Attending seminars: a guide for students
Seminars, done well, are perhaps the most valuable learning opportunity at University. Done badly they're horrible, but this only tends to happen if you're ill-prepared. Follow these five tips to make the most of your seminars.
Turn Up – And Be On Time
As with attending lecturers, turn up and don't be late. Some lecturers only arrange the seminar groups in the lecture, they may be posted on a department notice board or online – make sure you know where you have to be and when.
Read All Handouts
You will probably be given handouts prior to each lecture and seminar. You've not had to source these yourself or print them out, so do read them, even if it does take an evening or two. There's little worse than a row of blank faces when your lecturer asks what you thought about the piece you haven't read. Lecturers aren't stupid, they can spot a bluff a mile off, so saying something bland and general won't do you any credit. One of my lecturers used to insert passages from cheesy romance novels like Mills and Boon into our handouts, or a message tucked into page 94 asking the reader to call her and leave a message on her uni answer-phone. Beware: some lecturers are sly!
Also bear in mind that the handouts you are being given are perhaps the best source material for the basis of your essays – selected by your lecturer, they have not selected it without good reason.
Don't be shy. A sign of strength is admitting you don't know something and, inversely, a sign of weakness is pretending to know something you don't. Even your lecturer won't know all the answers, but they will say so, and either point you in the right direction or, if they're very nice, get back to you at a later point. Your lecturer talks all day; if you speak up and begin to lead the discussion, this will count in your favour if you're being thoughtful.
Although everyone is different, don't worry about making too many notes in seminars either – thinking and understanding a concept by discussing it is more valuable than making notes – save this for the details, but don't spend too long writing because you won't be tuned into the discussions. Use technology as appropriate, but remember how time consuming (and inefficient) transcribing huge passages of text is.
As well as being good people to socialise with, making friends with the people on your course means you can swap lecture notes if you miss anything or have someone to call on if you're stuck with something. Of course this works both ways!
Carry On After
If you're chasing a first class degree, get into the habit of continuing your discussions after the seminar. It could be in the cafe or back at Halls over dinner. Bore your friends and relatives with what you learnt today and keep coming back to it until you understand it fully.