Before I tell you how to prepare for university lectures and tutorials, let me explain what these terms mean because there's a lot of different ones knocking about e.g. tutorial, lecture, seminar, workshop…etc.
A lecture tends to be a one-sided class where you and your fellow students will sit and take notes while a lecturer talks about a specific topic or gives a presentation. This class is information heavy so note-taking is essential and there may be little to no time to ask questions.
Aside from independent self-study, lectures are the main method for your university to teach you the necessary material. This type of class may also be called a seminar or presentation.
A tutorial, sometimes called a workshop, is a more hands-on class where discussion is expected. They may be based on lecture topics and could include group work, Q&A sessions, presentations or activities. You will often be asked to prepare for these classes by completing pre-reading or research.
Office hours are informal sessions your tutor may provide where you can drop in and ask your tutor for specific help. Some universities may instead wish you to make appointments to see your tutor.
I want to caveat these descriptions by saying that these terms will likely vary between universities and colleges so be sure to work out the format and aims of YOUR classes.
Someone studying at a traditional university with face-to-face teaching will probably experience the majority of these different types of classes, and maybe more. Distance or online learning students mainly learn through self-study but they may also have tutorial-type online classes and either online office hours or be told to email their tutor when they need help.
It’s obviously important to attend any lecture where you’re being taught new material as it’s your knowledge of this material that will be tested in your essays and exams. Tutorials or workshops allow you to deepen your knowledge of the material through discussion and activities, and they allow you to troubleshoot any issues you have by asking your tutor questions.
Successful students prepare for university lectures and tutorials because they know they’ll get A LOT more out of them.
Here’s why you should prepare for university lectures and tutorials:
- You might miss key points if you spend the entire time trying to digest and take notes on brand new material
- You can ask intelligent questions rather than questions already answered later in the material
- You will deepen your understanding and improve your recall by going over material that’s familiar
- In tutorials you will have more opportunity to engage with your tutor and fellow students as you’re not purely in absorption-mode.
I remember being told by a tutor that, on average, the students who attended her tutorials achieved 10% higher grades than those who didn’t – that’s a lot! So, even if you feel like you don’t have enough time to prepare for tutorials and lectures, you will get a lot more value out of your time in class if you do.
4 ways you can prepare for university lectures and tutorials
1. Understand the aims or topic of the class
You want to find out what the point of your tutorial or lecture is – what will you have gained by the end of it? For a lecture it may be new information and for a tutorial it may be deeper understanding of familiar material, guidance for your next assignment, or help with a confusing concept.
If it’s not clear, ask your tutor what topics will be covered in the class so you can see where this fits within your overall syllabus.
2. Do the prep work
For a tutorial or workshop you might be asked to complete activities or read and take notes on some readings you will then delve into in class. For a lecture you might also be asked to do some background reading related to the subject of the class.
These tasks will help you get a base understanding of the subjects which leaves you to spend the class deepening and synthesising your knowledge – which is gonna help you ace your essays and exams.
When you’re going through the pre-reading, make note of any ideas that confuse you. Then, you can either ask your tutor a question about this if the class is a tutorial, or if the class is a lecture you can stay late to ask your question or make sure you’re paying attention when this idea is brought up in the talk.
3. Bring everything you might need
Check what you need to bring to each lecture or tutorial such as printouts of readings, textbooks, your notes, answers to pre-questions…etc.
4. Check your study plan
Look at your study plan or syllabus and check what due dates you have coming up just after your tutorial or lecture. Maybe you have an essay due a week later with the same subject as the subject of the class. If so, then spend ten minutes looking over your essay question to see if you understand it.
If you have questions – bring them to the class and either ask them directly or listen up to see if the material delivered gives you more understanding.
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