General tips for in-class learning
The following lists are from my personal experiences as an undergraduate and graduate student in Computer Engineering.
- Take a long-term view on your studies. Focus on early core classes (for me it was math/CS classes) and drill yourself (e.g. by doing more problems) until the intuition sinks in. This manifests in your ability to recognize recurrent high-level patterns and allows you to do problems much more quickly. Well-developed intuition from the early classes makes the later classes much easier and more satisfying.
- Don't take too many classes. Quality of education trumps volume of education. In-depth intuition is more valuable and satisfying than a shot-gun approach to learning.
- Don't take more than 2 classes with projects in them because all the project due dates would be at approximately the same time (your mileage may vary here).
- Grades are important only in the doors they open. You might be surprised how quickly your grades stop mattering after you graduate. Your experience and intuition is far more important. Focus on learning, and the grades will follow accordingly.
- For recollection, the best time to see something again is a little before you are going to forget it. There are two ideal times to review class notes:
- Later in the day after your class. Write down any points of confusion.
- Before the next class to get your mind back in the context of the class. You can essentially just skim it here and remember to ask the professor about points of confusion.
- Get a study group and make sure it doesn't become a social group during study time.
- Cramming before an exam is bad for long-term retention. Remember, you want to understand this material for use in future courses. It is better to learn it as you go since that gives your mind time in the background to build up intuition about the course.
- Review the material at multiple levels
- High level: What is the overall structure of the course here? This reemphasizes the recurrent themes.
- Low level: What are the common low-level problem-solving mechanics? Math courses in particular tend to build upon the low-level mechanics in the later portions of the course, so it is important to get comfortable with them early.
- Help students out of class in study groups, etc. When you try to explain your intuition in simple words, you start to see patterns you might not have previously. This, of course, helps both intuition and retention of the course material. That being said, don't do others' homework for them; that will work only to diminish their preparation.
- Keep your notes clean. Well-written notes can turn into a reference tomes for later classes.
- For many geometric/visual courses, I recommend using multiple-colored pens when taking notes. I didn't use to do this myself, but now I find myself using multiple colors in my research and teaching all the time.
- Asking good on-topic questions almost always helps others in the class. Learn the skill of asking the right questions; this is a widely useful skill.
- When confused, ask as specific a question as you can about the cause of the confusion.
- As your intuition in the course improves, think about the higher-level implications of what is being taught and ask about them in class to see if your intuition is developing in the right direction.
- If you find the course content easy, you might feel tempted to answer all the professor's questions in class (it's easy to get into the show-off mentality). It is better instead to give others the opportunity to answer questions and watch others' response to the course material.
- If you can understand what might be confusing your peers, see if you can ask a well-chosen question that triggers the professor to give the clarification that might help others understand better.
The skills above – asking the right questions, reading people – are very useful in life in general, and I found the classroom to be a great place to practice these skills.
- Regular (moderate) exercise improves mental focus and stamina; don't feel the need to overdo it.
- Recreation serves as a great mental release; generally developing yourself in a well-rounded way helps all aspects of you. These include art, athletics, social groups, and service among other things.
- A full night's sleep (7.5-8 hours) is a necessity. Your body spends a lot of time digesting the day's thoughts during sleep.
- If you expect to be pulling some all-nighters, see if you can get extra hours of sleep on the previous nights. Don't spend a whole week doing all-nighters or getting too little sleep. You will learn less and work much less effectively.