How to pay attention in class—tips for college students

Being distracted during class is a common occurrence among college students.

Being distracted during class is a common occurrence among college students.

A little daydreaming now and then isn’t so bad, but if you are fading out during class or when it is time to study, you will surely wish you hadn’t when exam time rolls around. So how to pay attention in class when your mind starts to wander and your eyes are glazing over? Read on for some tips for college students on ways to keep focused and alert no matter how long your professor is droning on about the periodic table or some 18th century poem.

Tips to stay alert in class

No matter how interesting you find a class, there will come a day when you simply can’t seem to pay attention. And how about when it’s a class you couldn’t care less about? Fuggedaboutit! A February 4, 2014, post on, “How to Trick Your Mind into Paying Attention in Class,” offers some tips for college students when boredom strikes in class:

  1. Practice active listening. This is when you are not only hearing the words being said, but you are processing them and will be able to remember them.
  2. Take notes. Writing down the highlights of what is being said will not only help you be an active listener, but should you forget something, it gives you a record for later.
  3. Sit up front. You don’t have to sit in the front row, but being near the front means the professor is more likely to see you and know your name. And this kind of attention may keep you from zoning out or, worse, falling asleep.
  4. Sit in the same seat. This may help trigger your memory, but don’t sit in the same seat for different classes or you may confuse something you learned in Math with something from Spanish!
  5. Participate in class. If you ask a question in class, you want it to be a good one, which means you have to pay attention. Voila!

Tips to keep focused out of class

What if you are having a hard time keeping up with your day-to-day activities outside of class? If you need some help on how to pay attention in other areas of your life you may want to consider the advice offered by Breanna Locke in her November 6, 2012, GradGuard blog post, “5 Ways to Help College Students Stay Focused.” She recommends establishing a routine. So if you have noticed you are more productive and focused in the library, make that your go-to study spot. Maybe you have more focus first thing in the morning in your room. Whatever works for you, use it to your advantage.

Locke also writes, “To stay focused, you have to be really sure of what it is that you want to get done.” She advises setting some realistic goals and focus on checking those off, one at a time. And when you do complete a task? Reward yourself! “Don’t go overboard by thinking up too many rewards for yourself, but do think of nice ways to give yourself a break after making good progress,” she recommends.

Tips to stay organized

Another way college students can work on how to pay attention in class and in any activity is by improving their organizational skills inside and outside the classroom. Tips include:

  • Make a list of your overall workload.
  • Rank assignments in order of importance.
  • Arrange your time and efforts to focus on the work that impacts your grades the most.

Big Future, the College Board’s website, recommends in “Tips for Staying Motivated” some other ways to stay on the right track, whether that means how to pay attention in class or how to stay motivated with homework:

  • Create new challenges. “Changing your approach can help you stay interested in what you’re doing. If you’ve been given an assignment similar to one you’ve done in the past, think about it in a different way.”
  • Set attainable goals. Any project is easier when broken into chunks, so instead of thinking of a big paper in its entirety, view it in its individual sections, and tackle those one at a time.
  • Find a social support network. Whether it is a friend who helps motivate you or a mentor such as a professor, “create a group of people around you who want to help you succeed.”

What are your tips for how to pay attention in class? Any hard-won wisdom on ways to stay focused during a lecture? Let us know in the comments below.

3 replies
  1. Allen Seay says:

    Try to make sure that you sign up for a class that allows you to have had enough sleep to stay awake. Whatever your class is, work to see the value of it in your degree program and what you can learn from it. Also, talk with your teacher to get his/her input on how it will help you to develop your thinking skills and application of your class studies to your future years of life and the workforce.

  2. C. M. says:

    If I bring Twizzlers to my classes, it usually keeps everyone alert. I use these mostly on the days before tests and quizzes. I do not mind sharing. I know if those around me are also alert, they make the greatest memorable comments to help me remember the material.

    However, I also record most my professors lectures, only with permission from professors, first. Then, when I review my notes, later, I can jot down what I missed. It is not that I was not paying attention, sometimes listening, writing things down, taking pictures of some slides, sharing other’s notes by also taking pictures of their notes, writing everything on flashcards to study…while doing all these things, you are bound to miss something. This is where the class recording helps. Also, it helps to record if you need to step away to the bathrooms. If a recorder is not allowed, ask a friend to double up on notes, and you can do the same for them, if they need to do the same.

    Stay focused!


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  1. […] you don’t understand half the stuff you’ve been taught. Do you know why? Because you didn’t pay attention during lectures and barely studied. The difference between college and school is that you don’t have teachers […]

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