How to make the most of your university lectures | Top Universities

How to make the most of your university lectures

By Nonye Joan

Updated August 8, 2023 Updated August 8, 2023

University lectures are an important part of your academic life and, for the most part, determine the successful outcome of your degree. But since lectures are often not self-paced, most students find it challenging to absorb all the knowledge shared throughout the session.

To make the most of your university lectures, I’ve highlighted some of the strategies I use in maximising my lecture time. By following these steps, you can optimise your learning experience and perform better on exams and assignments. 

Active listening 

Active listening is perhaps one of my most effective strategies for picking up on valuable information. Rather than just mindlessly taking notes, I try to listen with an open mind, engage with the lecture materials and ask questions on areas that may seem confusing. 

This way, I not only remember what was said, but I also get more interested in the topic.

Pay attention to details

If we are real, paying attention to the details is easier said than done. There are always those tiny distractions; either notifications from our social media handles or emails popping up on your screen.

So, some unconventional strategies I adopted for managing distractions on my device while learning is by turning off notifications or pop-ups that might pull me out of the lecture. 

Because I take notes with my laptop, I want to ensure my attention is zeroed in on just the lectures going on. So, as with my phone, I turn on the do-not-disturb feature to minimise interruption in the course of the lectures. 

Take a break

Another tip that has helped me stay focused during lectures and improved my learning experience is to take a break before class. 

I know it sounds counterintuitive, but taking a few minutes to clear my mind and get in the right headspace before the lecture starts helps me stay engaged and focused.

Taking notes  

There's a unique art to taking notes that involves more than just scribbling everything the lecturer says on your notepad.

First things first, I like to use notecards to draw out important details for future referencing. 

Notecards are small pieces of paper often the size of standard index cards. You can purchase them in a bookstore or make them yourself. They often come in different shapes and colours based on your preference. Ideally, I like to go for a selection of colours to make my notes exciting. You may also want to use highlighters to add some pop to your ideas. 

Also, don't feel like you have to write everything the lecturer says. Doing this can be time-consuming and draining and you may miss out on important details. Instead, you want to focus on key points and spend the remainder of your time listening. This will make reviewing your notes easier and save you a lot of time in the long run.

Alternatively, you can adopt my three-in-one system where you section your note into three parts. One section would be dedicated for notes, the other for cues, and the last for summaries. Find what works best for you and apply. 

Choose your seat wisely 

Your seat position is just as important as your notes for maximising your university lecture experience. 

I generally prefer seats in the front row where the lecturer can see me and where I will be less distracted by friends or latecomers. 

It's natural to want to sit near our circle. But, when you are positioned where the lecturer can see you, you're less likely to entertain distractions and more likely to stay engaged and focused. 

Do your classwork and assignments promptly

If you want to make the most out of your university lectures and ace your classes, you want to avoid procrastination and be more decisive and disciplined with your coursework.

I take notes during lectures and immediately start on any classwork or assignments due soon after. If there's nothing due, I still try to get a head-start on the next set of work. This way, I'm not scrambling to finish everything at the last minute, and I have more time to review and ask questions if I need to.

I know it's tempting to put things off and relax after a long lecture, but trust me, it's not worth it in the long run. 

Plus, finishing work early means more free time to do what you love, whether it's playing video games, hanging with friends, or binging Netflix.

Ask questions

Asking questions is an important part of staying engaged through class. Plus, you’re likely to make an impression on your lecturer when you show you're not just a passive listener, but an active participant in the lecture.

Still, constant questions during lectures can disrupt flow and slow the learning pace for others, and sometimes the lecturer might not have the answer available off the top of their head. So instead, take notes and do your research on concepts you didn't fully understand after class.

Use online educational resources like Khan Academy, Crash Course, or even YouTube to supplement your learning. And then if you still feel stuck, reach out to your lecturer in private or shoot them an email.

This approach has worked for me. Not only am I able to keep up with the pace of the lecture, but I'm also able to delve deeper into the material on my own time. Try this out and see how it works for you. 

Swap notes

By swapping notes I don't mean just copying someone else's notes or asking to borrow them. Find a friend or coursemate who takes good notes and ask to exchange notes with them after every lecture.

This might sound a bit out of line, but everyone takes notes differently. By swapping notes with someone else, you get the chance to see the lecture from a different perspective and maybe even pick up on things you missed. 

Plus, it's a great way to make a new friend in your class. You can chat about the lecture, compare notes, and even help each other out with assignments. And who knows, maybe you'll end up as study partners for exams.

I had a classmate who had a clever way of explaining difficult concepts in her notes. She used graphics and diagrams to break down complex terms into easier-to-understand formats. Whenever I exchanged notes with her, I found that these visual aids really helped me grasp the information better. It was like having a simplified version of the material right in front of me, making it easier to comprehend.

Overcoming problems 

Sometimes we all fall behind in class or struggle to understand what the lecturer is saying. It happens to the best of us, especially when we have lots of assignments or exams to cover. 

One thing I do to stay organised is use planners or calendars to keep track of important priorities. I also make sure to set aside time each day to review my notes and catch up on any readings or assignments I may have missed.

Another helpful approach is to reach out to your classmates or lecturer for help. You can also form study groups with your classmates to help each other out and review material together.

Alternatively, you can record the lecture (with permission, of course), and then listen to it on your own time. That way, you can pause, rewind, and replay until you fully grasp the material. 

University is all about learning and growing - and sometimes, that means finding your way to succeed. So feel free to try something different, even if it feels unconventional. 

This article was originally published in August 2023 .

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