How to Prepare for Class

We often don’t think about preparing for class as being a part of the learning process, but studies have shown that a few simple habits can have a lasting impact on your experience.

Below are some helpful tips on how best to prepare for class:

Arrive early.

Try to arrive early for class, at least a few minutes before it begins. Many professors arrive ahead of time to chat with students, but even if they do not, you can review class materials to put you in the right mindset to begin learning as soon as class gets going. 

Another way to get in the right mindset for class is to use the travel time between classes to mentally prepare for the class you are headed to. So put your courses into your calendar with a free 10- to 15-minute block ahead of their start, so you are not in a rush and can instead take advantage of that travel time.

Review what has been covered.

Whether you’re attending lecture or section, looking over the material from previous classes or relevant readings can help you prepare to learn. This is best done right ahead of class, but even preparation the night before will go a long way toward helping you get the most out of class time.

Anticipate what’s coming.

Before class, try to think about what’s likely to happen in the lecture or section you’re attending. Will a particular topic be covered? Are you expected to contribute to a discussion? Will you need to have command over some set of readings? If you have readings to complete, but aren’t sure how to approach them ahead of hearing the professor’s take on them, here are some tips: 

  • Read the title and chapter objectives. Skipping the title and chapter objectives can be detrimental. It’s virtually impossible to process information when you have no overarching framework to apply it to.
  • Read the chapter summary. The summary combined with the information on the title page can act as a movie preview, creating intrigue and providing a bit of familiarity with the concepts.
  • Skim the chapter by reading subheadings and viewing the content under those subheadings. Begin applying what you see within the text and images to what you already know.
  • Identify vocabulary that you’re unfamiliar with so that you’re not intimidated when you hear the same term(s) again in lecture. Also, be sure to note questions that arise during the pre-lecture prep.

Assess your understanding.

As part of your preparation for class, try to assess your understanding of course material. Are there questions you have about the material? Things you’re still confused about? Bring this confusion to class, and use the time to clarify things you don’t understand. For more information, visit the ARC webpage on Assessing Your Understanding.

Formulate your questions and comments.

If you’re going into a class where you can participate actively, try to have your questions or comments ready ahead of time. You may not be able to ask all your questions or contribute with the comments you bring, but you’re more likely to engage actively if you come prepared with these things. 

Come organized (or at least look like it!).

Make sure you have everything you need for class with you when it starts. You don’t want to be looking for readings that you haven’t pulled up on your desktop or have everyone flipping to a particular page in a text you don’t have on hand. Try to appear awake and alert during class, since this will actually help you be more alert and awake, thus, making better use of your time in the classroom!

If you have specific questions or needs related to your in-class experience, you can meet with an Academic Coach to talk it through. No matter where you are in your Harvard education, it’s possible to improve your learning practices. The ARC is here to help you do it!

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