Do you ever have a nightmare where you turn up to a lecture but you’ve forgotten to take a pen or paper and you have no idea what’s going on? Hard as it is to believe, some students actually do this; they stroll in 20 minutes after the lecture’s started, sit down noisily (disturbing people all around them) then look around blankly as if expecting lecture notes and stationery to drop from the sky. Want to hazard a guess at how well they do?

Last week I discussed how to prepare for starting Uni and this week I’m going to talk about how to study to get the most out of your lectures. Next week I’ll talk about assignments.

Before each lecture

Nowadays most lecturers use PowerPoint and post the files on Blackboard prior to the lecture. (When I did my law degree, back in the dark ages, the lecturers would stride about in their academic gowns and hold forth with their wisdom, only pausing to write down case names on the blackboard. (Not Blackboard!)) Some students choose to view these on screen during the lecture but I personally always preferred to print them out so that I could annotate them. Experiment with the best way of printing out – if you print one slide per page you’ll get through a lot of paper and toner, but if you print 6 per page they might be a bit small to read.

Read through the PowerPoints before the lecture. You’re probably not going to understand it that well but it’ll give you an idea in advance of what the lecture’s about, which it’ll make it easier for you understand it when you do attend. (It goes without saying that you should also acquire some stationery before the lecture and work out where the lecture room is so you’re not late!)

A common question is whether you should read the set textbook/articles before the lecture. I’d generally suggest that you don’t. You’re not going to necessarily understand it until you’ve had the lecture, which can create anxiety, plus there’s often a lot of peripheral content. If you wait until you’ve had the lecture you’re more likely to understand what you’re reading and you’ll know which are the important and less important aspects.

During the lecture

Attend the lecture with mind as well as body! Some students seem to think that their physical presence is enough but, in fact, you have to try to engage with the material, process it and understand it. When I first started lecturing I was told that students’ ability to concentrate starts to dramatically drop after 15 minutes, so if you’ve a 2 or 3 hour lecture to sit through you have to really work to focus for that long. (Hopefully the lecturer has designed it to be as engaging as possible, but don’t just rely on that.) Take some water (or coffee) with you, draw up a mind map (see below) as you go, and try to keep asking yourself “why” about what’s being said; if you understand why then you’ll remember the information much more easily.

Some students like to record lectures, but it’s polite to ask the lecturer first. Some lecturers may record lectures themselves, perhaps for Off Campus students, and if you can get access to these for revision then that’s great.

After the lecture

It’s a good idea to produce some summary notes after each lecture to help cement the content in your mind and help when you come to revise. You may just want to write bullet points, but diagrams or mind maps can be helpful to present the information in a striking way that puts it into context and makes it easy to remember. Mind maps are diagrams with a central idea and branches and sub-branches coming out for different themes. You can draw these manually or using software, for example there’s an app called Simple Mind + which is pretty easy to use. Here’s an example of a mind map on the subject of accounting for inventory to give you an idea:

Review your notes from each lecture just before the following lecture – you’ll get a lot more out of subsequent lectures if you can see where they fit in to what’s been previously covered.


There’s a reason why doing a degree is sometimes called reading for a degree – you have to do a lot of reading! You may, if you’re lucky, have time to read everything on the required reading list and read widely round the subject, but if you do you’re likely to be in the minority. I’m not suggesting that you try to coast your way through your degree but rather that you try to focus on the things that will add value. Focus on the articles/texts that will aid your understanding of the subject for subsequent weeks or that will help with assignments or the exam. Other readings can be deferred until after the semester’s end.

If things start to go wrong

It may be that you get sick or have personal problems or just start to get confused and feel out of your depth.  

It’s important to try to keep up with the work, and it’s especially important be disciplined if you’re an Off Campus student. Make sure you do everything you can to attend lectures/tutorials and do the work set and make sure that you get any marks that are available for attendance – you’re throwing away easy marks if you don’t. It’s REALLY important that you ask for help if you need it. Unlike school, the lecturer won’t know if you understand or not – you have to ask for help. Most lecturers will be quite helpful (even more so if they can see that you’re working hard). They’re paid to answer your questions, so don’t suffer in silence.

If you’re having other issues, again most lecturers are helpful and will do what they can to provide materials, lecture recordings and be flexible with respect to assignment dates. Ask for help, and also talk to the student support services and the university counselling service if required.

Above all, keep going. If things start to fall apart don’t just stop going to lectures. Ask for help. We’ll talk more this and about anxiety and avoidance in a few weeks’ time.

In the meantime, enjoy the start of the semester. Start as you mean to go on and get as much as you can out of the experience. Next week: assignments.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Scroll to Top