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How to effectively learn during lectures?

  1. Dec 6, 2014 #1
    Hey guys, so this is something that I've been thinking about a lot over the past few years. I'm currently a Physics and Math major at UCLA and I'm relatively doing pretty well in all my classes, but there is something that I have been really struggling with ever since I started college. I can never learn effectively during lectures.

    I'm what you call a textbook-learner. The way I study for my classes is to just sit and read through the whole book. Initially I thought that this was objectively the best form of learning. After all, what can lectures give that textbooks can't? During lectures, it is very possible for the professor to make mistakes or skimp on the details. But a well-written book will have none of those. BUT I began noticing a trend on some of my fellow classmates whom, in my opinion, are much more capable than I am in both math and physics: they all seem to learn primarily through lectures. As a matter of fact, most of them didn't even bother opening up the required textbooks unless it was absolutely necessary.

    During the first few years of college, this didn't bother me as much; I just thought I was born as a book-learner. But as the classes that we were taking got more and more difficult, I began noticing that it took MUCH MUCH more time for me to learn than my lecture-learning friends.

    I completely understand that some people are just more gifted than I am, and I am completely fine with that. My problem is that the amount of time I need to spend on studying through textbooks are becoming so much that its been forcing me to do about 3-4 all-nighters a week just to keep up with the material, even though I am only taking the minimum-required units per quarter.

    Each quarter I begin school with the intention of trying to go to each lecture and learning. But what ends up happening is that sometimes, when the professor is deriving something teaching us a new theorem, I get confused on how such and such was derived. If this were to happen during my reading of textbooks, I can just stop reading and try to derive it on my own, but because there are no 'pause' buttons in live-lectures, I'm forced to just keep a note of it and continue listening. But because theorems are derived from theorems, if I got stuck on the previous theorem, then I can't understand the next theorem, so whenever this happens it seems like my brain just shuts down the rest of the lecture that day, and I am just mindlessly copying down whatever the professor is writing down on the board.

    This problem is remedied if I read about the topic beforehand the lecture, but if I do this, there is not much I am learning during lecture (because I already know it), and so I feel like I am wasting my time being in the class.

    Because of this, after the first couple weeks, I just stop going to lectures completely and just solely rely on the textbook. I have had numerous classes where I literally just showed up to class just to take midterms and exams.

    Anyone know a way I can learn better through lectures? Sorry that this was such a long post haha
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2014 #2


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    Understanding is just like other things that people can get better at by practice. So some people understand things better and faster because they practised understanding more than others. They've done much study and calculations and from their experience, both in dealing with problems themselves and seeing how others deal with problems, they can understand new methods better than others. So those classmates you mentioned maybe of this sort! Of course you can be such a person too. You just need to try hard. Study as much as you can. Understand as much as you can and do calculations as much as you can.
    Another point is, DO NOT TAKE NOTES DURING CLASSES! Taking notes distracts you from the explanations and also, even if you can keep track of the explanations, you can't actually think well about the things the professor is saying. I stopped taking notes in class a long time ago because I know that anything the professor is doing, can be found somewhere else too so I don't need to take notes. But that class is my only chance to hear the explanations of someone knowing the thing well. So one other skill you should acquire is being able to find what you want in internet or different books. So you just listen in the class and think about what the professor is saying(thinking is much more faster than speaking and so you won't fall behind) and after the class, you can find resources containing those calculations. But it may happen that you learnt the thing enough to recreate the calculations yourself and so it may happen that you won't need to find those calculations somewhere else.
    Another point is, reading the material before the class is a very good idea. The fact that you think this makes being in the class a waste of time, is in fact a mistake in your methods of learning. You can read the material before the class. Some parts you understand and some parts you don't. Then you can understand those dark parts in the class. But even if you understand all of it when you read the thing, then it gives you opportunity to go farther than others. You can study about materials more advanced than the thing presented in the class and ask about those in the class. Or you may think about alternatives to the professor's method or what's going to happen later or anything you want during the class and discover things yourself and if you're stuck, the professor is there to help you.
    So its all about devotion to learning and becoming more efficient and skilful at it with practice.
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