Let me know if this sounds familiar…
You’re sitting there, and the professor is scribbling non-stop on the board. Symbols, diagrams, equations; you really have no clue what it means right now but you’re copying it down profusely because you know that probably sometime down the road you’re going to need it later for homework or some sort of evil test question.
Here’s the problem:
You spend so much of your time and attention just trying to keep up during lecture, that it’s hard to focus on the actual information, you have no idea what you did or didn’t understand, and you’re left with no time to ask questions.
So that’s what I tackle in this video: how to pay attention in class, especially during long lectures.
This question comes from fellow reader Diana who asks…
Maybe you were up late last night, maybe this is your third back to back lecture, or maybe it’s just tough to stay focused when your professor is that boring. Regardless, long detail-filled lectures can be difficult. Especially with things like the 10-Minute Rule which John Medina talks about in his book Brain Rules.
The 10-Minute Rule basically says that you need to do something emotionally relevant to your audience every 10 minutes to keep their attention, otherwise it quickly drops off.
In our case, unfortunately the professor probably isn’t aware of the 10 minute rule, but you need to keep this in mind for yourself. How can you stay engaged for the lecture so that your attention doesn’t drop off every 10 minutes and you find yourself disassociated with the material, just copying down notes for the sake of copying down notes?
Thing #1: Apply The Goldilocks Principle
The first thing I’d recommend for staying engaged in long lectures is using what I call The Goldilocks Principle, which is the idea that the information that you’re seeing has to be somewhat difficult but not too difficult in order to stay engaged with it. (I cover exactly how to handle these type of situations whether you’re overwhelmed because it’s too difficult or whether you’re bored because it’s too easy in my Ultimate Guide to Kicking Ass Next Semester.)
Thing #2: Go Into Lecture Knowing What To Take Notes On
The other thing you can do is go into lecture knowing exactly what you need to take notes on. If you go in with a “pre-filter” in terms of what you need to be focusing on, it eliminates the need to transcribe each and every detail that you’re hearing coming from your professor.
In technical courses this generally means key equations, diagrams and then the full details of all problem solutions sort of things you need to focus on taking notes on. Pretty much everything else you don’t necessarily need to take notes on, but obviously it’s going to vary course to course. Regardless, already going in having an idea of what you should be taking notes on frees up some of your attention to actually pay attention to what the professor is talking about, starting to understand things at the same time you’re taking notes during class. I cover more of how to do this on Day 2 of the 5 Day Study Crash Course.
Thing #3: Be That One Person That Actually Raises Their Hand
The third thing you can do is be that one annoying person that sucks it up and raises their hand during class. Now yes I know this can be difficult to get yourself to do, but realize this; Nobody else around you wants to admit it but chances are if you’re confused about something, everyone else is going to be confused as well. Don’t feel like you’re the one stupid person who doesn’t know what’s going on. If you raise your hand and you ask that question that everybody else is confused about, they’ll silently thank you for it.
Also, at the same time you’re slowing down the professor and forcing him or her to stop and address any points of the lecture that aren’t well constructed or students are having trouble keeping up with. This will give you a chance to catch up, start to understand what’s going on before he or she jumps into the next topic and leaves you behind.
Thing #4: Mark The Confusing Stuff For Later
Finally, if all else fails just put a mark next to the things in your notes that you’re having trouble understanding during lecture and then go back and address those things afterwards. By specifically marking the things that you’re having trouble on, it saves you time so you don’t have to go back through all of your notes later and focus on dissecting those things that maybe passed you by during class.
Now, it’s tempting to feel like that you’re wasting your time by doing something like this but in reality whenever you learn something new you’re going to have to encounter it multiple times before it really gets ingrained in memory. You might as well do that in a targeted fashion so that you’re re-encountering the things more times that you had difficulty with during class.
There you go Diana, those are my four recommendations. Apply those and hopefully this will help you tackle those long lectures a little bit better the next time around.
You can also view the video above on Youtube.