Everyone takes classes. Some classes, you choose to take. Other classes, you are forced to take.
But all classes require an investment of time, money, and energy, and I don’t know about you, but I like to see the highest possible returns on my investments.
After all, why waste time taking a class I’m not getting anything from?
If you are a class-taker looking to maximize your experience, here are six ways to get the biggest bang for your (literal or metaphorical) buck:
1) Stay awake
This may sound silly, but if you are a student in the 21st century, you probably know what I’m talking about:
People do not get enough sleep. In fact, most of us are chronically exhausted.
But if you don’t sleep, you won’t be fully awake during class.
And if you are not awake, you can’t learn anything.
Sleep deprivation has been proven to be just as bad as drunkenness when it comes to driving. And if that’s true for driving, then sleep deprivation must be equally harmful when you’re trying to actually, you know, learn something.
Coffee and other stimulants don’t help. They may make you feel buzzed, but that’s not a truly wakeful state in which you can learn things. You’re more apt to make mistakes and blackout, thinking you’re awake when you really aren’t.
Take it from someone who spent half her academic career severely sleep-deprived. (If it weren’t for the other tips below, I wouldn’t have made it as a student)
The first and best thing you can do for yourself as a student is to make sure you are well rested and fully awake during class.
2) Pay attention
Those who don’t suffer from sleep deprivation often suffer from something else: extreme distractibility.
Human beings don’t usually have long attention spans, and smart technology has made this worse. Today, people can barely sit through a 2-hour movie, let alone a 2-hour lecture.
It’s difficult to reverse this trend, but here are some suggestions:
· Obviously, the first thing to do would be to silence and put away your electronic devices.
· Making yourself take notes is also helpful.
· In addition, force yourself to ask questions whenever you have the opportunity.
· And don’t sit too long. Take advantage of in-class breaks — not to check your phone, but to run around outside and do some jumping jacks to get blood and oxygen to your brain.
3) Review the material right before AND after class
If you have a textbook or any assigned reading you should do before class, do it (at least skim).
Then, while you’re in class, take notes and record the lecture. (But refrain from sharing these recordings, a lot of teachers don’t like that).
After class, review your notes. Highlight, clarify, and write down anything you don’t understand. Some people rewrite or type their notes, but I never had time or energy for that. If you do, more power to you!
Listen to the audio recording of lecture whenever you have any down time (when you’re commuting, getting ready for bed, taking a shower …as long as your device is waterproof).
But why go to so much trouble?
Because, understanding the gist of the topic before you listen to the lecture helps you absorb the material better than coming in with no clue what the teacher is talking about.
(Plus, this will prevent you from accidentally sitting through an entire lecture on the wrong subject).
And reviewing your notes within 24 hours will solidify the lesson in your mind.
If you make this a habit, conscientiously and regularly reviewing your material before and after class, you will significantly cut down on a certain time-honored yet extremely health-hazardous tradition known as “pulling all-nighters in order to cram for tests.”
4) Use available resources
You have a teacher, and maybe a TA. Ask them questions. Your school may offer free tutoring services. Try them out.
If you don’t have questions, stop by office hours and ask something anyway. Or go with another classmate who has questions. It’s amazing what useful information you can accidentally learn in this manner.
(Ex: If Professor Science talked a LOT about the Krebs Cycle during office hours, maybe I should focus on that for the test).
They made you buy a textbook? Read it. You probably can’t read all of it, but at least don’t let it sit around taking up space. Talk about a wasted investment.
At the very least, look at the pictures and diagrams and anything that pops out on the page. If it pops out, it’s probably important. Otherwise the publishers wouldn’t have wasted that much space and ink on it.
5) Write Your Own Textbook
Well, not literally.
In order to learn material, you have to interact with it. You can’t just sit passively in class and expect to absorb everything.
Even reading your class material is not good enough. That’s why they invented homework.
But sometimes their idea of homework doesn’t work as well for you as your own version.
No one eats a potato by shoving it down their gullet. They cut it up, cook it, chew it, and then swallow. Same thing when it comes to learning new material. You have to dissect and re-hash it before you can make it your own.
For some students, this means highlighting and writing notes in the margin of textbooks, rewriting lecture material, making up a song, doing interpretive dance, even.
When I was studying anatomy, this meant redrawing and labeling every diagram, until I basically had my own mini anatomy textbook.
Yes, it took a lot of effort. But the effort paid off, big time, when one of the biggest questions on the test included a blank heart diagram and instructions to draw in and label every major artery.
I nailed it. And aced the test.
6) Save everything
I mean everything. Every paper, every quiz, every handout, every book, every test.
In time, you may choose to discard this material, but at least for a couple years, hold on to your class materials.
Because after you take the class, I guarantee you will forget more than 50% of what you learned if you’re not using it constantly.
(Unless you are one of those scary savants who never forgets anything. In which case, I have nothing to teach you. Why are you here? ;D)
And why pay tuition (or taxes, for those in public schools) to learn something that you’re going to forget?
Case in point: A decade ago, I took an optional class on creative writing. The course was designed to teach students how to write well AND how to market their writing.
At the time, I was taking a boatload of other classes, so while I learned the writing piece of the course, I never submitted anything.
Fast forward ten years. Now that I’ve returned seriously to writing (and submitting, this time!) boy am I glad that I saved all of my course materials — not just the course manual and textbooks and trade magazines, but every single story I wrote that my teacher edited, and all of my market research.
Had I thrown away my stories, research, and notes, I would have had to start from scratch. But now, all I have to do is review my teacher’s suggestions, lightly revise some already-polished-and-ready manuscripts, update my research, and submit!
There are so many classes and so little time. Learn things properly the first time so you don’t waste time and energy retaking courses or scrambling to figure out stuff you should already know.
Whether you are taking a class on writing, coding, or the fourteen steps to baste a turkey, remember to stay awake, focus, review often, and save all of your learning material, if your goal is to actually learn the material —
…and not just take an expensive nap while listening to the drone of an overly-paid hypnotist (aka professor).
You and your bank account will thank yourself later.
Thank you for reading!
If you enjoyed this post, please clap and leave a comment — what steps did (or do) YOU take to win at class?
This article was originally posted on Medium.