This post offers 45+ ideas for surviving a boring lecture.
It’s split into two parts.
Part 1: Productive things to do in a Boring Lecture
- Part 1 of this post gives you 21 productive ideas to make sure you survive a boring lecture and leave feeling like you did something to help you learn.
- I’ll offer options for turning boring lecture time into productive learning time. Scroll down to get started with all 21 productive tips for boring lectures.
Part 2: Fun things to do in a Boring Lecture
- Who am I to deny the people what they want? If you’re after ideas for having fun during class that aren’t productive study tips, click here to jump to Part 2.
- Part 2 will provide you with ideas for passing the time when bored in class. It’ll give you some games, drawing prompts and origami ideas to help you pass the time! All these ideas were crowd sourced from my friends.
No time to waste – let’s get started!
Part 1: Productive Ideas
Here’s all the ideas for making your boring lecture a little bit more productive!
1. Ask a Relevant Question to get the Teacher back on Track
The first thing to do would be to try to right the ship.
There are two main reasons a lecture is boring. The first is because you have no idea how it connects to your test. The second is because the professor’s teaching style is dry.
Let me quickly explain these two:
a) The content is Irrelevant to the Test
If what your professor is talking about has nothing to do with what you’re being assessed on, it’s not going to catch your interest!
This is so frustrating. (Especially because all university teachers in the UK and Australia do graduate certificates that teach them about the importance of doing this!)
But as a student, it’s frustrating because the teacher is wasting your time.
Sure, sometimes the content might have intrinsic value – like, it might be interesting, engaging and important to learn about. But I suspect that’s not true, because you’re here reading this blog post right now.
b) The Professor’s Teaching Style is Dry
Many of them have never had teaching degrees or put a moment’s thought into how to teach in ways that are engaging.
It really is total nonsense how little some teachers seem to care about the art of teaching effectively.
The professors speak in slow monotones. The content is dry and disconnected from real life.
Ugh! I hate it! It is such a waste of your time and money!
Here’s what to do about it
Let’s see if you can right the ship.
Look for an opportunity to put your hand up and ask a question that might be actually of value to you.
Your question might be something about:
- How does this information relate to the assessment?
- Can you give an example of how this information is applied in my future profession?
2. Re-Read the Assessment Prompts
It’s possible that this boring information your teacher is presenting may actually be important.
On your laptop, log into your class’s website and find the page that outlines what you need to do for your assessment tasks.
Read over your assessment prompts.
Does anything on the assessment prompts relate to the lecture?
If it does, you might have to re-think whether you’ll have to pay attention to this boring information!
If the information that’s being taught (boring though it may be) is relevant to your assessments, start taking notes – right away!
Try to write down the key points the professor is pointing out. These might be:
- Points that you’ll be assessed on;
- Information that you can use as examples and explanations in your assessment;
- The key sources and scholars that the teacher is using (cite them in your assessment!)
Look, I know if the lecture is boring then the content probably doesn’t have anything to do with the assessment. Otherwise, you’d likely be a little more interested. It’s remarkable how teaching to the test gets students more engaged.
But, it’s still important to check whether the content is actually relevant.
3. Keep one Ear Open
Okay, so the lecture seems irrelevant to you and not worth listening to.
The rest of my advice in this post is going to be about finding alternative activities to do during the lecture so you can take back your time.
But before we move on to those points, there’s one more important thing to remember:
While you’re doing alternative activities during the lecture, make sure you keep one ear open.
I’d recommend tuning back in at least every time the professor changes slides to see what their next point is all about.
But, if the content is way off topic and your professor is being … thoroughly boring … then you’re probably safe to do another task while still listening to your professor with one ear.
Let’s take a look at a few productive things you could do.
4. Use the time to do your Weekly Readings
A boring lecture is a great time to catch up on your weekly readings.
There’s a few reasons for this:
Preparation for your Seminar or Tutorial. You’ll probably have a class later in the week when you’ve got to talk about your weekly readings. What better time than now to complete that homework?
It might make the lecture more relevant. While you’re reading, you might be able to tune back into points your professor is making and see how they link to the reading.
Doing weekly readings can also be pretty boring! There’s an art to reading academic articles to do it fast and efficiently while still extracting the key information. If you struggle doing readings, I recommend taking a look at my advice on how to read a journal article.
