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Study Skills

Class participation

Making the most of your lectures and tutorials at university

For internal students, it is very important to attend lectures.  Lecturers will generally give an overview of the day’s topic, relate it to previous topics, and indicate important points, readings, debates and issues for you to consider.

This is where you can extend your understanding of the topic, become aware of the lecturer’s perspective and emphasis and make notes of the important aspects of the lecture. You need to prepare before you attend the lecture, pay attention during the lecture and revise the lecture content afterwards.

Tutorials enable you to build on and go into some of the lecture content in greater detail. In tutorials you have the opportunity to exchange ideas and views with other students and the tutor so that you can develop a fuller understanding of the topic and integrate ideas from your reading writing and lectures.

Although not face-to-face, downloadable resources and materials are available to external students. In addition, online tutorials where students can communicate with their lecturer and other students in a synchronous Collaborate classroom provide similar opportunities for interactive tutorials.

Most lecturers archive their online classes so even if you are unable to attend, you can follow the classroom discussion.

Lectures and tutorials

Good notes are effective notes. Making notes is an important aspect of studying at university.

Effective notes:

  • highlight key points
  • identify relevant supporting details such as examples, explanations, diagrams and other material
  • separate key points from supporting details.

Thus your note-making strategies should be designed to help you remember key points and relevant details.

The sorts of notes that you will take will vary according to whether you are:

  • attending lectures
  • participating in tutorials
  • working in science laboratory practicals.

In almost all cases, what you get out of a lecture, tutorial, classroom or laboratory practical will depend on what you put into it. This means that you have to be an active learner.

To be an active learner you will need to develop effective listening skills so that you will be able to know what to note.


Lectures are a key feature of university teaching. In broad terms, the principal purpose of a lecture is to provide you with information in an efficient, well-structured way.

More particularly, lectures:

  • present information and research on specific topics
  • highlight areas of importance and interest within the topic
  • work through some of the areas you are likely to find confusing
  • suggest sources of further information; provide references and how to find them.

Make the most of your lectures

Before the lecture

  • be on time for the lecture.
  • complete any required reading (including handouts of lecture summaries) before you attend the lecture. This will help you understand the lecture better and be more prepared to take notes. Re-read your notes from the previous weeks’ lectures. This will remind you of what has already been covered.
  • make sure that you have sufficient paper, pens/pencils for note taking or any other equipment that you may need.

During the lecture take notes

What you decide to note, and in how much detail, will depend, to some extent, on your subject and your specific interests.

The amount of detail that you will need to include for your notes will depend on whether the information is readily available elsewhere (i.e. in lecture handouts, books, or journals).

The note layout that you use will also determine the amount of detail that you include.

After the lecture

Review your notes. This will help you to recall the lecture, identify any gaps in your notes and add anything that you think needed adding.

Store your notes in a loose-leaf folder, or a two (or more) ring binder, so that you can move the pages around as well as add any new material such as handouts and other reference matter.

It is a good idea to revise your notes on a regular, ongoing basis, say for five to ten minutes once a week.

Each time you skim through your notes the material will become a little more firmly embedded in your memory.


Tutorials are meetings of smaller groups of students to discuss specific topics related to the subject matter of the course.

The key focus of tutorial groups is the interactive, participatory nature of the discussion. Tutorial discussions rely for their success on what you do before and during a tutorial. The role of the tutor is to facilitate and encourage the exploration of the relevant issues and problems.

Make the most of your tutorials

Before the tutorial

  • read the required articles or chapters as set out for your tutorial topic in your subject guide.
  • think about the topic and formulate some basic ideas that you can contribute to the tutorial discussion about the topic.

During the tutorial

Listen to other tutorial participants and contribute your ideas to the discussion. Ask questions. Do not leave the tutorial feeling confused.

After the tutorial

Write down any notes of comments or ideas that you think are important to remember. Add these to your other subject notes.

Science laboratory practicals

Practicals provide the opportunity for students to observe and manipulate materials and give insight into scientific methods and processes as well as scientific knowledge.

Make the most of science lab practicals

Before the practical

Complete any required reading and ensure you have any necessary equipment necessary.

During the practical

Ensure that you listen to and follow the lecturer’s instructions.

Your notes should cover:

  • the aim of the practical
  • safety instructions
  • details about the equipment and materials used
  • details about the method that you used
  • the results of the experiment or exercise
  • important incidental suggestions made by the demonstrator
  • important references that are relevant for your experiment or exercise.

After the practical

 Write up the results of your laboratory or practical session as soon as possible. This will ensure that what you did in the session will still be fresh in your mind.

e-learning studios

The format for classroom learning differs from lectures and tutorials in that while it is more interactive than a standard lecture, the learning experiences are organised by the lecturer.

But like lectures and tutorials, it is important that you are on time for the class and complete any reading or other tasks that you have been asked to do before the class begins.

Listening to lectures and taking notes

One of the main ways in which information is communicated at university is through lectures. Lectures highlight and reinforce essential knowledge in particular disciplines, guide your reading and research and stimulate your interest in the subject.

