No matter what kind of university you attend, online or on-campus, lectures will always be a part of the experience. Some lectures are spectacular; others require more concentration. But regardless of entertainment value, lectures are an absolutely vital part of college learning.

Getting the most out of your time in lectures can help your performance on papers and exams and build your relationship with the instructor. But most of all, knowing how to maximize lecture time goes a long way to helping you actually understand the subject matter on a deeper level and retain it far beyond finals.

How does one accomplish this? We’re so glad you asked! Here are five stellar ways to maximize the time you spend in lectures:
how to be more productive during college lectures

1. Be prepared.

You’re going to get a lot more out of lectures if you have something already in your head to work with. This preparation usually takes the form of homework, where the instructor will assign readings or other tasks that introduce you to the material he or she will be discussing.

With the lecture topic and the foundational ideas in your head, you’re ready to take your understanding to the next level by interacting with the instructor. Without these foundational ideas, however, you’ll be playing catch-up the whole time. So do your homework before lecture–it will make a world of difference.

2. Take notes.

What better way to sort and store the insights you gain during lecture than writing them down or recording them in audio form. The act of note-taking–of comprehending what you’re hearing, deciding how to put it in written form, and performing the physical action of writing–actually increases your understanding and retention of what you learned in lecture. Then of course, you have something more reliable than memory to refer back to when it’s time to review for exams.

3. Be present.

With email, texts, social media, videos, playlists, apps, and maybe friends at your fingertips, it’s easy to get distracted. During an hour-long lecture, all these things can seem more exciting than the instructor. It takes discipline to stay focused despite these distractions, but being at a lecture (or hitting play on a lecture, if you’re attending online) means nothing if you’re not there mentally–other than attendance points.

If you’re attending lecture, make a conscious effort to turn off your connections to the outside world. Turn off your phone and stow it deep in your bag where it won’t tempt you. Close any applications on your laptop that could distract you–especially your chat application. Don’t access the Internet unless the site you’re on is part of the lecture. If you have friends in the class, difficult as it might be, you might want to sit apart from them.

If you are participating in a lecture online, your challenge may be finding a quiet, undisturbed space where you can focus. For this reason, many online students watch lectures late at night when other family members (especially the small kind who wear cartoon-print pajamas) have retired to bed. If you’re in this situation, don’t make the mistake of half-listening to the lecture while you’re updating your Facebook status and talking with your mom on the phone. Clear that time and keep it clear.

4. Ask questions.

For many, this is one of those intense moments, especially in a large lecture hall. Raising your hand to ask a question in one of these stadium-sized rooms, where a microphone is handed to you as twelve-billion eyes turn your way, can feel like you’re suddenly on national TV. But it’s worth the discomfort because there are two huge benefits of asking questions during lecture.

First, because you don’t want to sound stupid in front of your class, it forces you to engage the material at hand and consider truly worthwhile questions. Just by thinking about it, you’re ready to understand the material on a higher level.

Second, you get answers. If you’ve offered thoughtful question, you’ve just opened the door for learning that may not have been in your homework. Instructors usually welcome the opportunity to answer questions, as it gives them a chance to dig deeper into the subject that they love.

5. Answer questions.

You know those awkward silences after an instructor has asked the class a question? That’s the sound of people afraid to learn. Or at least afraid to look dumb. If asking questions feels like being on national television, answering questions feels like performing in a nationally televised sporting event. It’s intense. Having said that, answering questions is the best way to test your understanding.

What’s the worst that could happen? You answer incorrectly and the instructor is able to help you and your classmates better understand the topic. At least, you don’t walk away thinking you get it when you really don’t. By answering and getting feedback, you know if you understand or not.

What’s the best that could happen? You answer correctly with your smartness on display for the whole class to see. At that point, you’ve just become a mini-celebrity, the smart guy, second only to the professor (and maybe the TA) in your grasp of the topic.

Either way, you’ve solidified your comprehension and made it much more likely that you will succeed in that course.

Are you a master of lecture time? Or are you a Snoozing Stanley? Tell us in the comments below!

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