39 Why Go to Class?

David Evans


What you’ll learn to do: understand the importance of class attendance and how to get the most from class time

Photo of a lecture hall filled with students.

Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.

—Miles Davis, musician

By the end of this section, you will be able to explain why regular class attendance class is important and identify strategies for obtaining content from a class you missed. You will also be able to identify effective listening and participation strategies. You will compare different note-taking strategies and assess which one is most effective for you. In addition, you will evaluate different teaching styles and how your personal learning style fits with each.

Why Go To Class?

Learning Outcomes

  • Explain why regular class attendance class is important

What is attendance?

Attendance is being present in class, and depending whether you’re taking a class online, in-person, or a combination of both, your teacher will give you information on how this is measured on your syllabus or you may be able to find the information in your college handbook. For example, the Student Handbook of Ivy Tech in Indiana, defines “attendance” as the following:

Regular attendance is expected at scheduled class meetings or other activities assigned as part of a course of instruction.

  • Attendance records are kept by instructors.
  • When personal circumstances make it impossible to attend scheduled classes and activities, the college expects students to confer with instructors in advance.
  • Instructors can offer students the option of making up the material missed.
  • Absences may be considered by instructors in awarding grades.[1]

As you can see from this list, your attendance is important. Even if instructors allow a certain number of unexcused absences, you should still aim to attend every class session. Please ensure that you read the syllabus of each course, as Professors weigh the importance of attendance differently.

What happens in class that helps your learning?

You might wonder why it’s important to measure a student’s attendance. Class attendance enhances class performance in the following ways:

  • Engaging as a class participant: 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.
  • Building community: Your interactions with your peers and the teacher is important. 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 to ask your instructor about topics you find difficult.
  • Benefiting from interacting with the instructor: 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. Getting to know your instructors will make you feel more comfortable to approach them outside of class if you need advice or are struggling with the course material.
  • Increasing your learning: Even though you will typically spend more time on coursework outside of the classroom, this time outside of class 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 concepts are so you can master them—also they’re likely to show up on exams.

What to do If You Need to Miss a Class?

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify strategies for obtaining content from a class you missed

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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 you could fall behind in the course. If you have to miss class, then it’s up to you to make sure you get the information that you need to make up for not being there.

The following strategies can help you minimize the academic impact when you can’t attend a face-to-face class or an online meeting:

  • Make a plan: 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 notice is not only a respectful courtesy; the teacher 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.
  • Talk to fellow students: 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. Some students will exchange phone numbers so they can text one another if they miss class. Whenever you are in a group, try to network with your fellow students so you can support one another should an emergency prevent you from being in class.
  • Complete the homework. Even if you have advance notice that you won’t be able to attend the class, complete the homework as if you were. 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. You will also not fall behind and stay current in the course.
  • Watch or listen to the recording: If you missed an online meeting, be sure to listen and watch the recording (if one was created). Be sure to connect with your teacher and/or a fellow student if you have any questions.

Listening and Participating

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify effective listening and participation strategies

student reading a laptop while petting a dog

Effective Listening Strategies

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:

  • focus your full attention on the speaker
  • ask questions, either out loud or internally, in response to what is being said
  • paraphrase ideas in notes
  • listen non-judgmentally
  • show empathy for the speaker

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. Effective listening skills start outside of the classroom with the students coming prepared with questions and comments.

Listening as an Online Student

It can really tempting to multi-task or scroll social media while you are attending an online class. Resist this temptation and stay present. You can take notes and engage with the class if you are meeting online. The most important thing you can do is focus your attention so that you’re engaging as much as possible with the meeting. Wearing headphones may reduce your other distractions as well.

The Power of Listening

Why is listening important to learning? Listening is a skill that can and should be developed. This video addresses the importance of listening. Pay attention to areas where the speaker gives examples from other scholars and thinkers about the power of listening.

You can view the transcript for “The Power of Listening – An Ancient Practice for Our Future: Leon Berg at TEDxRedondoBeach” here (opens in new window).

Effective Participation Strategies

Like listening, participating in class will help you get more out of class. Participation may include contributing to discussions, class activities, or projects. It means being actively involved in some way. This is especially important in your Student Life Skills (SLS) course as there are multiple activities and projects that will require the use of teamwork and cooperation. The following are some strategies for effective participation:

  • Become a team player: 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.
  • Share meaningful questions and comments: 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 practice, it’s a good practice to focus on quality versus 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.
  • Be prepared: 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—writing is an especially good strategy for quieter students or those who need practice thinking on their feet.

