Espresso shots and energy drinks are not the only way to survive your least favorite class. With a little practice, you can learn to pay attention and focus even when the subject or your teacher is drier than the Gobi desert. Remembering your reasons for taking the class in the first place can help you get a passing grade and avoid having to repeat it. Challenge yourself to figure out why in the world your teacher or students majoring in that discipline find such material interesting while you struggle to keep your eyes open.
Staying awake in a boring class is easier when you come to class rested and refreshed.
Why Sleeping in Class Is a Bad Idea
Sooner or later, you will likely end up in a dull class. Even if the class isn’t required for your major or minor, remind yourself that the grade will affect your overall GPA. If the teacher grades participation, you could be docked points or even dismissed for the rest of the class period if you are caught snoozing. Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone to explore heavy subjects reflects intellectual curiosity and academic ability. If you don't have a track record of excelling in courses that require logic and abstract thinking, you may have trouble getting admitted if you later decide to pursue law school or graduate studies.
How to Stay Awake in Class
If you are struggling with sleepiness in class, you may be experiencing sleep deprivation, a common problem of college students. College students need seven to eight hours of restful sleep every night. Students who are not properly rested have trouble staying alert and comprehending and remembering new material. Consequently, grades can suffer. You will have fewer problems staying awake in class if you maintain a regular sleep schedule and restrict caffeine, especially before bed. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with nutritious meals and routine exercise will keep your mind and body in peak condition.
Develop a Positive Attitude
Even if an arcane lecture in late-medieval rhetoric isn’t your thing, listen with an open mind. Imagine what life was like for people during that time period. Concentrate on key points that may be on a test. Use the class as an opportunity to improve your concentration and critical-thinking skills, which will make you a better student in all your courses. Whenever your mind wanders, gently pull your focus back to the here and now. Pay attention to your self-talk. Avoid repeatedly reminding yourself that the class is painfully dull. Sit in front where the teacher can see you rather than in the back row of a dark lecture hall where you may be tempted to nap or text your friends.
Take Notes to Stay on Task
Concentration is a skill that requires practice. If you tend to daydream in class, take detailed notes even if your teacher provides access to the lecture PowerPoint. Taking notes forces you to listen and follow along. Write down questions to ask when the teacher invites questions or look up the answers later. Sit up while taking notes. Don’t put your head down on your desk, which could lead to nodding off and snoring. If allowed, compare your notes with other students between classes to make sure your notes are accurate and thorough. Comprehensive notes are a great study guide for upcoming exams.
Make the Most of Breaks
Make good use of breaks. Fight the urge to shut your eyes and snooze. Long night classes can be especially challenging. Blood pools in your lower extremities when you sit for a while. Use your break to move around or go outside for fresh air to increase your blood circulation and oxygenate your brain cells. Stretch your arms and legs. Socialize with classmates to make the class period more enjoyable. If permitted, compare your notes with other students between classes to make sure your notes are accurate and thorough. Comprehensive notes are a great study guide for upcoming exams.
- Princeton University McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning: What is Passive Learning? (and How to Avoid It)
- Harvard University Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning: Technology and Student Distraction
- Kansas State University: Improving Your Concentration
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine: College Students: Getting Enough Sleep Is Vital to Academic Success
Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.