How to Learn Better During Lectures

Hunter Jackson


October 11, 2018

Sitting in lecture is like being in one of those typist rooms that used to occupy the basement of every office building. As each class begins, 100 med students race to capture every word muttered, and the din of typing fills the lecture hall like a swarm of plastic insects.

When I watch this process unfold each week, I'm struck by how ineffective it must be for most people. Admittedly, some students may learn well this way; but for most, how effective can it be to record, verbatim, words that are already written on the slides?

As it turns out, not very effective at all. A recent pair of studies found that students who typed their notes had significantly worse recall than students who wrote their notes by hand, with the hypothesized reason being that students who typed weren't processing the information but only regurgitating. Even when tested after a delay, as most actual students are, students who typed their notes performed worse than did students who wrote their notes. As such, the typical argument of using long-form, verbatim lecture notes to study better might not hold as much water as many think.

Do I think that most of my peers would listen to the advice to stop typing furiously and start listening more? Sadly, probably not. In one hour-long lecture last week, the lecturer actually requested that people not take notes because the material was just broad introductory content. There was a beautiful silence that lasted all of 15 minutes, and then, section by section, the stenographers could resist no more, and the familiar clatter of thousands of keystrokes once again filled the air.

At the next lecture you attend, I dare you to break out the notepad and focus only on connections to past material, questions to come back to, and a half dozen key points. If the studies above are any indication, you'll have better recall, not to mention a heck of a lot less garbage to sort through when it comes time to study.

Good luck!


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