Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Making the Most of Lectures


Students vary in what they get out of lectures and students who actively listen get the most from lectures. Here are some practical techniques that will help you become an active listener and become a better student:

  • prepare for the lecture ahead of time by reading the assigned chapters,
  • take notes during the lecture, and
  • follow up after the lecture by reading over your notes. Fill in any blanks if you weren’t able to write down everything important during the lecture. You’ll be surprised by how much your notes will improve if you do this as soon as possible after the lecture.


What’s the point of lectures?

Lectures provide an opportunity for instructors to teach large numbers of students at one time. Different instructors use lecture-time for different purposes. It is important for students to work out what their particular instructor is expecting of them in lectures.

Traditionally, lectures are when professors or instructors communicate large amounts of information to their students. In these situations, they ‘talk at’ their students and it is appropriate for students to absorb as much as possible by listening carefully and taking notes.

Sometimes instructors make lectures more interactive and want their students to actively participate in learning activities during the lecture. In these situations, active participation is more important than note-taking. Lectures can:

  • give you an insight into what your instructor considers to be important in the subject.
  • help you to identify and understand the key concepts of the subject.
  • make you think about the subject in a new way.
  • stimulate you to think critically about the topic.

Lectures rarely teach you everything you need to know. Equally important learning occurs through:

  • reading.
  • discussing the subject with your classmates in study groups.
  • participating in tutorials or lab sessions.

Can I skip a lecture?

Skipping lectures is not a good idea because:

  • you miss an opportunity to look at the subject from another angle.
  • you may miss crucial information about the exam or information that is not covered in your outside readings.
  • you miss your instructor’s approach to the subject.

If you have to miss a lecture, make sure that you find out what you missed. Ask your instructor or a reliable classmate for what was covered in class. Also, be sure to get any handouts or notes that were passed out in class.

Before a lecture

It a good idea to read the relevant or assigned chapters before a lecture. If lecture notes are available online you should read through them before the lecture. It’s a good idea to print them and take them to class with you, so you can write any additional information on them.

Preliminary reading makes it easier to understand and learn from the lecture because:

  • you’re already thinking about the subject matter and are familiar with the key vocabulary.
  • you’re prepared ask your instructor questions about the material.
  • you will be able to answer questions from your instructor and participate intelligently in class discussions.

During a lecture

Lectures are not a passive way of learning. To be an active listener you must:

  • think about the topic while you listen.
  • ask yourself questions and relate the new ideas to things you already know.
  • evaluate the content of the lecture.
  • think about what you do and don’t understand and
  • concentrate.

It can be difficult to maintain concentration during lectures. Occupy yourself by listening as actively as you can. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Focus on what is interesting in the lecture and try to think positively.
  • Take as many notes as you can. If you can connect any important information from your readings to what your instructor is saying, make a note about it in the margin. Later, you can add to this directly from your textbook.
  • A cup of strong coffee before the lecture or some chewing gum can also help you keep you concentrate during a lecture.
  • Taking care of yourself by eating a healthy diet, sleeping enough and getting enough exercise will also help your concentration skills.

Taking notes

Note-taking is not essential — listening and thinking are more important — but note-taking can be helpful because:

  • it will help you remember the content of the lecture.
  • it will give you a framework for your review before the exam.
  • it helps you stay alert during the lecture.

Instructor handouts are very important — and helpful. Keep them and make sure you re-read them after the lecture. Keep them with your other materials for that class.

How important are Power Points and overheads? They are usually pretty important. If they provide important keywords or definitions, copy the information down. If it is an outline of the lecture, copying it down may provide you with a useful framework for your review before the exam (Instructors often provide their outlines online).

What should I include in my notes? If you aren’t able to write down most of what the instructor says, listen for the instructor’s main points and write any words or phrases that seem important. Later, you can flesh them out with your classmates or textbook. Use abbreviations whenever possible.

After a lecture

The time immediately following a lecture is very important. You will soon forget what the lecture was about if you don’t:

  • Rewrite or organize your notes and/or handouts within 24 hours. You should make a regular time to do this: as soon as you get home after class or first thing the next morning.
  • make a note of things you didn’t understand and ask a classmate or the instructor about it later.
  • talk to a classmate, family member or friend about the content of lecture soon afterwards.

Some other ways to improve your memory or lecture notes:

  • Organize a study group and compare your notes and opinions with your study mates.
  • Tape record the lectures if it is okay with your instructor. When you listen to the tape later, fill in any blanks in your notes and try to understand the lecture in better detail. There’s usually no need to write every word — it’s much more important to understand the lecture.


Students vary in what they get out of lectures and students who actively listen get the most from lectures. Here are some practical techniques that will help you become an active listener and become a better student: