"Eighty percent of success is showing up."
- Woody Allen, actor and comedian
It's no secret, you may not always want to go to class. You may have required classes that you find difficult or don’t enjoy, or you may feel overwhelmed by other commitments or feel tired if they have early morning classes. However, even if instructors allow a certain number of unexcused absences, you should aim to attend every class session. Class attendance enhances class performance in the following ways.
If you don’t attend class, you can’t participate in class activities. Class activities are usually part of your final grade, and they can help you apply concepts you learn from lectures and reading assignments.
If you rely on learning on your own (by doing the reading assignments outside of class, for example), you’ll miss out on class discussions with fellow students. Your classmates will often have the same questions as you, so going to class enables you to learn from them and ask your instructor about topics you all find difficult.
There is a reason why classes are taught by instructors. Instructors specialize in the subjects they teach, and they can provide extra insight and perspective on the material you’re studying. Going to class gives you the chance to take notes and ask questions about the lectures. Also, the more you participate, the more your instructors will come to know you and be aware of any help or support you might need. This will make you feel more comfortable to approach them outside of class if you need advice or are struggling with the course material.
Even though you will typically spend more time on coursework outside of the classroom, this makes class sessions even more valuable. Typically, in-class time will be devoted to the most challenging or key concepts covered in your textbooks. It’s important to know what these are so you can master them—also they’re likely to show up on exams.
The following video addresses the idea of going to class from a real-world perspective, focusing on the opportunity cost for each class session attended or missed.
Class attendance is obviously important for academic success, but from time to time you may need to miss a class. Sometimes it can’t be helped. Since college classes have fewer sessions than high school, missing one class means missing more work. The following strategies can help you minimize the academic impact when can’t attend a class.
Although nobody can plan to be sick, students should give their instructors advanced notice if they know they will need to miss class for something like a doctor’s appointment. This is not only respectful to the instructor, but he or she may be able to give you any handouts or assignments that you might otherwise miss. If you anticipate that class will be canceled on account of bad weather, etc., make sure you have all the materials, notes, etc. that you need to work at home. In college, “snow days” are rarely “free days”—i.e., expect that you will be responsible for all the work due on those days when school reopens.
Ask to borrow class notes from one or two classmates who are reliable note takers. Be sure to also ask them about any announcements or assignments the instructor made during the class you missed.
Take notes on any readings to be discussed in the class you missed. If you have questions on the reading or homework, seek help from your classmates. Completing the homework and coming prepared for the next session will demonstrate to your instructor that you are still dedicated to the class.
Physically showing up to class is important (especially if attendance is taken), but what you do once you’re there is equally important. Getting the most out of class time involves listening effectively, which means more than simply hearing what your instructors say. Effective listening involves engaging with the speaker and the material you hear in an active way.
To maximize the benefit you get from attending class, try to use the following active listening skills:
Restating what you hear is a powerful strategy for being an active listener, but it’s obviously impractical in a roomful of other students. That’s why taking notes is so important. Think of it as a “silent” way to restate what you’re taking in. Focus on capturing the key ideas and on paraphrasing what you hear (rather than writing things down verbatim). Putting ideas into your own words will deepen your understanding and strengthen your ability to recall the information later.
Preparing ahead of time will also make listening more useful and engaging. Do any assigned reading before coming to class, using effective reading strategies discussed elsewhere in this course.
Listening is a skill that can (and should) be developed. The following video addresses the importance of listening.
Like listening, participating in class will help you get more out of class. It may also help you stand out as a student. Instructors notice the students who participate in class (and those who don’t), and participation is often a component of the final grade. “Participation” may include contributing to discussions, class activities, or projects. It means being actively involved. The following are some strategies for effective participation:
Although most students have classmates they prefer to work with, they should be willing to collaborate in different types of groups. Teamwork demonstrates that a student can adapt to and learn in different situations.
Some students speak up in class repeatedly if they know that participation is part of their grade. Although there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, it’s a good practice to focus on quality vs. quantity. For instance, a quieter student who raises her hand only twice during a discussion but provides thoughtful comments might be more noticeable to an instructor than a student who chimes in with everything that’s said.
As with listening, effective participation relies on coming to class prepared. Students should complete all reading assignments beforehand and also review any notes from the previous meeting. This way they can come to class ready to discuss and engage. Be sure to write down any questions or comments you have—this is an especially good strategy for quieter students or those who need practice thinking on their fee.
The resource Class Participation: More Than Just Raising Your Hand (PDF) can help you evaluate what you need to work on in order to participate in class more effectively.
Effective note-taking helps students retain what they learned in class so that they can use the material to study and build their knowledge and tackle more complex concepts later on. In fact, research indicates that there’s a 34 percent chance that students will remember key information if it’s present in their notes but only a 5 percent chance if it’s not. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer to write brief summaries or make visual guides and diagrams in your notes. The important thing is to find a note-taking strategy that works for you. The following are a few recommendations to try out.
Keep your notes and handouts separate for each class. For example, you might have a different notebook and folder for each class, or a large notebook with a different tab for each class. This will save you the time of trying to organize and locate your notes when studying for an exam.
Try highlighting, underlining, or drawing arrows or exclamation points next to any main or difficult concepts. This will call attention to these sections and remind you to spend more time reviewing them.
Grouping or “chunking” material is a good way to make studying and memorization easier. You can try drawing the main concept and connecting it to smaller, related concepts or making an outline of the information. Either one can serve as an effective study guide.
Some people have messy handwriting. However, writing as clearly as possible when you take notes will make it easier to review them later. It’s also helpful if you’re asked to share your notes with another student who missed class. If laptop use is permitted during class, you can also type your notes.
Developed and shared by Lumen Learning, adapted for NIU by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning.