Getting the Most From Your Classroom Experience

guy in classroom

Classroom attendance is imperative to success in college. Any student misses out on a great amount of vital information when not in class. You can get only so much from the textbook, the Internet, and shared notes.

Generally, there are no excused absences in college. It is suggested, however, that you contact your instructor to discuss expected absences in advance or soon after a missed class. Sometimes arrangements can be made to complete work ahead, get a lecture outline if available, or make up work completed in class. It is better to not wait until the next class meeting to talk with your instructor about what you missed.

Even if there is a good reason for your absences, it may become necessary for you to drop a course and retake it at a later time when you can devote enough time and effort.

Know your instructor’s name, office hours, office location, and contact information such as an email address, phone number, etc. Get to know your instructors as experts in their fields of study; often times they can offer academic and career opportunities and advice to students.

Demonstrate respect for your instructor and for your classmates. Remember you are all in the classroom for the same purpose—to learn. Be open-minded to new ideas and be willing to listen to the opinions of others. You will be surprised at the amount of knowledge you can acquire when you are open to it.

Pay close attention to the course syllabus. This is where you will find the objectives, policies, and procedures for the course, the grading criteria, available resources, and often a course calendar complete with due dates. Keep this in a place where it can be referred to quickly and easily.

Be on time. Be physically and mentally prepared to focus your attention and take quality notes from the beginning of each class to the end.

Think about where you sit in the classroom – you will want to find a seat which will allow you to concentrate (free of distractions) and take effective notes.

  • Sit in the front and/or the middle of the classroom whenever possible
  • Avoid the back row of the classroom; when you are too far away from what is taking place, your mind will want to wander
  • Sit where you can focus on the instructor’s facial expressions, body language, and eye contact during lectures; you will stay more alert
  • If there is one side of the whiteboard favored by an instructor or a specific technology that is being used, choose your seat accordingly so you can clearly view what is being presented
  • Be aware of other potential distractions in the classroom such as windows, doorways, friends, drafts, heating vents that tend to make one sleepy, etc.

Be an active learner. Participate in the discussions, but be careful to not dominate them. Ask questions. Listen to others. Take notes. Studies have shown that students who actively participate retain more information and understand it better.

Become an active listener. Think about the speaker’s message and link ideas together. Listen for main ideas, key words, definitions, order of events, etc. The lecturer will give verbal clues when trying to emphasize important points (change in volume or tempo, repetition, change in pitch, or phrases such as, “this is important for you to know …”). Listen carefully for these clues and make sure to indicate the importance in your notes.

Take notes on everything as a matter of academic habit, even if you do not believe you “need to” take notes. Your notes will aid you in organizing information addressed in class and in remembering that material several weeks later for an exam. (Studies have proven that people forget 75-80% of what they heard within 48 hours.) Experiment with different note-taking styles and strategies. Different material may require different note formats.

Read ALL the assigned material and take written notes BEFORE the lecture over related material. This is called pre-reading. You will feel better prepared and your listening skills will improve as you listen for additions to the information you read ahead. Think about or review what you already know about the topic to be discussed during the upcoming lecture.

Get to know some of your classmates and collect the contact information for a couple of them. You may want to clarify an assignment, discuss a concept, or ask a classmate to collect materials for you when you are absent. Be willing to do the same. You are all trying to succeed, so use each other as a resource.

Keep all materials for the class; do not discard anything until the end of the semester. Many final exams are comprehensive, and you will need to review materials from the entire semester. If there is a grade discrepancy, you will have the returned items to help you prove your case. You may want to keep materials even longer so you may refer back to them when you are in subsequent classes.