How to Win at Lectures (and make friends!)

You are waiting with a crowd of students. The door cracks open, and a flood of students rush out. You push your way into the lecture theatre.

Lectures have a bad reputation in the post secondary world. But honestly…
I loved lectures. And you could too.

Trust me, it can be awesome to be anonymous in a class room of hundreds of students. If you want to diligently take notes without distractions, go for it. If you want to skip the lecture and study for your midterm next block, that’s your call.

Lectures allow you to take control of your learning.

Yes, a small class forces students to interact with each other (and interact with the prof), but in lecture classes you are the boss. If you don’t want to go, no one will force you to. You might take a hit on the midterm, but it’s your choice. Because it’s your education. There’s no spoon-feeding in lectures.

Intrigued? Great! Now here’s how to be prepared!

  1. Prepare in advance.
    There a few things to consider for each lecture. How will you take notes — paper or laptop? Is this is a class in which you want to make friends? I know, it’s a weird question. But really think about it. Do you have a class right after this lecture? Is this a subject where you might want to study with other people, or share notes? Is it a really early (or late) class that you will barely be awake in? Personally, if I had a class right before or after, I wouldn’t chat with people as much, because I would be in such a rush to get to my next class on time.
  2. Arrive early, but not too early.
    If you have decided, ‘yes I want to make friends in this class!’ then awesome. My advice? Don’t arrive first. Don’t walk in at 9:50 am on the dot. Slide in at a comfortable 9:55 am, find the part of the lecture theatre where you are most comfortable (I am a mid-front-to-the-side kind of gal), and slide into a row that has another person. Gesture to the seat beside them (or leave a gap between you, whatever) and say, ‘Is this seat free?’. When they most likely say ‘uh, sure’, sit down and get ready for the lecture. If it’s a 100 level class in the first week of school I can almost guarantee you that this person wants to make friends too. Be brave and be the one to start up a conversation.
  3. Start up a conversation.
    I’ll be honest — talking to people isn’t always my strong suit. But if these icebreakers even worked for me, they’ll work for you. My tip? Ask questions because people love to have the answers. If there is anything you genuinely want to know, ask it. On your first day of classes, you could ask something like “Hey is this your first class in university?” and follow it up with either “me too — I’m excited/nervous/etc.” or, if ‘no’ is their answer, “do you have any advice?”. This will usually lead into the conversation of “what are you studying?” and “which city are you from” etc. etc. and then next thing you know you are cramming for midterms together in the Business/Tory Atrium.
  4. Take efficient notes.
    You aren’t just in university to make friends. The main point of lectures is to facilitate your learning and independent study. Note taking is a big part of lectures. If possible, print or download your slides ahead of time so you don’t waste time writing down what you already have access to. Focus on writing down the key points that will help you make sense of the slides later. The prof will tell you ahead of time if they will upload the power point slides or lecture notes. Adapt to the prof’s teaching style. If you require accommodation to take notes, contact Accessibility Resources as soon as possible.
  5. Do the assigned readings
    Unlike in most high schools, your professor may not say “read these pages for next class”. Don’t expect to be coddled. The prof has provided the suggested reading schedule in the syllabus and/or on e-class. Put this in your online calendar or agenda. Reading the material ahead of class lets you use the prof’s analogies and explanations to deepen your understanding. Of course, sometimes you might fall behind. That’s okay, it happens. Do your best to read as much as you can before the next class.
  6. Mute your cell phone ASAP.
    Unless you’re in the front row, your prof probably won’t notice or care if you are quietly responding to a text on your phone during the lecture. But every one around you will care if your phone is on vibrate. Yes, every one can here the buzz. Yes, it is super annoying. Mute it, mute it, mute it! Bonus tip: make sure all of your alarms are off. There is nothing like the heart-thudding, face-the-color-of-a-beet feeling of realizing the pop song disrupting the entire class is coming from your phone.
  7. Eating in class is usually fine.
    Sometimes you have back-to-back classes, you miss breakfast/lunch/dinner, or you are just inexplicably hungry. Unless the prof says otherwise, it’s totally fine to eat in class. But there is a difference between quietly scooping yogurt with a spoon and chowing down on a tuna sandwich. Think of three things before you choose what to eat:
    1) Crunch: Will you be able to hear the prof over that celery stick or Miss Vickies chips? No? Well, no one else can either. 2) Smell: Stay away from super smelly foods, like fish or deep fried food. 3) Crumble: Is this food super messy? If you don’t want to have your notes or tech covered in grease or crumbs, maybe wait until after class.
  8. Ask questions, even if you are nervous.
    This is university. There will be concepts that you don’t understand right away, which is the whole point! Don’t be afraid of your professor. They are there to help you. If you don’t want to raise your hand in class, ask the prof or TA afterwards or (even better), during office hours. Profs remember the students who are active in their learning — and you’ll do better in the long run.
  9. Leaving class early is your choice.
    If nature calls, an emergency calls, or you just can’t, it’s your prerogative to leave the class. Just be respectful to your professor and classmates. If you know you need to leave early ahead of time, sit in an aisle seat near a door so you can slip out quietly and respectfully. I’ve even chatted with the prof ahead of time to let them know. A word of warning though: if you leave when you’re in the front of the class, some sassy profs might say something. But, you’re an adult and whether or not you are there is your decision.
  10. Studying every day is actually important.
    When you leave the class, you are not done with that class. It is important to review your notes the day of your lecture classes. The content can build up fast, especially in the 80 minute classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Do yourself a favor and review your class notes, rewrite them, explain concepts to a friend to study, whatever works best for you. Try your best to stay on top of it. (If you need study tips, the Student Success Centre has studying workshops on throughout the year).

Do you have any tips or questions about lecture classes? Share them into the comments!

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Shannon Coyne

Career Services Advisor | BA ’18 Political Science & German Language and Literature