WAKE UP! That’s better.
Your complete and undivided attention will be required because this article is going to provide you with a few tips about how to get to grips with university lectures – and thereby boost your semester grades. It doesn’t matter whether you are studying rocket science, learning to teach English as a foreign language, reading for a degree in flower arranging or anything else: all freshmen are inevitably ‘corralled’ into a lecture theatre to be ‘droned to death’ by some professor mumbling on about some theory or other.
Some people talk in their sleep. Lecturers talk while other people sleep. – Albert Camus
Many weeks later, you will be required to regurgitate everything that you assimilated in your lectures in between naps, so WAKE UP!
Before the lecture
Before you set off to your lecture, make sure that you have all the stuff you need: iPlayer or earplugs, soft cushion, something to eat and drink, dope, something to read …Hello! You’re going to a lecture not on R and R. Oops! Start again.
Make sure you know where the lecture is going to take place.
Yes, I hear you laughing – but you would be surprised by the number of freshmen who have missed lectures or have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off because they hadn’t bothered to find out in advance where the lecture was going to be held.
Make sure that you have all the necessary stationery and writing equipment: pens, pencils, paper, laptop, and so forth. TEFL and non-native English speaking students may also find using a portable sound recording device useful.
You should be issued with a program that clearly sets out the semester’s lecture times and subjects. If you are also given handouts for the various lectures, study each one carefully before you go to the relevant lecture: and that doesn’t mean reading them as you amble towards the lecture theatre. One word of advice here that you are really going to love: nerds excepted, don’t do a lot of extra reading prior to your lectures – this is not necessary.
This having been said, if there is any recommended preparatory reading – make sure that you do it; otherwise you might think you’re learning Chinese when you’re in the lecture. Preparatory reading will make it easier for you to understand the subtler points, and it will relieve the stress of having to try to comprehend everything on the spot.
During the lecture
When you get into the lecture theatre – look for a good seat. If you’re smart, you’ll arrive early and thereby guarantee getting a good seat. This isn’t the Colosseum: so don’t flip out if you don’t get a ringside seat; there’s no blood and gore to be seen: unless you’re a med student – in which case don’t forget your barf bags.
If you are hard of hearing sit at the front.
The same goes for those who suffer from myopia – don’t worry, it’s not contagious – sit at the front. If you suffer from claustrophobia – sit near the emergency exits. Do anything that you have to make yourself comfortable and open to learning.
Now you are seated comfortably and waiting for the professor to come: don’t be surprised if he’s late: the absent-minded old f*rt has probably forgotten he has a lecture.
Lectures can be very demanding mentally: you will have to deal with more than one task at the same time; that’s called multi-tasking. You’ll often have to listen, comprehend, and write down information, while at the same time chatting up the cool chick next to you or filling in your part-time job application as a petrol pump attendant.
In the lecture, you should give priority to listening to the professor: it is more important than trying to make piles of notes. Your focus should be on listening and understanding. This could be especially important if you are a TEFL student or a non-native English-speaking student. So make sure that you don’t have your iPlayer earphones buried in your head: don’t push them in all the way – that way you’ll be able to hear what your professor is mumbling on about.
In particular, you should pay attention to your professor’s introduction and conclusion – and don’t panic if you find it all mumbo jumbo. You won’t be the only one.
A word about note taking: making good notes is an art. Unfortunately, it will take time to become a true note-taking artist. The best thing to do is to figure out what works best for you. For example, use abbreviations, colour, and little diagrams.
Don’t think that you have to right down every word the professor says – this won’t help you understand. Don’t use your pen unless there is something important to write: such as a chick’s phone number, or your grocery list.
Note down your own thoughts and make useful margin notes on your handouts as you listen to the lecture.
After the lecture
Party time! Go for a coffee. Go for a walk. “Rock till the music stops.” Just chill out.
Don’t put your notes away and forget about them like some old girlfriend/boyfriend’s letters: go over your notes in conjunction with any relevant reading material and make sure that you have fully understood the lecture. If you don’t understand something – drop in on your professor, who will be more than glad not to open the door. Try not to disturb the skeletons of the other students who have been queuing up to see him. Failing that talk to some friends that were in the same lecture. They may be able to shed some light on whatever is confusing you.
Finally, two useful tips: don’t just dump your notes in a great heap as if you are getting ready to burn them: use some sort of filing system so that you can find what you want quickly – you can burn them after the exams. Don’t waste time beautifully rewriting your notes: you’re not a monk in a medieval monastery. Keep note taking to a minimum and make your original notes legible, meaningful, and concise.