The resource Class Participation: More Than Just Raising Your Hand can help you evaluate what you need to work on in order to participate in class more effectively.


Learning Outcomes

  • Compare different note-taking strategies

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.[2] 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:

  • Stay organized: 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.
  • Use visual cues: 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.
  • Group together similar concepts: 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.
  • Make notes legible: 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.

Take Notes To Remember

If for no other reason, you should take notes during class so that you do not forget valuable and important information. Despite living with incredible search engines on computers and smart phones that give us a plethora of information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, students do not have the ability to access those during exams. Instructors want to know what you know not what Google knows. We’ve become accustomed to searching for information on demand to find what we need when we need it. The consequence is that we don’t often commit information to memory because we know it will be there tomorrow if we wish to search for it again. This causes challenges with preparation for exams as what we’re tested on is in our brain rather than information we can search for. Thus, there is an importance of taking notes. “Note-taking facilitates both recall of factual material and the synthesis and application of new knowledge, particularly when notes are reviewed prior to exams.”

The first step in being able to review is to take notes when you are originally learning the information. Students who do not take notes in class in the first place will not be able to recall all of the information covered in order to best review.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell refers to the “10,000-hour rule.” Based on research by Anders Ericsson, the rule states that 10,000 hours of dedicated practice in your particular field will allow for the greatest potential of mastery. I do not expect you to practice taking notes for 10,000 hours, but the point is that practice, just like many things, is necessary to become more skilled.

Some instructors will give you cues to let you know something is important. If you hear or see one of these cues, it’s something you should write down. This might include an instructor saying, “this is important,” or “this will be covered on the exam.” If you notice an instructor giving multiple examples, repeating information or spending a lot of time with one idea, these may be cues. Writing on the board or presenting a handout or visual information may also be a cue.

There are many different ways to take notes during lectures and I encourage you to find the way that works best for you. Different systems work best for different people. Experiment in different ways to find the most success.

Tips for Taking Notes During the Lecture

Arrive early and find a good seat. Seats in the front and center are best for being able to see and hear information. A seat at the 50-yard line for the Super Bowl is more expensive for a reason: it gives the spectator the greatest experience.

Do not try to write down everything the instructor talks about. It’s impossible and inefficient. Instead, try to distinguish between the most important topics and ideas and write those down. This is also a skill that students can improve upon. You may wish to ask your instructor during office hours if you have identified the main topics in your notes, or compare your notes to one of your classmates.

Use shorthand and/or abbreviations. So long as you will be able to decipher what you are writing, the least amount of pen or pencil strokes, the better. It will free you up so you can pay more attention to the lecture and help you be able to determine what is most important.

Write down what your instructor writes. Anything on a dry erase board, chalkboard, overhead projector and in some cases in presentations; these are cues for important information.

Leave space to add information to your notes. You can use this space during or after lectures to elaborate on ideas.

Do not write in complete sentences. Do not worry about spelling or punctuation. Getting the important information, concepts and main ideas is much more important. You can always revise your notes later and correct spelling.

Often, the most important information is delivered at the beginning and/or the end of a lecture. Many students arrive late or pack up their belongings and mentally check out a few minutes before the lecture ends. They are missing out on the opportunity to write down valuable information. Keep taking notes until the lecture is complete.

The Cornell System

One way of taking notes in class is using the Cornell System. Created in the 1950s by Walter Pauk at Cornell University, the Cornell System is still widely used today. Perform a web search for “Cornell note taking method.”

The note-taking area is for you to use to record notes during lectures.

Students use the column on the left to create questions after the lecture has ended. The questions are based on the material covered. Think of it as a way to quiz yourself. The notes you took should answer the questions you create.

Tips for after the lecture

Consolidate notes as soon as possible after the lecture has ended. Identify the main ideas and underline or highlight them.

Test yourself by looking only at the questions on the left. If you can provide most of the information on the notes side without looking at it, you’re in good shape. If you cannot, keep studying until you improve your retention. Review periodically as needed to keep the information fresh in your mind.

Students use the bottom area for summarizing information. Practice summarizing information — it’s a great study skill. It allows you to determine how information fits together. It should be written in your own words (don’t use the chapter summary in the textbook to write your summary, but check the chapter summary after you write yours for accuracy).

The Outline Method

Another way to take notes is the outline method. Students use an outline to show the relationship between ideas in the lecture. Outlines can help students separate main ideas from supporting details and show how one topic connects to another.

Perform a web search for “outline note taking method” to see what they look like.

