In order to learn from lectures you must:

  • Be prepared
  • Maintain concentration and focus
  • Practice active listening skills

Be Prepared

Often the reason attention strays during lectures is because students are not prepared for class and don't know what the speaker will be discussing. Here are some tips for being prepared:

  1. Always read before class
    • Make it a goal to always have the assigned reading finished.
    • If you don't have time to completely finish, at least skim the major headings so you'll have some notion of the topic and how to organize your notes.
  2. Quickly review notes from last class before the lecture begins
    • Taking 5 minutes between classes will jog your memory and is good review to decrease amount of studying later.

Maintain Focus and Concentration

  1. Location, Location, Location
    • Make it a point to sit in the front row of your classes—you will see and hear better and it will be easier to remain alert and attentive.
    • If you can't sit in the front row, at least sit in the middle row, professors look in this T formation most of the time, and again you will be more engaged in the lecture.
  2. Take morning classes if possible
    • Most people are much more alert in the morning than afternoon or evening.
    • If you can't schedule early classes, at least get up, have a good breakfast, and prepare for your class in the morning.
  3. Minimize external distractions
    • If you know that sitting by the window will distract you, then move to another area of the classroom. Also avoid sitting near doors if traffic and noise will disturb you.
    • Only sit with friends if you are sure you won't be tempted to socialize during class.
  4. Minimize internal distractions
    • Keep a "worry pad" to jot down any thoughts which keep popping up as an assurance that you will deal with them later.
    • If your mind is wandering, try to think of a one-sentence topic for the lecture in order to bring you back to the present.
    • Try not to think about work you have in other classes. Focus on the here and now.

Be an Active Listener

Pauk (2001) suggests you use the 3 A's of listening

Attitude » Maintain a positive attitude

  • Go into each class assuming the professor has something useful to say.
  • Maintain focus even if he or she expresses an opinion different than your own.

Attention » Concentration and focus are keys

  • Anticipate the lecture and become curious about the subject.
  • Concentrate on actually processing ideas instead of just copying them down.

Adjustment » alter your expectations as the lecture proceeds

  • Often lectures go where the audience interest lies or are led astray by an interesting question. Try to keep up with these shifts of focus and reflect them in your notes.
  • Don't just tune out the parts that don't fit what you expected- these are often the most interesting!

Being ready for class and actively participating in lectures will make them a much more valuable learning experience.

Pauk, W. (2001). How to study in college (7th Edition). Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Try the Cornell Note-Taking System

This system helps make note-taking a more effective tool in preparing for class and exams by giving you space within your notes to write study questions about the material and succinctly sum up and entire page of information.

Download a sample of the Cornell System template.

The interns at the Academic Skills Center can help you learn how to get more from your lectures. Email them at or call x3925 to make an appointment.