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Lectures and note-taking

The simple truth may hurt, but showing up to your lectures should be the beginning of your study. We used to say that lectures were the way to go, however, we accept now that this is not a style of learning that suits everyone. There are benefits and costs to all decisions, so these must be weighed:

  • Pros
    • Know you have at least been exposed to any material
    • Some people find them an effective approach for learning
    • Hints about what will be on the exams
    • Can be enjoyable social events
    • Respectful to the lecturers
    • Low effort approach
    • Ideal for first time students who don’t know much about the topic
  • Cons
    • Demonstrated as an inefficient style of learning
    • Pretty much all content covered will be streamed so you can listen at home at your own speed, it can feel confusing and the material can be poorly paced
    • You won’t have hundreds of other students coughing on you
    • Most content you can make up for if you miss in books (like ours) or youtube
    • Most people are not self-disciplined enough to get much out of self-directed learning

FYI, not all lectures are this good:

There will be a bunch of other considerations also, but generally we would recommend it for first time students, partly for the experience, and then to try it compared to your own study approaches. It is hard to know unless you have been there, so we would recommend going. Don’t just take a friend’s advice who says not to attend class because they did not like them, go and see for yourself.

What to look for in a lecture

Thank goodness for objective based learning. The lecturers actually have to put down on paper what they expect you to learn from a class, and teach around those points – at least in theory. Some have not really cottoned on to the idea, and include irrelevant detail, but quite a few put down some useful points. These lecture objectives are a useful thing to base your learning around because they should be based on the most important principles. You should be able to walk away from a lecture and think about it – ‘hmm, yeah, the three key points from that lecture were…’ This is an excellent skill to try to foster in the early years of university study, and having a few key ideas is a great basis for you to build your other learning about (see more on the research on learning post).


Some people learn a fair bit by writing lots (and it forces you to pay attention), but many just take simple notes. Often they just add theses to the printed lecture slides (if the lecturer was good enough to upload them in time), and condensing ideas down so they are simple. Most people will not go through highly dense lecture notes which do not make a whole lot of sense, and especially in subjects where you have access to resources like our Human Body 1 & 2, you may find that taking shorter notes is a better call. If you have questions about the material, then ask yourself firstly ‘how important is this? how does this fit in to the big picture?’ and if you think it is a point worth pursuing, then read up about it.

  • Go to class. Really.
  • Take notes
  • Review our other points on learning
  • Look at the objectives, base your pre-reading and post-reading on those


There is limited time in health science, and in life, generally. So, you want to make sure that you’re not wasting it. Each lecturer will vary in how much effort they are prepared to put in to make a good lesson, give appropriate readings, etc. If you find that the pre-readings for one area are not helping you along in learning an area, then don’t do them. As a rule, we would recommend erring on the side of caution and doing all pre-readings for the first few weeks, just so you can see how it fits in to your schedule, how long it takes, how useful it is, how variable the whole process is. We would highly recommend reading ahead in our books (The Human Body 1 and 2) so you can get a feel for the amount of knowledge, ideas in the course, etc.

  • Do pre-reading, see if it’s worthwhile
  • The whole process is really variable, some of the stuff is interesting but irrelevant, some is gold
  • We think our books are a pretty good, so have a look at those

How to study continued

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