Mind Maps

Visual learners may want to experiment with mind maps (also called clustering). Invented by Tony Buzan in the 1960s, it’s another way of organizing information during lectures. Start with a central idea in the center of the paper (landscape is recommended). Using branches (like a tree), supporting ideas can supplement the main idea. Recall everything you can as the lecture is happening. Reorganization can be done later. Perform a web search for mind maps for note-taking.


The most important aspect of reviewing your lecture notes is when your review takes place in relation to when your notes were taken. For maximum efficiency and retention of memory, it’s best to review within 20 minutes of when the lecture ends. For this reason, I do not advise students to take back-to-back classes without 30 minutes in between. It is important to have adequate review time and to give your brain a break. Reviewing shortly after the lecture will allow you to best highlight or underline main points as well as fill in any missing portions of your notes. Students who take lecture notes on a Monday and then review them for the first time a week later often have challenges recalling information that help make the notes coherent.

If you wish to go “above and beyond,” you may consider discussing your notes in a study group with your classmates, which can give you a different perspective on main points and deepen your understanding of the material. You may also want to make flashcards for yourself with vocabulary terms, formulas, important dates, people, places, etc. Online flash cards are another option. Students can make them for free and test themselves online or on their phone.

The Big Picture

Keep in mind that students who know what their instructor is going to lecture on before the lecture are at an advantage. Why? Because the more they understand about what the instructor will be talking about, the easier it is to take notes. How? Take a look at the syllabus before the lecture. It won’t take much time but it can make a world of difference. You will also be more prepared and be able to see important connections if you read your assigned reading before the lecture. It’s not easy to do, but students that do it will be rewarded. If I have read information assigned before the lecture and know what the lecture will be about, I have best prepared myself for taking notes during the lecture and given myself the greatest potential for understanding relationships between the reading material and the lecture.

Teaching Styles:

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify different teaching styles
Photo of a group of people sitting in a circle of chairs. Many are leaned back in a casual pose.
What type of teaching style do you think this instructor has?

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about you as a student, so let’s turn our attention to teachers. Take a minute to think of your favorite teacher. Maybe you met this person in elementary school. Perhaps your favorite teacher was a coach. Some students will name a manager or a mentor who taught you a lot at work.

Having instructors who teach in different ways helps you become more versatile as learners. In other words, different teaching styles give you the knowledge and skills to work and communicate with a diverse group of people. Variety can be a challenge for students who prefer to learn in specific settings such as online or in-person. However, learning to recognize different teaching styles can help you adjust and be successful.

Below are descriptions of some main teaching styles and how they relate to different learning modes: [3]

  • Authority style: Instructors with an authority style of teaching prefer to give lectures while standing in front of the class, often doing a combination of talking and writing information on the board. Students are expected to listen and take notes.
  • Demonstrator style: Instructors with a demonstrator style of teaching prefer to lecture, but they prefer to show students what they’re explaining, often by using visual aids such as PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and demos.
  • Facilitator style: Instructors with a facilitator style rely heavily on class discussion, asking students to participate a lot while they provide prompts and guiding questions.
  • Delegator style: Instructors with a delegator approach prefer to structure their classes around student-run projects and presentations—their own teaching takes a backseat to students teaching one another.
  • Hybrid style: Instructors with a hybrid teaching style use a combination of the teaching styles above. For example, during an hour-long class session, they might schedule twenty minutes for a lecture, twenty minutes for class discussion, and twenty minutes for a class activity. While this teaching style can potentially appeal to all students, some students may have trouble adjusting to the shifts in format or activities.

Will all teachers fit into these styles? No, but having broad categories will help you as a learner to understand your teachers.


effective listening: engaging with the speaker and the material you hear in an active way, perhaps by taking notes and paraphrasing the material

Cornell System: a note-taking method where the notebook page has one section for in-class notes, one for related questions formulated after class, and a third for a summary of the lecture material

mind map: a more visual note-taking method where a central idea is positioned in the middle of a page and the supporting ideas branch out from it

teaching styles: the variety of techniques that teachers employ in learning spaces; knowing them can make you a more versatile, active learner

  1. "Student Handbook." Ivy Tech Community College. https://www.ivytech.edu/studenthandbook.
  2. "Effective Note-Taking Strategies." Utah State University Academic Success Center, 1999, https://www.usu.edu/academic-support/class/effective_note_taking. 10 Feb 2016.
  3. Gill, Eric. "What Is Your Teaching Style? 5 Effective Teaching Methods for Your Classroom." Concordia Online Education. 5 Jan 2013. https://gimmenotes.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/What-is-Your-Teaching-Styl1.pdf. Accessed 10 Feb 2016.


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Why Go to Class? Copyright © 2023 by David Evans is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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