Whenever I went on college tours, the tour guide always mentioned those terrifyingly large freshmen classes—ones with 300-500 students packed into a lecture hall that could all but too easily be mistaken for an auditorium. The overall opinion was that they were inevitable and fairly difficult, especially to the unsuspecting freshman. Junior year in high school me thought that was ridiculous and that they were over exaggerating. Update: they were not.
During my first semester in college, I ended up having all large classes, even my smallest class, a biology lab, had 60+ students in it. I was literally one among thousands of students when coupled with the other classes my professors taught. Needless to say, it was easy to go unnoticed in classes like that. And yes, some of my professors tried to combat that with clicker questions and spontaneous attendance quizzes, but at the end of the day, doing well in classes that large ultimately fell upon how much work I wanted to put into them.
This was also a huge adjustment for me, as I was coming from a high school with about 100 graduating students and classes of seven to 20 students. I had a ton of personal attention and assistance if I needed it. Teachers gave us their cell phone numbers and were available to us before and after school. In college, the professors had limited office hours and availability through emailing. I once had to walk with a professor to his car to get some clarification about a lecture, because he frankly wanted to get home that day, and I was the last student to be seen during his office hours.
So, if you’re like me and totally not sure how to handle large lecture-based classes, here’s some tips and tricks, so you don’t find yourself three exams in and praying for a miracle curve on the final.
This is super obvious, I know. You probably haven’t missed many days in high school, but college is different. You might only have a couple of classes every couple of days, and it’s really easy to just hit the snooze button a little too much for those 8AM classes. I also found that I assumed I could read the powerpoint slides or copy notes from someone else and be fine. Don’t do that. You (probably) won’t be.
Attending class regularly also gives you the opportunity to stand out to your professors more. Talk to them after their lectures about any points you’re confused about or ask for tips on how to properly study for their classes. Professors understand that large classes are a difficult thing to handle at first and are more than willing to help you if you ask for it.
Sit in the front.
The people who sit in the front just tend to better. Since so many of exam questions tend to come from the lectures in lecture-based classes, it’s important to take good notes and pay attention. Sitting in the front (and center) of the room gives you better vision of the professor, whatever blackboard or screen is in the room, and lets you hear more clearly. There’s also the added bonus of not having to look at other students’ laptop screens or phones, which are huge distractions and temptations.
Whether you choose to take notes on a laptop or with a notebook, make sure you’re focused on the information presented. If you’re using a laptop, close out everything and anything that doesn’t have to do with your lecture. A couple of my professors actually followed strict no cell phone policies, and I really did notice a jump in my retention span for those lectures.
Star any information you’re unclear with and try to read the book before class. It really helps with shorthanding notes later. I also found that recording lectures was really helpful when studying. It’s easy to get distracted in such a large class (since there’s less accountability), so having a recording of the lecture to play back when studying is a lifesaver!
Talk to the professor and TAs.
One of the most underutilized resources is the person teaching the class. They have office hours, email addresses, and TAs for a reason. Going to their office hours is a great way to ask questions about the lectures, review tests and papers, and get advice on your major or path in general. Professors to such large classes just don’t have the time or resources to reach out to every student, so it’s up to you to get the help and guidance you need.
Network with other students.
At least, get three people’s numbers from each class, regardless of its size. If you have to miss a day, they’re great resources for notes and recordings. If you’re confused, you can send them a quick text and see if they can help you out. You can also review for tests with them. It can really help cement information when you talk it through with someone else. Large lecture-based classes can feel isolating, so make sure you make the effort and find a few friends (or at least classmates) in each class.