How To Learn In Big College Classes

Adjusting to big class sizes in college can be a huge learning curve for college freshmen. Going from 20 to 30 students per class in high school to suddenly being one of 200 in a massive lecture hall can trip up even the most focused students. After all… does the teacher even care that you’re there? Will they notice if you’re completely zoning out? Plus, can you ever get any of your questions answered? It’s a big transition – which is why we’ve compiled our best advice for how to learn in big college classes.


Don’t bring your laptop if you don’t need it.

In some classes, your laptop will be your best friend. In other classes, it’ll be your biggest distraction. Typically, you can figure out pretty quickly if bringing your laptop to class will end up being a help or a hindrance. For example, if the class requires a ton of note taking, typing everything might be faster. However, if your class is less note heavy and requires work on real paper –gasp! – your laptop might end up causing you to lose focus.


Sit in the front.

It’s tempting to sit in the back of class and become an anonymous face in the crowd, but you’re only hurting yourself in the long run. By sitting in one of the first rows, you hold yourself accountable (you can’t get away with goofing off when the professor is a few feet away!) and you’ll feel much more involved in the coursework. Plus, you’ll get all of your questions answered much more easily.


Do the reading – seriously – and refresh your memory prior to class.

There was always one surefire guarantee my mind would wander during lecture, and that was having no dang clue what was going on. Avoid this by keeping up with the required reading, and going over the main ideas before class. Even if you know you won’t be tested on it anytime soon, it will give context to the notes you’re taking and the material your professor is teaching. Plus, it’ll make studying for the final exam a ton easier. What seems like more work upfront will ultimately end up saving you a lot of stress.


Put your phone away.

Even if you aren’t playing on it or scrolling through social media, all it takes is one text message or missed call to steal your attention away from the professor. Also, a phone that keeps buzzing or lighting up is guaranteed to irritate the people around you. Put your phone in your bag, and force yourself not to even peek at it until class is over.


Don’t go to class hungry or thirsty.

This might sound like a weird one, but a growling stomach or a painfully dry mouth was one of the biggest attention-stealers during a long lecture. Don’t let that happen! I’m not saying to feast before you head into class (because trust me, a food coma makes focusing just as difficult) but I never recommend going to class on a totally empty stomach either. At the very least, grab a bar and a bottle of water on your way out the door.


Become a savvy note taker.

You won’t be able to write down everything that comes out of your professor’s mouth, so don’t bother trying. Instead, train your ear to pick up on certain phrases and set-ups that can signal the most important points. These include things like…

  • Lists. If your professor says something like, “There are five effects that this can have…” “There were three big things that led up to this event…” or “There are six methods a person can use…” get ready to write.
  • Definitions. If your professor is taking the time to define something, it’s probably important.
  • Main ideas and conclusions. Professors will often use phrases like, “Most importantly,” “Ultimately,” or “To sum it up.” These are the big takeaways of the lecture.
  • Changes in tone/demeanor. I had a professor who became extremely animated when he was summarizing the big conclusion of the lecture. It was impossible to miss. When your professor seems to really stress something, write it down!


Don’t be discouraged if it takes you a bit of time to adjust to learning in larger classes. Like everything in life, it can take a bit of time to get used to the change – and there can even be an adjustment period every semester. Take time to figure out what works best for you, and always remember you aren’t the only one figuring things out as you go!