Undoubtedly you’ve noticed since you’ve joined student life, College and University teaching is on a whole different level compared to your school classes. For starters, they’re usually much longer and, particularly in the case of lectures feel something akin to going to a cinema rather than a lesson (only less exciting and with no overpriced popcorn). Now, some people are cut out for lectures and can happily take in and write notes on the swarm of information thrown at you on the slides and spoken by your teacher. Others struggle to understand it or lose focus around the 45+ minute mark (the rough single track attention span of studying young adults). Either way, if you’re struggling to get it all in and you’re afraid of having no reference when asked question in the seminar, here’s a few tips to keep you both to the lectures themselves and surviving the endless drone).
Let’s be honest, you’re going to be in there a while and whilst your coffee/tea/energy drink might keep you awake and alert, you’ll get thirsty and the caffeine does only work for a finite amount of time. Water will help fuel your system whilst you’re in there and whilst it might not feel like it at first, it will help to keep you hydrated, which in turn will help to keep your focus (why do you think Athletes live by the stuff?). Bottles of water are usually the best bet as these are allowed in most lecture spaces. Make sure you have a lid on though or when you accidentally knock it (which it possible if you’re scrawling notes at speed) you’ll give your notes and the person in front of you an unwanted shower! – even if they probably could do with one!
Pens and Pencils
Even in this day and age it’s worth keeping these close at hand so you can get everything down. If you’re a technology user, it’s worth keeping at least one pen about as you’ll need one to sign in to prove you’ve been there (unless your campus has upgraded to the new badge/fob scanners). They’re also useful just in case your battery goes flat and you need to quickly transfer to a lo-fi solution. If you’re still an old school writer, take at least two – that way if you do lend one to a friend or peer (which if you don’t know them that well there’s a small chance you might never see again), you still have something to write with and it’s great as a back up for other emergencies too (e.g: Pen running out or pencil lead snapping and you forget to bring a sharpener).
Use Evernote or OneNote to Remember & Annotate Stuff
If you’re a laptop or device user, you might find typing notes an easier and more readable method. However there’s only so much help that Text Wrangler, Word or Writer can do to help with note taking at speed. Microsoft’s OneNote really shines here and comes bundled with the most basic versions of Microsoft Office (Home & Student). The notebooks will allow you to write anywhere on the page and bring in tables, bullet or numbered lists and images as quick as a few key taps or dragging and dropping. Best of all, this is automatically saved as you type, so you’ll never miss a word. OneNote is available on a huge number of platforms allowing you to synchronise your notebook through Office 365 (which online is free for students and teachers with an academic email address) or as a Notebook file through a network drive or OneDrive. The Program is available on Windows and Mac computers, on iOS (phone and tablet versions) and watchOS, Andorid (phone and tablet versions)/Android Wear, Chromebook and online through onenote.com If you’re not an office user, never fear! Evernote is a free service (With a premium upgrade that’s 75% off for students, for more features) on that allows you to take a similar approach. Admittedly the “type anywhere” feature isn’t part of their notes, but you can import many things natively and everything else will be included as an attachment. The main selling point to Evernote (like many programs and apps these days) is that it backs up to the cloud (known internally as “Syncing”). This can be done periodically or on demand by pressing any of the large Sync buttons in the program or device apps and once completed can be accessed on any session you run on another device – which can range from PC or Mac programs, iOS, Android apps or the Web based version at evernote.com.
Can’t Keep Up? Record It
It’s worth getting permission for this one first. If you’re struggling to take in the talk first time around or you can’t keep up with writing notes, see if you’re allowed to record the lecture for playback later on. There are many options for this from inexpensive dictaphone style recorders to more high end capsule or externally connectable portable recorders. If you’re on a shoestring budget and have a smartphone or tablet handy that can pick up the lecturer or PA system, use that. I will be covering recorders like these in a later post on the sister site WAVE Media but if you’re already struggling and need one in the next couple of weeks try the phrase “portable recorder” on sites like Amazon or eBay or your local music/electronics shops.
Get the Slides
Much like obtaining the voice, if there’s some important data that you want from the lecture (that you can’t find from their references), ask nicely if you can get a copy of the lecture slides. You might have thumbnail versions on a hand out, but having a printed or digital copy will always help, particularly with visual learners that may have associated a particular part of the lecture with a particular slide. If you were lucky like I was in my later uni years, they may have already uploaded the slides (or plan to) to your respective virtual learning environment or LMS (e.g: Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai etc) so you can download them when you’re next in the library or on your computer. I hope these few tips may help you out in the many years of being talked at and – on the rare occasion – talking back to your lecturer and your classmates. For those of you that already have a few lectures and seminars under your belt, what methods do you use to retain the information? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below. Thanks for reading and class dismissed! Mike