5. Start writing your Essay!
What better time to start that essay than now?
You’ve got no distractions (except your exceptionally boring professor) and a table to start focussing. Imagine leaving this lecture with a quickly written essay plan!
You’ll get home feeling like you accomplished something with your trip to university for the day, while also knowing you didn’t miss anything from the lecture.
If you did Step 3, you’ve already opened the essay prompt, so you can use it to get yourself started on writing.
To write your essay I recommend you:
- Start with a brainstorming session. My preferred way to brainstorm is to use mind maps.
- Write a no-pressure draft. Just start getting words down on paper! You’ll be able to edit as thoroughly as you want later on. Just getting words down on paper at the start is half the battle.
6. Use Google Scholar to find and Store Relevant Articles to Cite for your Essay
Have you got your laptop on you, or are you just on your phone right now?
If you’ve got your laptop on you, I recommend using your time to gather some scholarly articles for your essay.
Finding articles is always a task that is time consuming but also not too hard. It can be a bit of a pain sometimes, so why not knock it out during this boring downtime in the lecture?
I recommend finding 10 – 15 quality scholarly articles that you’ll then be able to cite in your essay. This will show you’ve done deep research.
The best places to find scholarly articles are:
- Google Scholar
- Your university’s online library database
Google Scholar is by far the easiest of those two options. And in fact, you can calibrate Google Scholar to link up with your online library database for the best of both worlds. I show you how to do that on this post on Pro Tips for Google Scholar.
So, jump over to Google Scholar (here: https://scholar.google.com) and use a few key words for your essay and gather a range of articles that you think will be relevant for your essay.
Save them all on a folder on your laptop for easy access when inserting citations for your essay.
7. Make a List of Relevant Library Books to Borrow
Textbooks are always easier to read than journal articles.
So, if you find articles on Google Scholar, try this tip out.
Head over to your university library webpage on your laptop or phone and try to come up with a list of 5 – 10 textbooks that you think you’ll be able to get information out of.
The information from these textbooks will be so much easier to read than journal articles and they’ll make more sense.
Your time now in a boring lecture is the ideal time for this. Why? Well, because you’re at university.
You can spend the next few minutes in the lecture finding the books you’ll need to ace the subject.
Then, you’ll be able to go straight to the library to borrow the books as soon as the lecture is over.
All the good textbooks for your subject usually get borrowed early, so I recommend getting your hands on them asap before someone else borrows them all!
8. Create Revision Flashcards
Have you already got some content from your course that you need to study for?
Then now’s the time to get yourself organized for studying that content!
I recommend using this time in your lecture to start coming up with some revision flashcards.
The very act of writing revision flashcards is very good for your learning and memory.
First, you have to sift through your notes and come up with points that you think are relevant to the exam. By doing this, you’ll be reading a lot of information and picking out key information. That’s a top study activity right there!
But there’s more.
Because then you’ll need to write a question and answer linked to that point in your own words and in a short enough format to fit on a palm card. Here, you’re practising the skill of synthesizing key information.
And then, of course, you’ve got an awesome study resource that you can come back to over and over again in the coming weeks. Use the flashcards you’ve developed at the start of every study session for the next few weeks to get your brain ticking!
9. Write your own Notes on all the Lecture Slides
Okay, so the professor is talking off on a tangent. They’re being really boring. So, they’re probably either:
- Talking about something completely irrelevant to the lecture slides, or
- Explaining the information on the lecture slides in a really, really unengaging way.
So, maybe the lecture slides themselves might give you a little better information?
Even if your professor is languishing on Slide 1, perhaps telling you a totally irrelevant story about her family’s latest vacation, there’s nothing stopping you from reading ahead and studying the information on the lecture slides.
You should be able to have access to the lecture slides from your course’s website (if they’re a half good teacher, that is!).
Simply download them and start taking your own notes.
Pay special attention to:
- The sources cited: will the sources that the professor has cited on their slides be useful to you for writing your essay?
- The links to your assessment: what points in the lecture slides are most relevant to your assessment tasks? These will be the ones to pay most attention to. Maybe you can take down some of those points and turn them into flashcard study notes? (See point 8).
I’ve provided a full post on how to take notes in lectures that might be useful if you choose to do this step!
