Student Profile with Introduction

5.1Become Engaged in Learning

5.2Stay Engaged before Class and between Class Meetings

5.3Participate in Class

5.4Take Effective Notes


Dillon Watts, 19

History Major, San Bernardino Valley College, California

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Dillon Watts grew up in San Bernardino, California. He left high school after his junior year and obtained his GED. The benefits of participating in class and being engaged in learning are obvious to Dillon. “Most of the time the questions you have are questions that will help the whole class,” Dillon says. “Everyone in the class benefits from an instructor’s answer.” He points out, however, that no one appreciates a student asking questions just to earn participation points or to show off. “I try to be direct and simple when asking questions, so the class can get direct and simple answers,” Dillon says.

“I try to be direct and simple when asking questions, so the class can get direct and simple answers.”

This same attitude is also present in the way Dillon prepares for class. He explains: “I just make sure to be there on time, every time, and to try to stay until the class is over. I’m not a great note-taker. I find myself distracted as much as the next guy. But as long as I make an effort to pay attention, write down key points, read the chapter sections in books I’m supposed to read, and study regularly, I find it pretty easy to maintain good grades.” Dillon has learned to use multiple note-taking techniques and formats in different classes and found that this strategy helps improve his grades.

Dillon plans to transfer to Sacramento State University, or another four-year California school. In ten years he hopes to be a journalist or history teacher. He also hopes to put his class participation skills to good use. “It is my dream to take part in debates and public speeches,” he says. His advice to other first-year students: “Try to get as much as you can out of your classes, and try to do your best, whether or not you feel like it. It always pays off in the end.”

These challenges are not unique to Dillon. If you want to earn high grades in college, you’ll need to play an active role in your classes by listening carefully, taking notes, asking questions, contributing to discussions, and providing answers. These active learning behaviors will improve your ability to understand complex ideas, find new possibilities, organize those ideas, and remember more of the material once the class is over.

Many of the questions on college exams will be drawn from class lectures and discussions. Therefore, you need to attend each class and be actively involved. In addition to taking notes, you might consider recording the lecture and discussion, if you have the instructor’s permission. If you don’t understand some points, take the time to meet with the instructor after class or during office hours. Another strategy to increase your learning is to meet with a study group to compare your understanding of course material with that of your classmates.


This chapter reviews several note-taking methods. Try out each one and choose the one that works best for you. Because writing down everything the instructor says is probably not possible, and you might not be sure what is most important, ask questions in class. Asking questions will ensure that you understand your notes. Reviewing your notes with a friend from class or with a tutor in your campus learning center can also help you clarify your understanding of the most important points.

Most of all, be sure to speak up. When you have a question to ask or a comment to share, don’t let embarrassment or shyness stop you. You will be more likely to remember what happens in class if you are an active participant.



If you have saved any of your high school notebooks, look at the way you took notes and think about whether this method works for you now. If you can’t locate your old notes, try taking notes while watching the news on TV or reading news online and see how you do.