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I'll be starting my 4-th year of post-secondary education, in a few weeks, and during my first 3 years, I've had problems with attentiveness. My latest problem was last year, where I don't think I've been able to follow a single lecture during more than 30 minutes out of the 2 to 4 hours (There is one break during the 4 hours lectures).

I don't think it's my teacher's fault because it has always been an issue with me and, for instance this year, even though many students such as myself had problems with attendance and attentiveness, about 25% of the students felt the lectures were satisfying and managed to follow most of them.

It might be due to the fact that the courses are not always, the one I would like to attend, but I won't be able to chose until my 5-th year so this option won't work for me.

The thing is I've managed to fall through the cracks so far by simply working by myself with the textbooks we were given but I now realise it was a mistake, first of all because several times the textbooks we've been given were either obsolete or not related at all to the knowledge and skills we were actually expected to get and a few times we were simply not given anything besides the lectures.

I usually get enough sleep, 8 to 10 hours. I also play sports 3-4 hours a week.

Second of all I'm pretty sure my understanding of the course was pretty much limited to me getting good grades on the tests but not actually understanding the essence of the courses. I'm supposed to be an engineer in two years and I feel like all I know is how to get good grades but without proper actual engineering skills, and I'm pretty sure it's mostly due to me not having the right approach on lectures.

Basically, I would like to know if someone had the same problem and what approach they took or if anyone has pieces of advice or tricks to improve attentiveness during lectures ?

1 Answer 1

There are two simple principles you can follow here, rooted in experimentally confirmed behaviours of the brain.

  • Active summarisation
  • Repetition

Active Summarisation: Your brain finds it easier to engage for longer periods if it is active, rather than passively receiving information. Also, once your brain begins working in a particular way, there is a momentum-like phenomenon whereby it will continue with the same behaviour.

So the key to attentiveness is to start your brain actively working. The best way I have found to do this is to summarise what is being said in my own words (in a shorthand). Even things that I already know - because if I start that way, it's easier to continue that way. I personally use pencil and paper rather than smartphone etc. - I remember seeing that there is some evidence that pencil and paper notes are more effective than digital notes. But honestly try things and see what works for you. The point of these notes is only superficially to have material you can refer back to later (which is why I think most digital apps somewhat miss the point). The main effect is that you are more engaged, and absorb information better the first time. Whatever technology you use the goal is to form the right information structures in your brain.

Repetition: Another strategy is to skim-read material relevant for the lecture ahead of time - even if only for 15 mins. Attention requires anchors - even if you barely understand the material first time you will have created references that will work as anchor points. When you hear related concepts repeated in the lecture you will find it easier to absorb them. After the lecture skim your notes again to help it stick.