How to Actively Learn During Lectures

If you have a hectic schedule and a busy study load, making the most of your lecture time to learn and properly digest what you are hearing and watching is very important. There are some simple ways to ensure that you achieve this with the minimum of fuss and with the maximum of efficiency.


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    Try to sit in the front seats and with a person who has a good reputation in preparing notes. Sit in the position where the lecturer can easily see your preparation of notes. This will propel you to prepare better notes, note more points and will make you able to create a better reputation in the class.
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    Listen. This means staying alert and not wandering off into a daydream, mentally creating a to-do list or even outlining what you will write your next research paper on. Forget everything except what you are listening to and watching - devote all of your senses to the lecture.
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    Write accurate notes. It is important to write down key points from the lecture. This does not mean writing everything, word for word. It means that you need to follow the art of distillation, namely drawing out the points that matter and the points that sum up the gist of each section of the lecture.
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    Highlight as you write. In the margin of your notes, write keywords or use signs that will draw you to the points quickly when you are re-reading the lecture notes. This does two things - it immediately creates a quick connection in your mind to the point and it makes it very easy to find the key points when you revise or write using the notes.
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    Write questions as you listen. If you can formulate questions aimed at the subject-matter as you are listening, this will help to solidify the information in your mind. Whether or not you get to ask these questions of the lecturer, you are learning a key skill that will be useful for the rest of your life. Asking questions enables you to explore the information further and forces you to examine the information you are receiving in a more active manner.
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    Be a proactive listener. If the lecturer makes points that you disagree with or find are worth further consideration, place an asterisk or exclamation marks next to the point and single-words such as "nonsense", "unverified", "explore further". This creates a connection in your mind with the possible further research avenues for you after the lecture.
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    Take care with recording devices. If you are allowed to record a lecture, be careful about relying on this as your sole source of remembering what was said. Do you really want to have to sit through the entire lecture again just to find the key points? It isn't really a time-saving device at all and you are much better off writing notes.


  • Come up with techniques for organizing different types of information. For example, you may underline names and dates, put stars next to definitions, or put boxes around example problems. This will help you reference quickly and better study for different types of tests.
  • Prepare as much as possible beforehand. Some lecturers hand out outlines of their lectures before they begin. Skimming the outline and considering your general thoughts about each topic will warm up your brain. If you take notes using a laptop, you can type out the outline beforehand, which will give you less to write during the actual lecture.
  • If you find yourself getting tired during a lecture, stretch a little. Stretch your fingers, your arms, your legs, whatever is comfortable and appropriate given the space. Having water to drink at intervals will also help to keep you alert.
  • Find someone in your lecture who takes very good notes, or has a reputation for organization and academic achievement. See if you can meet with them for five or ten minutes after each lecture to go over their notes. Looking at a model of good note-taking will help you catch unclear or missing information in your own notes.
  • Although it takes time, it really helps to look over the material of the lecture before the lecture. Becoming familiar with the material before the lecture can help you focus on what you have the most difficulty understanding and you will be able to ask better questions during class.
  • It really helps to develop your own shorthand style. This will save you a lot of extra writing and it also will continue to be useful for other situations, such as employment.

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Categories: Homework Skills