
- If the purpose of the lecture is to provide background or context, listen more than you write. This information is not vital to your subject, but having a thorough understanding in your head rather than on a piece of paper is very important.
- If you are listening to your lecturers point of view on an issue, take note of their arguments and how they structure them. Having an understanding of this can be useful in the formulation of your own perspective on the issue.
Formatting notes seems to be such an important issue in the studyblr community, but really, everyone is individual and we all learn in different ways. These are just some tips that I heard in the session:
- Leave lots of space - Negative space in your notes can help declutter your mind. Also if you need to write something else down on that page then you have more space!
- Be creative with your notes - You don’t need to make them pretty, but make them yours so you can understand them.
- It’s a good idea to write down the title of the lecture and the lecturer on your notes just for future reference.
- You can make your notes diagrammatic - Not everything needs to be written down in words!
- Use your own abbreviations
- At the end of the day, you want your notes to be exam ready so you’re just reviewing them in your SWOTVAC period!!
AFTER THE LECTURE
When the lecture ends, that doesn’t mean you should forget about everything you have just learnt. Reviewing the content is important so our brains don’t give into Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve!!
- Engage with the material again - Change the format of your notes, or imagine different applications of the information. This helps to have a better and stronger understanding.
- Compare and contrast different ideas within the content.
- Ask and answer any of your own questions, or even questions within a study group.
- Make flash cards or mind maps or whatever helps you learn.
- Discuss the material with your classmates
- Try to apply the content to real life or real world issues.
- Try to review within 24 hours of the lecture and then regular daily reviews for at least 15 minutes.
I hope that these tips are helpful in your studies, obviously not all of them are for everyone, but be open to try something new!! Good luck and much love, Emmanuelle xx