Look and Listen

You have one chance to hear and observe the lecturer. Therefore, you must listen and look sharply from the moment the lecturer begins. The lecturer may announce the topic of the lecture and her/his purposes in the opening moments. If you are organized and ready to listen and take notes before the lecture begins, you will have a positive mindset.

  1. Prepare to listen. Your attitude in attending class is of major importance. If you feel that a particular lecture is a waste of time, you will be in no mood to listen. You should decide before a lecture that your class time will be well spent as a learning experience.
  2. Pay attention to questions. The questions put forth by students and the instructors are important parts of the classroom learning experience. When the instructor asks a question, s/he is usually discussing something of importance and trying to make a point. When you or other students make inquiries, you signal the instructor that the message isn’t clear. Both types of questions will serve to clarify lecture material and both types may appear on quizzes or tests. Write them down!
  3. Listen for clues in what the speaker says to help you decipher what is important – a clue or phrase that literally states in advance that something important is going to be said, for example, “Here’s the key…” or “One significant reason for this is…”
  4. Repetition. Repeated information is probably worth noting. “Once again…,” “As I said before…,” or “In other words….”
  5. Issues. Points of controversy or contrasting ideas make excellent essay questions! “Some people feel that…, but others….”
  6. Consensus information that is presented as accepted by all is usually important and should be taken down. “Experts agree….”
  7. Absolutes. Few things in life are absolute, so note words that signal absolutes: “always,” “never,” “all,” “everyone,” “none,” etc.
  8. Review. A review should itemize key points, so jot these down: “In summary…,” “In conclusion…,” or “So, to sum all of this up…”

The following are some suggestions for close and careful observation during a lecture.

  1. Gestures: Watch for pointing, waving arms, tapping on the chalkboard, etc. These can signal important information.
  2. Change in movement: If the lecturer is sitting and then stands, or is leaning and then walks, or is pacing and then stops, she or he could be making an important point.
  3. Facial expressions: Watch the face for raised eyebrows, grimaces, or intense staring. Any of these can mean business.
  4. Changes in volume: Be aware of the voice going from soft to loud, or loud to soft. The lecturer may do this to get attention.
  5. Changes in tempo: A lecturer may slow down or speed up to emphasize a point.
  6. Obvious pause: There may suddenly be a complete stop in the presentation. This is a “loaded silence” and is usually followed by important information.
  7. Writing on the board: Some instructors, the “nice” ones, put the most important information on the board. Anything ever written on the board during a lecture is worth copying down into your notes.