Getting the most out of lectures and seminars

Author
Emma Knowles, Editorial assistant
Posted
August, 2017

Lectures and seminars are a fundamental part of undergraduate life. Find out what they involve and how to make the most of this valuable contact time

What are lectures and seminars?

Lectures are where you'll be introduced to the main topics on your course. For many degree courses, this involves up to three hours of teaching per module, per week, split across one or two sessions. They involve very little direct interaction between lecturer and student - often based around a slideshow presentation, lectures are given to large groups of students in a theatre setting.

Attendance at lectures is usually compulsory and, for some courses, vital in completing a module. Although presentation-led lectures may be uploaded online afterwards, you'll gain a much better understanding of the content by attending and having it explained to you.

Seminars are the interactive accompaniment to lectures. In a more relaxed setting, you'll be encouraged to apply your knowledge of the lecture content and additional reading to complete group work, participate in discussions and ask your tutor questions.

These sessions are held in smaller groups, typically in a classroom. For each module you'll be required to attend an hour's seminar per week to consolidate and evaluate the lecture material.

How should I prepare for lectures?

The academic achievement advisers at the University of Roehampton all agree that preparation for lectures is the key to a successful degree. Being well-prepared will empower to contribute, and help you to avoid feeling lost and overwhelmed, says Sarah Taylor-Harman.

This includes knowing exactly where and when your lectures will be. 'Get in the habit of checking your university email account in advance of sessions,' she says. 'Your lecturers will use this mode of communication to let you know about any additional preparation, as well as to notify you of room changes, rescheduling and cancellations. It's a good idea to send push notifications to your smart phone if you have one.'

By doing the preliminary reading for your lectures, you'll feel far more confident discussing ideas and theories

It's not just the advisers at Roehampton who recommend heading to lectures well-prepared, but the students too - Carys Woods, English Literature and History graduate, says that 'by checking and doing the preliminary reading for your lectures beforehand, you'll feel far more confident when discussing ideas and theories. You will already have thoughts about the content, and questions you'd like to ask about it.'

While it's essential to complete this preparation to get the most out of the lecture, it might do you more harm than good to carry out your own further reading. 'Don't look into the lecture topic too much beforehand, as your reading might differ from what your lecturer says is important,' University of Roehampton Creative Writing graduate Corinna Miller advises. 'Go in to your lectures with an open mind.'

How should I act during lectures?

While it's tempting, don't try to write down everything that's said - you may miss out on important information while writing down something minor. Lecturers will more often than not provide handouts or upload presentation slides online after the lecture, so spend the session listening to as much as you can and jotting down only the most important words and phrases.

If you miss or don't understand something, you're probably not alone. Lectures are designed to introduce topics and provide new information, which can be a lot to take in - don't hesitate to ask questions if the opportunity arises. Alternatively, your lecturers will be happy to stay behind after the lecture - or arrange a meeting on another day - to discuss anything you're struggling with.

To get the most out of your lectures, it's important to act respectfully. While it's good to have friends on your course, use your contact hours wisely and don't become side-tracked - stay focused on what you're being taught. Even making small changes to your behaviour, such as sitting in the front row, can help you to concentrate. 'You're more likely to catch everything in the lecture instead of being distracted by those in the rows in front or by latecomers,' says Roehampton academic achievement adviser Mary Henderson.

How should I prepare for seminars?

First and foremost, attend your lectures. You'll struggle to participate in your seminars or understand discussion topics without receiving the information in the first place.

Revisit your notes after the lecture. You'll be able to collect your thoughts, identify areas you'd like to go over in the seminar and prepare questions to ask, while the content is still fresh in your mind. 'Make succinct notes and colour code them,' suggests Carys. 'Not only will you be creating revision materials, but you'll remember the information better because you'll have grouped it into relevant areas.'

You'll be assigned additional reading and tasks to complete ahead of the seminar which, as well as your existing lecture notes, count towards your seminar preparation. These materials will include a variety of thoughts and opinions around a particular topic, and are designed to engage your critical thinking skills, as well as go further into the concepts you'll have been taught in your lectures.

How should I act during seminars?

As seminars are held with the aim of kick-starting discussions, it's important to be vocal and raise any interesting points or thoughts you have - participation is key to making these sessions worthwhile.

Try not to feel nervous about speaking up or being put on the spot - the relaxed seminar environment is designed to boost your confidence and ultimately enhance your learning. By getting involved, you'll enrich your understanding of the content and may even learn something new from hearing the different perspectives of your classmates. 'Break the ice with your peers and say hello,' says Mary. 'Everyone's feeling nervous.'

As you would after a lecture, you should revisit your seminar notes while you're still switched on. Adding any thought-provoking points that were raised in discussion to your existing lecture notes will come in handy for giving your future assignments some more depth, and generally improving your understanding of the topic.

Find out more