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How to Succeed in Large Lectures

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UMass lecture hall with a class in session. Text: "How to succeed in large lectures."

Going into freshman year, I knew that the introductory lectures were going to be big, but actually attending them was an entirely different story. Coming from a rather small high school, the 400 to 500 students paying attention to one professor was a bit overwhelming. There is definitely a learning curve on how to get the most out of these lectures, and here are some tips that will help you do exactly that.

Seating location:

One of the biggest mistakes I made while attending large lectures was sitting in the very back of every class. Although there is an appeal to sitting in the back, sitting in the front — or even the middle — will drastically increase your academic success. It may sound like common sense, but a lot of students avoid sitting closer. By being near the professor, you can hear him/her better, see the projector clearer, and see whatever notes are written on the blackboard. This will also make the class seem a little bit smaller because instead of seeing all 400-500 students in front of you like you would if you sat in the back, you now only see a few students in front of you.

Asking questions:

In a classroom full of 400 students, it can be quite intimidating to raise your hand and ask a question. “What if my question is stupid?” “What if the professor asks me follow up questions?” Those were two questions that I constantly asked and unnecessarily worried about when I had a mental battle on whether to raise my hand or not. In reality, out of the hundreds of students that are in attendance, chances are you will have a question that someone else has too. Instead of worrying about speaking publicly, you are really helping other students in need!

Taking notes:

Being a good note taker may be one of the most difficult things to do while in a big lecture. I personally prefer to take notes on paper because using my laptop is a massive distraction. Whatever you use to take notes is your decision, but the contents of your notes are really important. For nearly every class I've taken, the instructor has put the PowerPoint online. Instead of copying down what is on the screen, it’s really important to listen and thoroughly understand what he/she is saying. I have made this mistake many times but it’s an easy skill to develop. Some professors even record and post their lectures online so students can watch them later.

Come early:

Arriving early for your class may be the most important thing for multiple reasons. When you show up five to ten minutes early, you are able to organize and put yourself into the “learning mindset.” One of the worst things about showing up late is arriving to a full lecture hall with no spare seats.

Overall, learning in UMass’s large student population is a bit unnerving, but with time and experience, every student gets the hang of it!


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