Have you ever had the experience of walking out of the lecture hall thinking what actually happened for the past two hours? That occurred to me a lot, and it may be the case for a lot of students as well. In order to prevent that from happening, and to get the most from your lectures, preparing for your lectures is necessary. In fact, going to a lecture unprepared will end up be a waste of your time, especially if it’s a difficult class because you won’t be able to understand what the lecturer is saying. Here are some things you can do in order to prepare effectively.
Know Your Course and Topic of the Lecture
You can start off by looking at the syllabus and figure out the topic of the lecture. If your lecturer provides some key questions and key points of the lecture for you to think about, you may also give some thoughts to them. It’s not necessary to actually do a thorough research on those before the lecture (in fact it is not recommended – because you will loose your attention thinking that you know everything already), but having an idea of what’s going to come up will give you a structure in your mind and you won’t get confused easily.
Read (Or Skim) Before Lecture
To get familiarised with the topic, you can briefly read through the corresponding chapter in the textbook. If you don’t have time, you don’t have to annotate it or take notes of that chapter. It’s enough to just quickly go through it to have a rough idea of what the lecturer will talk about. I usually forgot to do this step a lot of the time, so I will spend just around 15 minutes before the lecture to read the summary section of the textbook.
If your lecturer requires you to do the readings beforehand, you should definitely do so. If you are running short of time, or your lecturer doesn’t give you a specific guidance on whether you should do it before or after the lecture, you can just look at the introduction and conclusion of the reading.
If handouts or Powerpoint slides are provided beforehand, it would also be a good idea to skim through those. (If that’s the case, I would usually prefer reading the handouts/slides first before I go into the readings/textbooks because they are usually much brief and can give me an outline of what the readings are about as well).
While reading, you should bear in mind that the key is to understand the outline of the topic and the key terminologies – because if you don’t understand these terms you are likely to be lost during lecture. You should also make use of this time to differentiate what you already understand and what you don’t.
Review Your Previous Lecture Notes
Sometimes your lecturer doesn’t start a new topic every lecture but continues with what they were talking about in the last lecture. In order to make sure that you catch up with the lecturer, reading your notes for the last lecture may help you to understand what he/she is going to talk about.
And Don’t Forget About Active Learning
Here are few things to help you to engage in active learning during the lecture. When going through your reading materials, you can list some questions you may have regarding the topic, and note those down either on a post-it note or on the side of your notebook. If those are covered during the lecture, you will have a stronger impression of them because you are actually interested in knowing the answer. If they are not covered, you can just go up to the lecturer and ask him/her the question.
If that’s too much work for you, you may also consider making a post-it note of the lecture outline and place it on your notebook so that you can keep track of the lecture. This helps you to understand where you are and you won’t sit there feeling lost. (This is particularly helpful if you are late to the lecture and you have no idea what the lecturer is talking about.)
There are certain things you can do before lectures to make sure you take good lecture notes.
If the slides are given to you before the lecture, you can print them out in the format of 3 slides per page (using Microsoft PowerPoint) so that you will have some lines next to the slide. This can help you to take notes. You can skim through the Powerpoint slides and even add some extra points from readings on the relevant slides before the lecture.
For me, I personally love to copy the entire PowerPoint outline (View –> Outline View) and paste it into OneNote or Word. I would read it briefly before the lecture, and then during the lecture, I would only jot down things that are not included in the slides. If the PowerPoint contains a lot of useful diagrams and flowcharts that it would be too much work to copy both the outlines and the images to OneNote, I would simply jot notes in the notes section of PowerPoint.
If you are thinking about using the Cornell note-taking method, make sure to draw the lines on your note pages first. (Or just have your desired note-taking format ready before the lecture.)
Extra tip: lecturers often talk quite fast, and you want to make sure you have jotted down all the important points. One way to make sure you don’t spend time spelling on long and repetitive words is to write out a list of abbreviations that are specific to the topic. This can be done by skimming through the chapter and readings so that you will know what are the words/terms that are frequently used. The keywords are often in bold or in the summary section so you can easily spot those out.
To sum everything up…
All of this preparation above will help you to focus on your listening skills – so you can easily spot out the new information and things that need more of your attention. You will be able to effectively grasp knowledge that you wouldn’t be able to if you didn’t prepare for your lectures.
Getting the most from lectures involves not only effective preparation but good note-taking and a habit of reviewing the notes.