“College is not the same as school.” Those of you joining us in Trinity College will have heard this many, many times by now. Most people find this to be an obvious statement, as some of the differences are very noticeable. You don’t have to go to lectures, you don’t have to take notes or read books, you don’t have to do homework and no-one is stopping you if you want to stay out until 4am after what was meant to be “one quick drink”. However, now that the thrill of Freshers’ Week has worn off, many new college-goers are often left uncertain of the important, unwritten rules that no-one tells you about.
Often in college, regardless of previous experience, the question “Should I…?” has no single right answer, and responses vary drastically depending on who you ask. But there are some things to consider before you decide whether to go to lectures. These are based mainly on my experience in studying science, but most of the points apply across the board.
Due to the advent of new technology, lecture notes are now posted online, making it seem that getting up at 9am on Monday for that lecture is no longer necessary. However, looking back on slides without knowing what point the lecturer was trying to make with them often leads to an huge amount of time spent flicking through books in the study period before exams, trying to understand what the images and small points have to do with one another and why they’re in that order. This is because what a lecturer wants you to know is usually not a summarised transcript of the book you’re reading. In truth, they may pick and choose segments from different texts or chapters, rearrange topics and purposely leave out details they find irrelevant and don’t plan to examine. Going to the lecture ensures that you will understand its layout, and this will save yourself a lot of time in the long run.
Lecturers post their slideshows online to prevent your hand falling off from frantically try to write down everything and anything you see on screen, in addition to transcribing the lecture’s comments verbatim. Knowing the slides are online means you can pay more attention to what is said in the lecture, which often includes important examples not covered in the slides. You will almost certainly be expected to know these points in the exam, and even if you are not, referencing something not on the slides always looks good in an answer. In addition, listening to a lecturer explain a concept is not only helpful for understanding it, but often can help you gauge how much you need to know about it based on the time a lecturer gives it. And for those few lectures who have yet to enter the new age, and don’t post the notes online at all, my best advice is to take an extra shot of coffee that morning and bring spare pens.
While there is a strong argument for going to lectures, it’s not always black and white. In most cases, you aren’t penalised if you don’t go and if you are very tired, hung-over or ill (some will spend their entire college lives in one of these states), you may be better off not going. If you have an early lecture, and you know that you are so tired and/or hung-over that you’ll pay no attention and take no notes, then it may be worth staying in bed. If missing an early morning lecture means you will be able to stay awake for the rest of your lectures that day, then it is probably the better option. Likewise, if you’re ill, it’s likely you won’t be able to give your full attention, but you risk spreading your hitchhiking pathogens around the class. Lecturers will often recommend you stay at home for a day or two in this case, but missing more than a few days requires a doctor’s note, which you must make sure to bring with you on the day of your return. This is extremely important if you miss labs, as absence without a certificate can lead to you being failing the module and having to repeat.
But what if you go to the lecture and you find your attention firmly fixated on everything that isn’t related to the topic at hand? If you feel you can take some notes or absorb the general context of the lecture while playing Angry Birds, then it’s worth staying. However, if you are getting into a deep discussion about last night with your neighbour, it might be better to leave. You’re obviously not taking anything in and you can talk more openly outside (“She did not!”). And if you stay you risk being called out in front of the class by the lecturer, or just irritating those around you, neither of which are very pleasant for everyone involved.
Overall, lectures are at the heart of your course, they’re interesting and very helpful, so try to go as often as possible, but don’t force yourself to go to a lecture you won’t get anything from – your time will almost certainly be better spent elsewhere, be it the library or Insomnia.