All undergraduates can relate to the lecture struggle. You could be spending your 45-minute classes studying the media or working in a laboratory; either way you will struggle to make morning classes, keep up with presentation slides and wonder how long 45 minutes really could last.
How you think and feel about lectures will vary a lot throughout your studies. Looking back, I realise that the way I thought about my lectures made a big difference to how much I got out of them. Based on my experience, here are some ideas to help you get the most out of those 45 minutes.
“Don’t skip lectures, son!” seems like obvious advice. But it’s important to understand how giving yourself permission to skip lectures changes the way you think about them. Not attending class can easily go from a major event to a misdemeanour. Once skipping class becomes something minor, it becomes very hard for you to start taking them seriously again. This means you need to get creative about how you can make lecture attendance important to you.
What worked best for me was getting to know my lecturer and holding myself responsible to my friends. I found it easier to turn off my alarm and go back to bed if I knew no one was going to bother me about missing class. But if I knew my friends and my lecturer would notice my absence, it made missing class a much bigger deal.
By thinking about my lectures in relation to other people, they not only became more enjoyable but also more important to me. Thinking more about your classmates and your lecturer will make those 45 minutes feel more personal, human and bearable.
One cancelled lecture doesn’t mean a free day. This kind of thing happens all the time. Your first lecture gets cancelled, your day is suddenly freed up and you start thinking “How important is that 4 o’clock lecture really?” The decision to turn a free morning into a free day is something that’s impossible to explain to your parents or your lecturer, but it’s often so tempting that you give yourself a free pass. Skipping lectures, as I’ve said, can easily become a habit. Make sure you don’t let that temptation get the better of you, because it gets easier every time.
Speaking of habits, here’s a good one: Dedicating cancelled lectures to reading or revision. That time had already been set aside in your mind for work. Treat your time on campus as “work time” and it will eventually become a habit, which will help when your workload starts to pile up.
Part of what makes lectures so useful is that they give you an idea of what your lecturer thinks is important. You can read through your textbook and do all the extra research you want, but that won’t tell you what the lecturer expects of you in tests and exams. My second-year English class joked that you don’t study the course, you study the lecturer.
Lecturers think of their 45 minute sessions with you in a similar way. They could never teach you everything you need to know within a few hours a week, so they use that time to help focus your understanding as much as possible. And that only works if you, the student, are prepared.
My point is that your lectures are designed to be most useful when you are prepared for them. If your lectures are the only time that you deal with your course work, they will quickly turn into the place you go to sit for 45 confusing minutes. Who would want to be in class at 7:45am for that?
To keep up to date with your preparation and your readings, take time out each day to set out a time in tomorrow’s schedule for revision. Every day is different, so setting out time for revision a day in advance each day gives you a lot of flexibility with your schedule. It’s hard to stick to a schedule set a week in advance, and trying to stumble into motivation day-by-day isn’t a great strategy either. It’s important to dedicate a part of each day to work or revision, and setting my schedule a day in advance each day gave me a lot of flexibility and freedom while still working everyday.
The pressure of university life is something every student has to learn to manage. Some of you may have a more difficult time with this than others. An important part of managing an academic program is developing positive strategies to deal with stress and anxiety.
Here are the three things you should keep in mind on a day-to-day basis.
- Get enough sleep. This has probably been preached to you since primary school, but not getting enough sleep affects you in so many ways that you should probably hear it again. You may feel that you are losing out on precious working hours by getting to bed early, but you can lose entire days by staying up until morning. Sleepless students often talk about entire weeks as ‘blurs’ and not being able to remember a thing from their classes. You will only have to work half as hard and long if you are working with a brain that got enough sleep the night before, so get the sleep you need.
- Eat breakfast. I know, you’ve heard this one before as well. I won’t tell you it’s the most important meal of the day, but it’s definitely the one you are most likely to skip. Whether you are living in residence, in diggs or with family, getting something in your stomach before class every morning can be difficult. But just as with skipping sleep, you are making your life so much more difficult by not getting to lectures having eaten. Being hungry hi-jack’s your attention like almost nothing else. Get your head into your lectures by preparing something small the night before so that you can eat a quick breakfast or take something with you to campus.
- Prioritise your health. High-school teachers like to talk about how professors don’t babysit their students. It’s true that your professors won’t be checking in on you all the time, but they are much more aware of issues students face in a university environment. Keeping up with your coursework can be difficult if you struggle with your mental or physical health, and student’s often overwork themselves rather than seek out help. Prioritising your health will help you avoid overworking yourself and get the most out of your 45 minutes in class.
A quick recap for the people sitting in the back:
- Think about your lectures in relation to people and which are most important.
- Set time aside for preparation and stick to those times. Try setting your schedule at least a day in advance, but give yourself some flexibility.
- Prioritise your health and make sure you are dealing with stress and anxiety in positive ways.
It can often seem like a huge amount of effort to wake up for that 8am lecture that seems completely pointless. Once you skip one lecture – it’s easy to skip more. Even the important ones. Try your best to stick to your schedule, even if it seems pointless at times.
Concentration Tip: Take a notepad and pencil with. Doodling while listening can increase your concentration levels and you’ll end up listening better. And it’ll make lectures that much more entertaining!