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How to make the most out of every lecture

When you start studying at university, one of the big questions is how to get the most out of the content you're taught. In this blog, Patrick writes about how to get the most out of every lecture.

Lecture theatre filled with students
Lecture theatre filled with students

It’s a very new way of being taught and completely different to how you may have been taught at secondary school so let's get into how you can be prepared for lectures and make them work for you.

Preparation

Before attending your first lecture it’s important to be prepared. This includes simple things such as having your laptop or tablet charged up and your pens and notebook ready, to having a rough idea of which topics are going to be covered.

In an ideal world, it is great if you can have a look over the topic the night before the lecture (in my experience most Queen's lecturers will upload the slides to Canvas ahead of time). This look over is very brief as you may not understand all of what you are reading before the lecture. Nonetheless, a quick overview can be helpful as you can prepare for what topics might come up and be ready to listen especially for the things you didn’t quite understand.

As I said though, that's the ideal situation but realistically it's not always possible. Different courses have different volumes of material covered in lectures so it might not be practical to have a look over everything. In that case though, even knowing the title and learning objectives to be covered in the lecture is a good head-start.

Lecture theatre

Do what works for you!

For some people, writing notes long-hand from lectures can be the best way to learn the content. This often involves reviewing the slides after the lecture and making notes that you can then refer back to when it comes to revision.

For my course, I found that we cover too much content in Medicine to make this practical. So, what I do is write flashcards during the lecture with a short question for each slide and a few bullet points under each that summarises the essential points to revise. This means that I have noted down everything I think was important by the time the lecture is over. I then also have a good revision resource to test myself on later.

Another great way to tackle lectures is to annotate the slides. Many people use devices such as iPads and tablets to do this and others use pen and paper print outs of the slides. This means that you can quickly jot down any extra points not already on the slides and make note of anything the lecturer says is of particular significance.

To be honest though, there is no right or wrong way to tackle a lecture. Different people have different learning styles and different courses lend themselves to different note-taking styles. Trial-and-error in you first few weeks of university is often needed to see what works for you. If you are struggling, it’s worth contacting the lecturer to find out more about the exam formats and to seek advice on how best to tackle a lecture.

writing on a laptop

Think Ahead

Some topics will be more interesting than others, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore those that you don’t find as fun. Use the lectures with the exams in mind.

If your course has a lot of essays, use the lecture as a starting point to on which to map your extra-reading, and to get a feel of what the lecturer thinks are the key issues at play in any given topic. They will likely be the one marking the essays, so frame your approach to the lecture with this in mind.

For other courses, like medicine for example, exams can frequently consist of fact-recall and multiple-choice questions. Although it's obviously important to have a broad knowledge-base, your priority at this stage needs to be a good grasp of the key facts. These facts are usually in the lecture slides so testing yourself with flashcards you make during the lecture is a smart use of your time.

Format Matters

As a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, a lot of teaching (especially large lectures) were moved online to Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Now with more and more teaching becoming in-person, some lectures are taking place in a hybrid setting whereby some people may join online, with others joining in-person and the session being recorded.

This is a really positive advancement as a result of the pandemic. For me, I personally prefer to be able study remotely in a comfortable space at home, and I like the flexibility of being able to re-watch and pause sections of the lecture for review. Not every course is like this and over the next academic year this may well change, but it is worth finding out where you study best and then using this to your advantage.

Zoom screen on a laptop and a mug

Ask Questions

A lecture is one of the most important opportunities to ask questions of a lecturer who is an expert in their field. You may have been doing extra reading and are unsure of how this relates to the topic at hand, or you may find a particular concept challenging to grasp.

At the end of a lecture, there is normally an opportunity for questions. In my experience, lecturers are normally more than happy to answer questions as it shows that you are actively engaging with their teaching. There is no such thing as a “stupid question”, as often many of your classmates will be puzzling over the same thing as you.

It can sometimes be nerve-racking to raise your hand to ask a question, but it is definitely worthwhile. If you don’t want to ask a question in front of your class, most lecturers will also be able to receive questions by email too and usually respond will helpful explanations and advice.

Summarise

To end any lecture, or to review it, look again at the Learning Objectives. These are the crucial points that you should understand. They can act as questions to revisit and ask yourself when you study. Exams are set on these learning objectives so using these as the foundations of your learning is the best way to maximise your learning from any lecture.

Find out more

Medicine at Queen's

Preparation for assessment

Learning Resources

Patrick Doherty (He/Him)

2nd Year Undergraduate Medical Student | NI

I'm a 21 year old currently in my second year of studying Medicine here at Queen's University Belfast. I was a school-leaver when I came to university, having went to school in Ballymena beforehand. I'm not sure what I'd like to do when I graduate although the idea of writing or medical education appeals to me.

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