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The Importance of Critical Thinking to Your Study Skills

How to Study in Prep for a Lecture

You get so much more out of any class – whether it’s a lecture, seminar, tutorial or workshop, or any group learning situation – if you put in a little study preparation beforehand. For most lectures, you receive some preparatory reading to get you ready.

If you’ve planned ahead, you’ve reserved the texts from the library, perhaps to share with fellow students, and used the title of the forthcoming session to suggest some questions that you want the group or the texts to answer.

It really is good to talk with your fellow students, because that sets up more networks in the brain than reading and writing alone. You can share the reading, with everyone reading a different text. Organise a pre-lecture chat with fellow students or a mentor and report back on the text you read. Even if the chat is ten minutes in the pub the night before, it prepares the ground.

Important questions to consider can include:

  • What do I know about this already?

  • How does it relate to the previous lecture and/or the next?

  • Is it mainly factual, concerning events, research or experiments?

  • Is it about theoretical viewpoints or perceptions?

  • What do I need to take away from the lecture – a general understanding of principles or concepts, how something works, or detailed and specific information about an event?

  • Can I obtain the same information without attending the lecture?

You need to note the answers to these questions and the views from your discussions with your fellow students in your learner diary so that you can compare them to your reactions after the lecture. Your diary is an important account of your development, where you were and what you learned.

It also tells you a lot about your own work habits and favourite methods, which can be very helpful if at some future time you need guidance. Favourite questions at job interviews are about self-knowledge of strengths, weaknesses, ways of working and so on. Your learner diary tells you all about these, provides you with examples and gives you the chance to respond in a much more confident way.

The first question in the list is worth pondering before launching into reading, because it sets up a framework. If, for example, you studied the same subject at an earlier stage in your education, it may be that you now have to consider the issue from a different perspective or in more detail. Use what you already know as a good basis on which to graft new knowledge.

It is foolhardy to miss a lecture because you feel you already know a lot about the subject. The way a lecturer links material to other topics, or the new perspective he brings to the topic can change your ways of thinking about it. These new angles may be difficult to find elsewhere. Fifty minutes or so attending a lecture may be time well spent.

The second question encourages you to think about the overall objective of a series of lectures and how the parts are linked. It also encourages you to make your own links. If links aren’t clear this is definitely something to check out with fellow students before the lecture, if possible. If they too are unclear about the rationale, then ask your tutor for an explanation.

For the most part, lectures are mainly about theoretical models, experiments or abstract concepts, their internal logic, how they came about and some evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses, or about very important events, their causes and their impact on later events – with various opinions and evaluations of this.

In both cases different opinions and evaluations – the academic arguments – are the aspects of the lecture most difficult to find elsewhere in the same form. Your subject tutor can summarise these for you and name sources (that you can read in depth later).

However, the summary and views the tutor provides merely set a framework for comparing other views – including your own – agreeing or disagreeing and looking at more evidence or better ways of approaching issues and better theorising. This framework provides a set of tools and examples, a starting off point for your consideration, a stepping-stone, but is certainly not an end in itself.

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