Through active listening and sensible note-taking, you will be able to:

  • capture the main points of the lecture in note form
  • discriminate between more important and less important information
  • pose questions for further investigation/clarification.

Preparing for the lecture

Making yourself familiar with the topic before attending the lecture is a very useful way of ensuring that you get the most out of the lecture.

If the lecturer has provided you with notes or suggested specific readings either hard copy or online, it is useful to read these before the lecture so that you are familiar with the topic that will be covered.

During the lecture

If you are attending a lecture as an internal student, sit in the first few rows of the lecture room as you will find it easier to focus on the lecture from this position.

Make sure you have a note pad, laptop or other electronic devices and take down notes throughout the lecture (see How to take notes in lectures).

Listen carefully in the first five minutes of the lecture as the lecturer will often outline the purpose of the lecture and map what they intend to cover in the lecture. This orients you to the topic and gives you a broad overview of the material that will be covered in the lecture.

If you feel that your attention is wandering, become more actively involved by thinking about a question that might need to be addressed or focus on what you have learned by summing up what has already been covered.

If the lecturer invites questions at the end of the lecture, consider what else you might need to know to have a more thorough understanding of the topic.

If the lecturer has presented an argument, think about alternative points of view and whether the lecturer has presented sufficient credible evidence to convince or persuade you.

You might like to undertake further reading to explore the topic more fully. Keep in mind that taking notes does not mean copying every word of every PowerPoint.


Listening in tutorials

One of the main reasons for holding tutorials is to assist students to gain a better understanding of the topic by participating in discussions in small groups.

Students find it stimulating to debate issues, ask pertinent questions, compare what has been said with something they have read, disagree with a point of view and suggest alternative ways of thinking about the issue.

It is important that all students are given the courtesy of being listened to when they are speaking and that all students are aware that each person in the group is entitled to speak and make their contribution to the discussion.

It is often the case that some students will dominate the discussion and this is discourteous to other members of the tutorial.

When participating in tutorials, remember that it is possible to learn a great deal from others by listening to them.

Tutorial and seminar papers

In many of your units you will be required to give a tutorial presentation. By your final year you might be required to present a seminar paper.

Both involve the oral presentation of a paper that demonstrates your analysis of a particular question set by the lecturer often as part of a series of questions designed to familiarise students with the course material.

A seminar paper differs from a tutorial paper in depth and breadth of analysis, and expected level of originality. It is primarily concerned with presenting findings of extended, if not original, research on a topic carried out by the presenter.

Aspects of tutorial and seminar presentations that you will need to consider are preparation, content and organisation, delivery and review.


Effective tutorial or seminar presentations are the outcome of careful planning and thoughtful preparation.

You will need to:

  • gather relevant information by consulting the appropriate literature
  • plan how you will use the allotted time
  • focus on the essential points when delivering your talk and remove any padding
  • organise the material into a meaningful order.
Content and organisation

Your presentation should take into account the needs of the audience and what you want them to gain from it.

The presentation must also contain an identifiable introduction, body and conclusion.

  1. The introduction introduces you, your topic (or question) and what will be covered in the talk.
  2. Thebody explains the main points, key issues and/or arguments and provides enough detail and examples to illustrate and support these.
  3. Theconclusion restates the main points, and may make further recommendations.

How to prepare for your delivery

Before the presentation

  • Practice relevant terminology, concepts and words - especially words of another language
  • Practice your talk to a friend, or in front of a mirror to yourself
  • Anticipate and prepare for audience questions
  • Practice using any technical equipment you plan to use.

During the presentation

  • Maintain eye contact with your audience
  • Pace your delivery so that the presentation is neither too rushed nor too drawn out
  • Allow pauses, where appropriate, to add emphasis to your points or to provide dramatic effect
  • Vary the tone of your voice to keep the audience’s interest
  • Stand straight and look up at your audience to ensure that your voice carries to everyone
  • Remember to breathe which will help you to stay calmer.

Visual aids

Visual aids (including PowerPoint presentations) can complement a tutorial presentation provided they are:

  • well designed and appropriate for your audience
  • relevant to the presentation
  • well integrated into the presentation.

Responding to questions

You should allow a time for the audience to ask questions after your presentation.

  • Listen carefully to the questioner and answer the question as fully as possible
  • If you didn't understand the question, ask the questioner to rephrase it
  • Paraphrase a question if you think it needs to be clarified for you and your audience
  • Address your answers to the whole audience.

In the case of seminars where you, as the presenter of the paper, must lead the discussion more forcefully than in a tutorial, you will be expected to seek out questions actively from your audience and maintain control of the discussion.


After your tutorial is finished it is absolutely essential that you take some time to review your tutorial session or seminar. This will help you when you come to finish writing up the written version of your presentation.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • did you get your main argument across?
  • how do you know that?
  • what responses did members of the audience make?
  • what questions did they ask?
  • what suggestions or criticisms did they offer?
  • how can you make use of their suggestions and criticisms?

By answering these questions you can incorporate the answers, where appropriate, into the final draft of the written version of your tutorial or seminar presentation if this is required.

Did you know CDU Language and Learning Advisors offer a range of study support options?


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