It’s an early Monday morning and you’re just not in the mood to study. You skipped breakfast and the whale noises your stomach is creating are making you regret that choice with every second. You have a cup of lukewarm coffee in your hand in an attempt to stay alert and you know you're going to need it. As you wait outside for the lecture hall to become free, you wonder if you could just run home and go to bed…but decide you’re too lazy to do so. So, wait for the lecture it is.
This is how you’re likely to feel 80% of the time when you have a lecture. I, personally don’t like them very much (I prefer the interactive nature of seminars). Unfortunately, although lectures are usually optional, you’ll find they provide the foundational knowledge you’ll need to understand the reading set for each week. Believe it or not, they can be also enjoyable and informative if you know what to do! Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of (and stay awake during) lectures.
Studies show that those who sit in the front and middle during lectures achieve higher grades. Personally, I find that it forces you to pay attention and allows you to hear the lecturer better- useful if they lack a microphone or are softly spoken. The middle is perhaps the best compromise in terms of hearing the lecturer and getting a decent view of the PowerPoint.
2. To Record or not to record…
Depending on your course, university or department, your lectures may be recorded. However, for your own use you may want to buy a dictaphone (prices start at aroud £20.) These devices can be used to record lectures and later the recordings can be transferred onto your laptop- handy for revision later on. Many Dictaphones tend to be quite sensitive but if you're in a big lecture theatre sitting at the front may be beneficial. If you’re on a tight budget, your phone should suffice.
3. Note taking
As you go through your course, you’ll realise that note taking is indeed a hard skill to master. Most students are divided into those that prefer to type notes and those that like to write them. I find writing in two colours helpful- usually black and red, so I can easily emphasise important terms or concepts when note taking. However, highlighters are just as helpful- these can be used when later reviewing your notes.
You’ll probably find that if you get too elaborate with your notes you’ll miss vital information. Instead, use acronyms and shorthand e.g. ‘bc’ instead of ‘because’ or ‘=’ for ‘is/are’ etc. Diagrams may also be helpful at times, if complex analogies are given. At the end of the day the notes are for you, and so you only need to be neat enough for you to read them- nobody else. Lecture PowerPoints tend to be posted online the week of the lecture, so try to avoid copying what’s actually on it- there isn’t really any point.
I wouldn’t recommend going overboard with caffeine or energy drinks since they usually end in a sugar crash and a sudden overwhelming feeling of tiredness. This is definitely not the best solution if you have three lectures back to back ahead of you. Water (cold preferably) is pretty much the best drink to accompany you in your lectures. Obvious suggestion, but it works. Trust me.
5. Just Ask
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if needs be. However, since lecturers tend to have limited time to deliver the content, they may not welcome them often. Nevertheless, you can choose to stay behind and ask that nagging question if you prefer. This way you can ask follow up questions or engage in conversation. If that’s not your style, just make a note of the question so you can ask it in your seminar later.
I recommend making a lot of these. They’ll be the ones to keep you amused during lectures with their snarky comments or notes. More importantly, after the lecture you can compare notes, since it’s quite likely you both got down different pieces of key information. Lecturers tend to rush through certain points at times, so if you happen to have missed key points in the lecture, comparing notes with friend can help you fill the gaps.
7. Pick the Right Modules
You’ll have a much easier time staying awake in your lectures if you chose more interesting modules in the first place! Student Hut has the largest collection of module reviews from students in the UK and is a great resource to help you plot your university career. You’ll thank us when you can make it through a day of lectures without needing a nap!