10 Ways to Build Good Habits in Lecture Halls
With school back in swing, you might be feeling antsy in big lecture halls. Here's how to thrive in a tough environment.
The school year is back, and for many students, that means lecture halls. Depending on your school, program, and specific schedule, you could be taking courses with a thousand other students, all in one big room! How on earth can you keep focused and stay on task in such an environment?
1. Arrive early
Easier said than done, of course, but if you take some time to plan your routes on campus — either with a map, or by navigating it in your free time — you'll have better odds of making it to lecture on time. Early's even better!
Not a morning person? Check out this piece on dependable morning habits for students to help.
2. Choose a spot in the middle of the row
Wherever you sit in the first couple lectures may end up being your semi-permanent home for the whole semester, as many students like to stick to the same spots week to week.
So if you're tempted to claim a seat on the aisle, give it a second thought. Yes, you'll be closer to the doors, but you'll also have the hassle of other students trying to move past you to reach their own seats. If you arrive early and claim a spot near the middle, you won't have to get involved.
That said, if you come in late, it might be better to grab a seat near the back, on an aisle, so as not to disrupt fellow students or the instructor.
3. Stow your snacks
Most lecture halls will have restrictions on what kind of food and drinks you can bring in — usually it's nothing but water. Even if you're allowed, though, leave your snacks in your bag.
Even if you don't have crinkly packages, it's best to keep your food outside of the lecture. Water bottles are encouraged though!
4. Stash your scents
Try to avoid bringing an abundance of scents with you into lecture: things like perfume, cologne, strong shampoo, and even cigarette smoke that might cling to your clothes.
Some people are sensitive to scents like these, and may be suffering in silence around you. Better to smell clean and neutral than lay on something thick and overbearing.
5. Forget your phone
Might as well suggest forgetting your head, right? When you're in lecture hall, put your phone on silent and out of reach. Keeping it on the table beside you will only encourage you to check it the instant you get bored — if you have to rummage through your bag first, you might be able to fight the impulse.
Not only is your phone a distraction to you, it can distract your classmates, and even the lecturer. No one likes a disengaged audience more interested in scrolling than listening!
6. Cut the chatter
Chatting quietly to friends may be feasible, but you should still try to resist. Noise can get amplified in lecture halls: what you intend as a whisper may be transformed to a deafening shout.
Better to stay quiet while lecture's in session. You can make notes to yourself and share with friends during breaks. Just don't get into the habit of sharing whispered conversations while the instructor is speaking. Getting called out can be super embarrassing.
7. Engage in active listening
When the lecture's in action, try to use active listening techniques to keep yourself engaged. You'll likely have an easier time following along, and lecturers like to see students who are visibly interested in the material. Here are some tips:
- Eye contact: Simply keeping your eyes on the lecturer can help you digest the information you're learning
- Listen for what's said AND what isn't: Keep your ears open and alert for information that might be implied, but not outright stated
- Listen for intent AND meaning: Try to determine what the lecturer is saying, but also think about what they're TRYING to say
8. Take great notes
Strong note-taking skills will help your active listening, too. Mirroring, paraphrasing, and linking are all excellent active listening techniques, and they boil down to restating or rewriting the key points you're learning, and connecting them to other aspects of the lecture.
Today, most students prefer a laptop for notes, but don't forget about humble old pen-and-paper, too. You may find different techniques work better for different subjects, so experiment with old and new tech to find what works best.
Some instructors will even post their lecture slides ahead of time, letting you make notes directly on the slides. This can be super helpful in some cases!
Finally, you may want to find a "buddy" in each lecture who you can swap notes with. If you're sick, late, or whatever, having someone you can rely on — and who relies on you in turn — can help ensure you don't miss anything critical. This same buddy can help you review your notes after lecture, too.
Check out this one-page PDF guide to note-taking strategies for more advice on taking good notes in lecture.
9. Ask good questions
Depending on the lecturer's style, there may be moments for class participation, with students raising their hand to contribute during the lecture. Otherwise, most instructors will be available after lecture for quick questions at the front of the room.
Either way, asking good questions is a good habit to get into as a college or university student. Questions show that you're engaged and curious, and can not only help you solidify your learning, but build rapport with your instructor, too. (This is important so you can get a good reference letter later!)
Not sure how to breach the peace and ask good questions? Check out this short article on asking questions in and out of class.
10. Pack up only after the lecturer's done
This one can be tough. Students tend to watch the clock, and when lecture's nearly over, start packing up books and backpacks.
While this may save a few moments — which could be crucial if your next class is across campus — it's also noisy, and, to be frank, rude.
The whole hall can be disrupted by a few students rummaging their things, so be polite and wait to pack up until the lecture's over! If you really do need to leave early to get to your next class, speak to the instructor before the lecture to let them know, and maybe sit near the back to minimize the impact of your early exit.
The best way to build good habits in lecture hall is to attend lots of lectures, of course! Even if your program doesn't have many as part of the curriculum, most schools will host speakers' series and other events that bring experts to campus for a one-off session. Try attending a few of these; you may find a topic thrilling that you'd never otherwise consider.
Respectful, engaged behaviour in lecture halls will help you succeed in school. Do your best in lectures, then take your notes home, or to a study group, and explore the material further. The more time you spend with the info you're learning, the better your command of it will be.
Have fun in lecture!
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