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How to Pay Attention in Class

Sunday, May 31, 2015


As if paying attention in high school wasn't hard enough, it gets even harder in college. Classes are often longer and bigger, you're allowed to take notes on your computer and some of the lectures are really dull (that's only some, though, some of them are a lot more fun, assuming you're studying something you're interested in.) I know I've struggled to pay attention in class before, and I know I'm not the only one, so I thought I'd share some of my best tips with you:

Act the part.
If you don't want to be in class, you probably won't pay as much attention as if you're there and ready to learn. Make sure you always get enough sleep and eat before class (because nothing makes you want to be in class less than being tired or hungry.) Even if you don't want to be in class, there are ways to trick yourself into wanting to be there. I'm a huge proponent of dressing for the occasion, and while I don't think you have to wear slacks and a button-down to class, I do recommend at least changing out of your pajamas/sweats (I don't really think you should ever wear sweats out of the house...but that's another story for a different post.) I just don't understand how anyone can wear pajamas to class and not feel the urge to sleep!

Schedule wisely.
If you know you can't pay attention in early morning classes, don't schedule an 8:00 class. If you get hungry before noon everyday, schedule your lunch at eleven. If long lectures drain all your energy, schedule some study time in between your recitation and lab so you can perform at your best. Unlike high school, you have a lot of control over when your classes are in college, so take advantage of that.

Sit in front.
I know it might seem obvious (or nerdy,) but I notice a big difference depending on where I sit in the class. In many classes, there's a completely different atmosphere in the front and the back. I often feel more inspired to focus if I'm sitting in the front, not only because I'm closer to the professor and everyone behind me can see my screen, but also because the students around me are usually focusing more as well (although there are always exceptions, aka the guy playing Plants vs. Zombies in the front row.)

Disconnect.
I know a lot of people say they take notes better on a computer, but a lot of the time, I see those same people checking Facebook during class. I take notes the old fashioned way (and pretty much every blogger I've seen who shares their study tips does the same thing,) but if you absolutely must use your computer, only use it to take notes. I'd also recommend keeping your phone in your bag during class. Do what you need to do, whether it's disabling Wifi and taking notes on Word, installing a blocking program to use while you're in class or telling a friend to nudge you if you stray off your notes. I would even recommend staying off of your phone and computer as much as possible before class. You have plenty of time to connect with your friends and family electronically after class, but this may be your only oppurtunity to get to know some of the people in your class.

Use your resources.
Sometimes it can be hard to pay attention in class because you don't know when the professor is covering important material and when he/she is just taking a tangent. While the "write everything on the board down" advice is worth heeding sometimes, there are a couple of resources you can use to take smarter notes:

If you get really lucky, your  professor might post guided notes online before your class, but most of the time, you'll have to be a little more creative. Because of this, I highly recommend reviewing your textbook before class. First of all, you'll already have a pretty good understanding of the topic being discussed. Secondly, and probably more importantly, you'll be able to recognize when the professor is covering something that isn't in the book (which is always a sign you should take really good notes!)

Another resource you might have available to you are the study guides many professors post for exams. While some professors wait until all the material for an exam has been covered, once in a while you'll luck out and be able to pinpoint what topics you need to pay the most attention to (most of the online exams I've had provided all the study guides from the beginning.) Remember: just because there's not an official study guide doesn't mean you can't tell what will be on the exams. You can usually get a pretty good idea of the biggest concepts from the syllabus. Some syllabi will even go so far as to detail what will be covered each day or week, which can be extremely helpful in preparing for exams.

Lastly, don't forget the resource right in front of you doing lecture (and, no, I don't mean your computer.) The majority of your professors will usually use a Powerpoint or some sort of presentation to present the information. While it can be difficult to write everything on each slide down, you can usually get the general idea and any important statistics or dates. I'd also recommend writing down anything bolded or underlined and marking it in your notes (the same goes for anything underlined on the white board, repeated, and, of course, anything the professor specifically mentions will be on the test.)

How do you help yourself focus in class?

1 comment:

  1. Hey Emily,

    Super informative post (and with the right kind of information too -- helpful, practical, and actionable). I've been really disappointed with other college blogs that propose an awesome headline, yet fail to deliver solid advice. I've recently been thinking about how helpful "acting the part" can be -- how especially important it is to present a picture of yourself to the professors that sells confidence and capability. It's an easy way to set up for college success.

    One thing I'd note about your post is that I've found myself retaining information so much better if I don't take as many notes in lecture. If the prof uses powerpoint, ask for the slides in an email, so that you can spend class time absorbing info and actively connecting it to other ideas (critical thinking), rather than trying to cram in notes for future study and not taking it all in at the time.

    I'd love to feature this post on my own blog or something like this from you.

    (soon to change domain name) http://www.creativeessaycrafting.com

    I help students raise their GPA and achieve a high-level of college success without fitting the stereotypical and all too pervasive model of the "perfect student."

    Let me know what you think about a feature! You can email me at hello at creativeessaycrafting.com

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