Listening Strategies for College Students

There is a big difference between hearing a lecture and listening to it.
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In a college or university lecture, it is very easy to slip into what is called passive listening, in which you absorb very little information from what is being said. Those students who pay the most attention are called active listeners. Developing good listening strategies will help any student understand and utilize important information, which helps him both in the classroom and beyond it.

1 Include Other Senses

One of the best ways to maintain focus and be an active listener is to include other senses, particularly sight, in the note-taking experience. For example, if the professor includes slides or pictures in a presentation, don’t just focus on the words the professor is saying. Let your eyes focus on the slide at hand as the two senses working together will help your brain make connections with the received information. Don’t just tell yourself, “I’ll download the presentation notes later” because it is the process of writing itself that helps you listen and understand what’s being said.

2 Ask Mental Questions

You can also ask yourself mental questions about the information while you are listening. For example, how is this fitting in with the course? What are some key points the professor is making? If you could rewrite this lecture into a narrative or story, what would the plot points be? Finding where new material fits with what you already know improves understanding and helps you retain the new knowledge.

3 Provide Feedback

Our personal assumptions can skew how we perceive a lecture, so deferring judgement and providing feedback can be very helpful in absorbing the correct information. If the environment permits, ask the professor clarifying questions about the information, or simply summarize what is being said in order to make sure you are understanding correctly. Don’t be afraid to point out a connection with previously learned material.

4 Show Active Listening

One of the best ways to maintain active listening is by demonstrating active listening. Sit up straight, and adjust your posture so that you are not slouching in the chair. Nod, raise your eyebrows, or demonstrate other facial cues as the lecture continues. Work on maintaining eye contact with your professor. This way you can stay involved and see the professor’s own participation in the lecture.

Gale Marie Thompson's work has been published in "Denver Quarterly," "Los Angeles Review" and "Best New Poets 2012." Thompson holds a BA in English and creative writing from the College of Charleston, a MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is working on a PhD at the University of Georgia.