How To Be a Good Student in College

Students are heading off to college this month with their brand new laptops and cell phones. Frankly, I hope they are not planning on using either one in class to take notes.  All a student really needs in their lecture halls is: a notepad and pen. And by 'notepad', I do not mean the app! If you or your student doesn't read any further than this sentence: The physical act of writing notes actually deepens the comprehension of lecture material. If you want to learn more about how to be a good student in college, read on

 Yay! I made it through high school!

Yay! I made it through high school!

What sort of techniques can students use to really learn lecture material? You obviously can't just sit back and listen to what the professor says. Without a photographic memory, remembering anything two weeks later is problematic. Some students like to transcribe lecture material. 'Transcribing' means writing down a professor's lecture word for word. While transcribing may be useful for capturing every word and idea, it is difficult to do. Most students don't write quickly enough, or legibly enough, for this to be a useful technique. Clearly, students bring their laptops into the lecture halls because keystrokes are quicker than pen strokes. There is a lot of video taping of lectures as well. If you are in a classroom with 500 students, sitting in the back row, there are a zillion distractions. Taping the lecture seems like a good idea. Plus, if you tape it, then you and the entire back row can watch that cute cat video playing on the laptop two rows down.

 Small class, Furman University

Small class, Furman University

Why I am not in favor of laptops in a lecture hall: They are noisy! They are distracting! More seriously, using a laptop encourages 'transcribing'. Yes, you can get it all down but focusing on 'getting it all down' means you are focusing on typing not learning. When you know you can't write quickly with a pen, you will then be more selective in what gets written down. You will focus on the nuance or which point or idea the professor is emphasizing. With a pen and paper, you can use 'non-linear' thinking and note-taking: writing in the margins, shorthand, symbols, stars, arrows, circles. The day's notes become more of a map or guide to the lecture. Such notes may not be readily comprehensible to a classmate but they do show a deeper level of comprehension and engagement with the material. An A+ tip: Check out this video on how to take "Cornell Notes".

 Some classes are fairly large like this one at Univ of Oregon

Some classes are fairly large like this one at Univ of Oregon

Why I am not in favor of laptops in a lecture hall: They are noisy! They are distracting! More seriously, using a laptop encourages ‘transcribing’. Yes, you can get it all down but focusing on ‘getting it all down’ means you are focusing on typing not learning. When you know you can’t write quickly with a pen, you will then be more selective in what gets written down. You will focus on the nuance or which point or idea the professor is emphasizing. With a pen and paper, you can use ‘non-linear’ thinking and note-taking: writing in the margins, shorthand, symbols, stars, arrows, circles. The day’s notes become more of a map or guide to the lecture. Such notes may not be readily comprehensible to a classmate but they do show a deeper level of comprehension and engagement with the material. An A+ tip: Check out this video on how to take “Cornell Notes“.

 Learn how to take good notes!

Learn how to take good notes!

Whether you take notes or succumb to recording the day's lecture, there are a few additional steps you need to take to really learn the material. First, you need to review the day's lecture the day of the lecture. Neuroscientists have conclusively shown that reviewing the material and then summarizing the material on the very same day works to embed that material in your brain. If your notes are more 'map-like' and non-linear, and you can transform the day's lecture into prose then you, clearly, demonstrate a deeper level of understanding of the material. Second, quizzing yourself every day or every few days for just 15-20 minutes on the material is way better than cramming the night before. (You already knew that cramming was a terrible learning technique, right?) The final step involves 'speaking' the material. You listen to the material in class. You write the material down by taking notes. The next step is to verbalize the material. There is nothing like talking about the lectures to let you know if you get the material. Visit your professor during office hours and discuss the material. Join a study group. Ask questions of the professor or your classmates about the subject. Try teaching the material to classmates.

The night before any exam, take and walk, relax and sleep well. Do all of the above, repeatedly, for four years and you will be one smart college graduate!

A+ Tips for Being a Great College Student:

1. Don't just sit back and listen to lectures: Engage!
2. Don't transcribe lectures: Take good notes!
3. Don't take laptops to lectures.
4. Or, if you do, don't watch cat videos during lectures!
5. Review your notes on the same day of the lecture.
6. Summarize your notes daily!
7. Review your notes 15-20 minutes every few days at the very least.
8. Don't cram for the exam.
9. Join a study group.
10.Visit your professor during office hours: Engage!