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Getting the most out of lectures


Have you ever had difficulty following a lecture? If you have, you're not alone. Learning to understand how lectures are structured and picking out the main points can be a challenge. 

In their book How to Study in College, Walter Pauk and Ross J. Q. Owens cite a study where researchers analyzed about 50 college lectures in introductory courses in the social sciences and humanities. They discovered that most of these lectures could be categorized into five basic patterns (or a combination thereof). 

The five patterns they found were:
  1. Topic-List: gives a principle or general statement, then provides the supporting details
  2. Time-Order: gives events in chronological order
  3. Compare-Contrast: illustrates the differences and similarities between two themes
  4. Cause-Effect: identifies events or phenomena and what caused them or resulted from them
  5. Problem-Solution: pinpoints a problem, then provides one or more solutions

The structure of many lectures can fall into one or more of these categories. Once you identify the structure of the lecture, it will be more clear to you what subjects are important, and it will be easier to take notes. Though it may be difficult at first to identify the type of lecture you are listening to, you can develop the skills that you need to be able to do so. 

In order to develop these skills, take advantage of outlines and lecture slides that are provided before and during class. Most of the time, professors will tell you at the beginning of class or in the syllabus the topics that are to be discussed that day. If you can't figure it out before or during class, try to identify after class what the lecture structure was. By paying attention to these patterns, you will be able to listen and take notes more effectively.

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