Academic Gains through Improved Learning Effectiveness (AGILE)

Students attending class with purpose, using active learning and note-taking strategies.

Attending Class with Purpose

As part of planning ahead, treating every class meeting like an appointment is part of being a self-directed learner. It may be that your professor does not formally take attendance, so finding the internal motivation to go to every class is an important step. Your time is valuable, and every class meeting offers the opportunity to learn. Just showing up, though, does not guarantee you will learn anything. What you DO in the classroom makes all the difference!

If you're looking for more information on one aspect of planning ahead, click on the name below to jump to that portion of the page. We encourage you, however, to read all of the information below.


Why Is Attendance Even Important?

When you show up to class, it tells your professor that you take the class seriously by making the effort to be there. That’s great! However, attendance has far more benefits to your actual learning. Attending class helps you do the following:

  • Make connections between concepts. During class lectures and discussions, your brain will find connections to the assigned reading, previous class meetings, and your own life experiences. These connections serve as the foundation of learning!
  • Benefit from the professor’s experience. Your professors share examples, stories, and real-life applications of concepts that make information easier to understand and remember.
  • Learn from your peers. In-class discussion allows you to hear different perspectives and different ways of understanding concepts. (Your peers will also benefit from your in-class contributions!) Some of your classes will have active group work facilitated by your faculty and peer Learning Assistants, which are opportunities to test your understanding and teach concepts to others.
  • Anticipate exam questions. Concepts or ideas emphasized by your professor during class can indicate the importance of certain facts, concepts, or processes. On occasion, your professor may even say during class, “This is something you really need to know for the exam.”
  • Gain clarity on course assignments. While your course syllabus outlines the major assignments, professors often provide new information or clarification about upcoming assignments during class, typically in response to students’ questions.

What Does It Mean to “Attend Class with Purpose”?

The “purpose” is to get the most out of every class meeting; that is, to learn as much as possible during this academic “time-on-task”, since your time is valuable! Attending with purpose takes preparation, motivation, and intention. By doing so, you’re far more likely to feel like it was worth your time, and experience the excitement of realizing that you are truly learning!

Tips For Making the Most of Each Class

Showing up is only one step (though clearly an important one!) of the process. Learning requires action. Below are tips for how to take action in order to make the most of each class meeting:

  • Complete all of the reading or other assigned materials. Your professor expects you to have done the preparation for class and will teach as if you have done so. Class lectures can quickly become confusing or frustrating if you aren’t prepared!
  • Review notes before class. By reviewing the notes from recent class meetings, it “primes” your brain to make the connections between the new concepts and those from earlier class meetings. It also will help you formulate meaningful questions.
  • Arrive early. Arriving early creates the opportunity to get all of your materials ready, to speak with your professor, and to check in with your peers. Being late to class increases your stress, which triggers chemical reactions that reduce the brain’s learning readiness.  
  • Be present. Effective learning only happens when paying full attention. Take steps to reduce distractions by managing your learning environment and avoiding the urge to multitask.
  • Listen actively. As your professor is speaking, or when a peer is asking or answering a question, listen to what your brain is telling you. Whenever you “hear” your brain saying, “That reminds me of…” or “That relates to…”, write it down! Your brain is making connections!
  • Ask questions. If you do not fully understand what is being discussed, raise your hand and ask questions! Your professors want you to ask questions, since it creates opportunities to clarify concepts and create meaningful learning for ALL the students in the class.
  • Take effective notes. If you find yourself thinking, “I don’t need to take notes; I’ll remember,” challenge that belief! When we don’t do anything with information in the moment, we are telling the brain it is not important, and we begin to forget almost immediately. Effective note taking is an active, purposeful process in and of itself. Figure out which note taking approach will work best for each class or subject.
  • Summarize the class meeting. Since it is normal to start to forget once you leave class, take steps to interrupt the forgetting. One strategy is to explain the “big takeaways” and highlights from the discussion to someone else. It can be a peer from the class, which is a great way to check for consensus on what was important and the accuracy of your understanding. However, sharing the information with anyone helps to solidify it in your brain. Creating a brief written summary of the class meeting is part of the Cornell note taking approach.

What If I Miss Class?

While attendance is a high priority as a student, sometimes “life happens”, preventing you from being able to attend. If you have to miss class, here are some suggestions:

  • Try to be proactive. If you know ahead of time you will need to miss class due to illness or other circumstances, email your professor. In the email, explain why you will be missing class, and your plan for making up the time-on-task.
  • If you cannot be proactive, contact your professor as soon as possible after the absence. When you do, make sure to NOT ask, “Did I miss anything important?” Of course you did! Instead, share that you have done the class preparation, your make-up plan, and your request for any other suggestions.
  • Borrow notes from a trusted peer. “Trusted” in this context means a peer who attends class with purpose, and takes effective notes. Remember, though, those notes represent your peer’s interpretation of the class experience. You will need to try to make your own meaning and connections as you take your own notes by reading the peer’s notes and referring to other relevant class materials such as PowerPoint presentations that your professor posts in the course Brightspace site.
  • Meet with your professor during office hours. In the syllabus your professor lists available times to meet with you. Make sure to email your professor or mention during class that you plan to come to office hours that day. Arrive with prepared questions regarding the class that you missed.
  • After taking the steps above, discuss the content with other students. While there is no real substitute for attending class with purpose, reviewing the content from the missed class during a group study session can help fill in some of the blanks, solidify your understanding, and make connections to the classes you did attend.