Before going to university, I thought lectures looked like a big school assembly. The only difference seemed to be that everyone paid attention and made notes, rather than zoning out until it was finally over. For most freshers, lectures are completely new. Essentially, they are an hour of a lecturer presenting the main points of a topic to a room full of students. While some tutors will ask questions or make their lectures interactive, most just want you to listen in silence and note down anything interesting or useful. To get the most out of lectures, here is some advice from my own experience.
Don’t write down everything
At the start of my degree, I definitely fell into this trap. Every time the lecturer spoke there would be a flurry of quick typing around me. I thought if everyone else needs to write something down, surely I needed to. All this meant was I missed writing useful information because I was too busy writing down the less relevant point that the tutor made.
Trust that you know what you are doing in these lectures. You can tell whether content is important, interesting to you, and what you will want to discuss in seminars/essays. This will be different to the people around you. At the end of the day, it is easy to go back to lecture recordings to fill in any gaps you missed or to revise. You will not get a worse grade for leaving a few sentences out of your notes.
Don’t skip them
Keeping on track with lectures is extremely challenging. But it helps to keep your week (and work) structured if you attend as many as possible. When it comes to exam season you will thank yourself. Needing to go over 12 weeks of content in three days before exams is never ideal. But if you do not go in person, try to set aside time each week to do the lectures. Even if you have not done all (or any) of the preparation you are not going to be questioned on it, so you might as well go to try to understand some of the content.
Don’t sit right at the back
School is behind you, popularity is much less relevant, and sitting near the front does not make you a nerd anymore. Somehow though, highly qualified lecturers do not always know how to use their microphones in a large room, so it can be difficult to hear from the back. For shyer students, sitting towards the back might feel more comfortable, but I promise no one is staring at you. Everyone is focusing on themselves and their work (or online shopping/Netflix) during the lecture. Choosing where to sit is usually just finding any free seat, sitting with friends, or getting to know new people.
Quietness is key
Turning up to a lecture does not automatically mean paying attention for the full hour, or longer, if you are unlucky. Exchanging a couple of whispers, help, or a joke every now and then is passable. But please do not talk for the duration. Put your phone on silent and message a pal online if you need to. That way no one will notice, and it can be even funnier not being able to laugh aloud. Not to be the fun police, but the people around you will have paid a lot of money and worked hard to get where they are. The least you can do is zip it.
Take notes in the best way for you
Personally, a side-effect of online covid learning is that I type my university notes. However, in first year, I would turn up to classes with just a pen and a notepad because it worked best for me. It can be intimidating walking into a lecture theatre and seeing a sea of macbooks. But you really do not need anything particular to do well. Whether you type notes, write them, annotate the PowerPoint, or any other way; you know how you learn best, so do what works for you. This also counts for how you note down things. Paraphrasing the tutor’s points in language you are familiar with avoids confusion later, when you have forgotten what the more complicated explanation you copied down means.
Brain fried by one concept? Missed what was said on slide three? Feeling a little unconfident? Stay behind at the end of the lecture to ask questions or email the tutor in question. Most of the time, lecturers are more than happy to help. If not, there is no harm in asking for help. Get as much out of the experts as possible!