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Improve Your Learning by Listening

You can learn a lot through listening. Listening is a skill that must be developed. If you apply the following suggestions, you will find yourself listening more effectively.

The responsibility for developing interest and understanding is yours. Be an active listener and get the most out of attending a class lecture.

You can think about four times faster than a lecturer can speak. Effective listening requires the expenditure of energy; to compensate for the rate of presentation, you have to actively intend to listen. Notetaking is one way to enhance listening, and using a systematic approach to the taking and reviewing of your notes can add immeasurably to your understanding and remembering the content of lectures.

Before Class

Develop a mind-set geared toward listening.

Test yourself over the previous lecture while waiting for the next one to begin.

Prepare to get the most out of lecture by reviewing the important points from the previous lecture.

Preview the assigned readings to establish some background knowledge.

Determine what you know and do not know about the material in order to focus your listening as an opportunity for learning.

Skim relevant reading assignments to acquaint yourself with main ideas, new technical terms, etc.

Do what you can to improve physical and mental alertness (fatigue, hunger, time of day, where you sit in the classroom may affect motivations).

Choose notebooks that will enhance your systematic note-taking: a separate notebook with full-sized pages is recommended for each course.

During Class

Intend to Listen

Concentrate on what the speaker is saying. Pay attention to speaker for verbal, postural, and visual clues to what's important.

Sit where you can see and hear the speaker easily and where other distractions are at a minimum.

Determine why what the speaker is saying is important to you. If you don't have an immediate, vivid reason for listening to a speaker, you are an unmotivated listener.

Practice the habit of paying attention.

Listen for the pattern of organization in the lecture. Does it begin or end with a brief summary of the main concepts, themes, or ideas? How are details or examples used to develop specific points? What is the relationship between the points presented?

Ask yourself: what questions does this lecture answer? What are possible midterm questions that information from lectures could be used to answer? What is the relationship between the lectures and the readings?  Not everything is equally important in lecture. Hold yourself accountable for being selective and differentiating between levels of importance.

Organize your note-taking as a way to review, test your understanding of ideas, and prepare for exams.

Resist distractions, emotional reactions or boredom.

Be consistent in your use of form, abbreviation, etc.

Label important points and organizational clues: main points, examples.

When possible translate the lecture into your own words, but if you can't, don't let it worry you into inattention!

If you feel you don't take enough notes, divide your page into 5 sections and try to fill each part every 10 minutes (or work out your own formula).

Ask questions if you don't understand.

Instead of closing your notebook early and getting ready to leave, listen carefully to information given toward the end of class; summary statements may be of particular value in highlighting main points; there may be possible quiz questions, etc.

After Class

Clear up any questions raised by the lecture by asking either the teacher or classmates.

Fill in missing points or misunderstood terms from text or other sources.

Edit your notes, labeling main points, adding recall clues and questions to be answered. Key points in the notes can be highlighted with different colors of ink. Make note of your ideas and reflections, keeping them separate from those of the speaker.


Review your notes: Glance at you recall clues and see how much you can remember before rereading the notes.

Look for the emergence of themes, main concepts, methods of presentation over the course of several lectures. 

Make up and answer possible test questions

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