Starting at university can be a stressful time. The entirely new mode of teaching in lectures and seminars is completely foreign to many students, who are used to smaller hands-on lessons at college or sixth form. As a first-year student I have experienced a lot of trial and error about what to bring to lectures, and in this article, I will share the most important items to bring. I will also detail some of the best ways to enhance your learning through what you take with you to lectures, to make sure that you are prepared to get the most out of this big step in your education.
It is important to only bring what you really need to lecture, as they are often far from accommodation and travel can be tiring. I recommend a laptop, notebook and pen, and water bottle as essential items for every student. However, some items which you should avoid bringing to lectures include headphones and other distractions, food or drinks which are noisy or smelly and could cause distraction, and excessive amounts of stationery.
While this should have given you a short answer to your questions about what to bring to university lectures, please read on for full details and explanations of how to get the most out of this style of teaching.
What items are essential to bring to uni lectures?
While some of my classmates do come to lectures with nothing but the clothes on their back, I find that a little more preparation helps me to do my best. The items listed below are what I always try to have with me in lectures.
Without these items I usually find I need something during the day which I do not have. It took trial and error for me to find that this is what I need to learn, and you may need different things, so make sure to experiment if you felt something would work better for you!
Also, if you are confused by the difference between a lecture and seminar, please visit this Think Student article. It should help you to work out what the differences may be in what you need for each type of contact time.
My laptop is the most important item I have at university, and it comes with me almost everywhere I go. Almost all my readings are online, I sometimes have online tutorials, and most importantly I take notes and recordings of my lectures on my laptop.
While not everyone does everything digitally, I personally find that being able to quickly search up something I do not understand really helps to understand the lecture. Furthermore, looking at the PowerPoint on my own device rather than up at the front can be very helpful. This is particularly true in a larger lecture hall, where you can be very far from the lecturer.
However, as you will see in the later section, it is very important not to let your laptop or other devices like a phone or iPad distract you from the lecture.
2. Notebook and pen
While I prefer to take digital notes during lectures, I still always carry a notebook and pencil. Some professors give out worksheets or problems during lectures to solve in small groups, for which a pen is always needed, so they are always useful to have.
Furthermore, technology inevitably fails sometimes. My laptop once run out of charge in the middle of a key seminar when I had no notebook and I had to use my phone, and since that point I have always made a point to keep one with me. Having an effective note taking method is key to staying on top of work at university, and being without one is definitely not an option.
Furthermore, I have heard from many other friends who do STEM degrees that a notebook and pen are sometimes their only option for notetaking, particularly for complex equations and symbols. While it may seem easy to type these when you are taking notes alone, the fast-paced lecture environment will soon have you wishing you had brought a pad of paper!
3. Water bottle
Another key item to bring to lectures is a water bottle, or some kind of hydrating drink. Hours at university can be long, and far away from where you are living, so it is really important to make sure you carry water with you.
While some universities do have water fountains, this is not always the most practical option particularly when running between lectures through packed corridors. Furthermore, having your own drink is a great way to ensure you are staying consistently hydrated, which should help with cognitive performance and concentration, as this study from Cambridge University found.
4. Campus card and room key
While these may seem like obvious things, it is surprising how easy it is to lock yourself out of either your room or a lecture building by forgetting your campus card or room key.
Even if you do not think you will need your card while out of your room, it is always best to bring it. I have often found that after a lecture I am in a good mood for focus, and want to go to the library, but have left my card back in my accommodation and cannot get into the library, or any other space, without it.
Taking advantage of a focussed mindset after lectures, or changing plans, is made easier if you ensure you bring your card (and don’t lock yourself back out of your room after!).
What should you not bring to a uni lecture?
The above section should have given you a clear guide to the basics you need to get the best out of lectures. However, there are some easy pitfalls to be trapped by when choosing what to take with you, which will be explained in this section.
Firstly, I would say that it is best to try not to bring too much with you to lectures in general. A small bag with the above items, plus a few snacks and other essentials, should be all you need. Students who seem to carry half of their rooms with them wherever they go (which I was definitely guilty of in my first few weeks) usually end up tired and staggering home without having used almost anything they brought!
Here are a few common items I have seen or used in lectures which are ultimately not necessary to learning:
We all know that lectures can be long, and some modules are definitely less interesting than others. Some students, therefore, turn to other means of entertainment to get through their contact hours. For more information on how long a typical lecture might last, please visit this Think Student article.
I have seen students watching TV shows, listening to music, playing video games and even online shopping during lectures! And of course, I have also been victim to this kind of distraction myself. However, it is definitely not helpful to learning.
Having headphones in during a lecture, or any other kind of alternative task (even other work) means that your focus is not fully on what is being taught. This will make it much harder later when you are revising or completing assignments to know what is going on. Therefore, I would recommend keeping your headphones for the walk to and from lectures, rather than during them.
2. Noisy food and drinks
As previously mentioned, long days at university and back to back lectures can be hard to cope with. I often find myself hungry and unable to focus during lectures, especially if they fall around lunchtime or later in the evening.
While it is a great idea to bring a small snack and a drink as suggested above, bear in mind that nobody else in the lecture wants to hear or smell you eating. Choosing foods and drinks which are quiet and not strong smelling is the best way to avoid distracting your classmates.
For example, a packet of crisps, an egg sandwich, and an iced coffee with very rattle-y ice cubes and a slurpy straw would not be the ideal lecture snack. Instead, choose something with quiet packaging such as a protein bar, and choose a drink which does not make noise when you open it.
While these are not necessarily distracting to you, they may be to others. Always be considerate in lectures and remember that everyone else is also there to learn. Who knows, maybe you and someone else in the class will bond over loving the same (quiet) snacks and end up as best friends!
3. All your stationery and notebooks
As a person who finds making beautiful notes inspiring, I started university bringing all of my highlighters, fine liners, and notebooks with me to lectures. I believed that this was the perfect time to make my notes, so I would be able to look over them later and remember exactly what I learned.
However, I soon discovered this was not the case. There is simply not time in lectures to make beautiful notes and get all the key concepts and information noted down. Making pretty notes is a great way for some people to revise, particularly if using mind-maps, however it is better left as a post-lecture activity. For more information on top revision methods, please visit this Think Student article.
Instead, as suggested above, I would recommend taking only a laptop and a pen and notepad into lectures. This means you can take functional notes and get all the key information, which is the most important part of the class.
4. A blanket and pillow
While this is more of a joke, as I have yet to see anyone actually take a pillow and blanket to a lecture, it is important to recognise that lectures are for learning. University can be very tiring and stressful, and all students know that a warm stuffy lecture hall with a professor’s (sometimes slightly boring) voice is an easy way to fall asleep.
However, it is important to try and stay awake during lectures, even if they seem very dull. Lectures are ultimately there to help you pass your degree, and any piece of information could be on the exam or used in an assignment.
Furthermore, it is disrespectful to the professors and graduate students who give up their time to lecture us and mark our work to sleep through their lectures. Staying engaged, answering questions, and having a quick snack or drink can help when feeling especially tired during a lecture or seminar.
Save the Student have a great guide all about packing for university, which can be found here. This is really helpful if you are unsure about what to bring to other parts of university other than lectures.