If you’re anticipating the start of your university journey, it’s likely your mind is filled with expectations of what it’s going to be like. Thoughts of freshers’ week, new friends and a new city may spring to mind, but equally the academic processes at university might as well.
What is a lecture?
As you’d expect, studying at university is a completely different experience to that of school or college.
Put simply, a lecture is where you get all the basic information about a topic. It doesn’t tend to be super interactive, as this is what a seminar, workshop or lab is for. Sometimes lecturers spice things up with a Mentimeter or Kahoot, but it is mainly about listening and taking notes.
Lectures will cover more content in a shorter space of time than you’re used to, which has its own learning curve. In my first semester, especially with a module on a topic I had bever studied before, I found it helpful to skim the pre-reading beforehand to gain a sense of familiarity with the material.
Lectures are one or two hours long, with a break in the middle if they’re two hours. They can completely vary when they are on your timetable, so do mentally and physically prepare for the possibility of a 9am or 5pm lecture!
You will probably be taught by at least two different lecturers for the same module, typically because teaching staff have research specialisms in each subject area.
Lectures can vary in frequency and cohort size. As a History and French student, each of my modules has two-hour’s worth of lectures. And for how many people – it can be as small as 30 people, to a room full of 200.
Don’t stress about bringing reading material or textbooks with you to a lecture, you literally just need to bring something to take notes.
How do I take notes?
Taking notes is a completely personal approach. Some opt for the classic paper and a pen, others are hard-core laptop and Notion users and we can’t forget the iPad and Apple Pencil combo.
Pay attention to what the lecturer is saying, rather than typing or writing whatever is on their PowerPoint. Often what the lecturer says is far more important, and the slides just allow them to keep on track as well as provide some generic pointers and guidance for students. The lecturers will give you an electronic copy of lecture slides either before or afterwards too.
You might find it easiest to create a system for your lecture notes and take them in the same way for each module. Perhaps each slide could be a new sub-heading, or maybe you would find it helpful to annotate around the slides?
For me, I use one Word document per module for my lecture notes. As all the lectures in a module will be linked, it’s helpful to be able to refresh what you learnt in previous lecture as well as connect your learning together where appropriate.
Regardless of how you take your notes, always make sure to back them up to the Cloud if you’re working electronically or create another copy if you’re using paper. There is no worse feeling than realising the time you’ve spent labouring over your lecture notes has gone to waste.
Most lectures are recorded but the module’s course conveyor can opt-out of automatic recording. If you are registered with the University’s Disability Advisory and Support Service (DASS), you will always get access to lecture recordings.
Where should I sit?
Often, you’ll read or hear that there are these unwritten rules about seating in a lecture theatre which, from my experience, is semi-true. Safest bet is to sit in the middle of the room, particularly if there is no microphone or speaker system. Regardless, sitting at the front isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. Yes, you might have to sit there if you’re late and perhaps you’ll make the most eye contact with the lecturer – but it isn’t a crime!
What should I do if I have any questions?
It’s quite uncommon for a lecturer to stop and answer questions, especially in an hour-long lecture. However, lecturers will usually save time for questions at the end and stick around for a few minutes afterwards too.
Whilst the idea of a lecture can seem quite unfamiliar to begin with, you will soon get into the swing of things and find your rhythm with university academics. And remember – don’t forget to reach out to your lecturers, academic advisor or seminar tutor if you’re struggling with the transition.