10. Come up with 3 Relevant, Pressing Questions and Email them to your Teacher
While you’re sitting there listening to your teacher ramble on, spend some time thinking about what you wish they’d be talking about.
Are there things in the course that you feel need clarification?
A productive way to try to get actually useful, relevant and perhaps less boring talking points out of the teacher is to brainstorm what you need to know.
Here’s some sources you can use to find relevant questions:
- The lecture slides. Even if the professor is boring, maybe the lecture slides give you something to think about. Have a look at them and find any points that confuse your or require more clarification. If there’s anything you want any more information on, pop it down in an email and send it off to the professor.
- The assessment task. By far the most common questions I get are around the assessment task. Do you have any worries about the assessment task or how you need to do it? It’s best to send any questions for clarification off to your teacher. What better time to brainstorm those questions than now?
- The weekly readings. Students usually have a lot of questions about the weekly readings. You might want to send off some questions about them to the teacher. But realistically, you’ll probably be discussing this in your seminar later in the week.
11. Brainstorm how you’d explain the Ideas if you were the Teacher
Okay, so your professor clearly sucks at communicating.
Here’s something you can try out to clarify the ideas in your mind some more:
First, try to synthesize the five key points or takeaways from the lecture slides.
Next, have a think: your teacher’s doing a really bad job of explaining all of this. So, how would you do it any differently? What teaching strategies would you have used?
Would you maybe have:
- Broken down the information into smaller points. What smaller points would you have come up with?
- Provided some actual real life examples to make it feel more relevant to you?
- Shown how the information is relevant to your future profession?
- Used YouTube videos that present the information in an engaging way? Can you find any YouTube videos that display this information in a more engaging way?
If your teacher’s doing a really bad job of teaching the content, then come up with ways to teach yourself! The four ideas above are just a start … what else could you come up with?
12. Come up with Practical Real-Life Links to all points in the Lecture Slides
One of the major reasons my students find teachers boring is that the things they talk about seem totally irrelevant to your life.
How about going the extra mile and trying to make those connections to real life yourself?
If your teacher is going on about something you find totally bland consider what impact it has on you? How can this thing impact the way you think about things?
Unfortunately university level education can be a little lofty. It hovers ‘up there’ in the clouds and teachers don’t do enough to show how and why it’s important and interesting.
If you develop the skill of bringing this information back down to earth and considering how it might be useful to you, you’ll find the content much more interesting.
Plus, if you try and try and you still can’t come up with a reason it’s interesting to you, stick your hand up and ask the teacher to explain it for you.
They should be doing this anyway. So if they’re not, ask them: Why do I need to know this? (But of course, do it in a polite and well-meaning way).
13. Look up Practice Tests
If your course has a test at the end of it, you should be doing practice tests to get prepared.
So how about looking up a practice test during the lecture?
Practice tests are some of the most productive ways to spend your study time . They are exceptionally relevant to your exams and simulate the study conditions you’ll likely face in your real exam.
In fact, doing a study practice test during your lecture will further help to simulate study conditions. You’ll be sitting around other students, trapped in a room just like you are now.
If you don’t want to start the practice tests now, that’s fine. You can bookmark or download a collection of practice tests for later when you’re ready to start studying.
Spending your lecture gathering or doing practice tests will mean you can go home feeling like you’ve achieved something with your time.
14. Find Blog Posts on the Topic and get them to Teach you Instead
I’ve found blogs and websites to be the best sources of easy to read and easy to understand content.
They often provide the information in list posts rather than in journal article style.
This way, you can obtain the information in small, bite-size chunks. It’s all split into easy-to-read headings. And, best of all, you don’t have to read heavy, hard-to-read paragraphs written in academic style.
To get an idea of the sorts of topic-centered blog posts that provide academic information in an easy-to-read style, here’s a few I’ve written:
Just a quick word of warning.
Even though websites and blog posts can be excellent sources of information, they shouldn’t be cited in your submitted work.
Instead, you should focus on citing only scholarly sources like textbooks and journal articles.
Use blog posts to learn – but not to cite information.
15. Start a Blog
Sitting in lectures is depressingly passive learning. You have to just sit there and listen to an old dusty professor talk on and on about stuff.
There are some much better alternatives.
One of those is ‘active learning’ – where you actually do something to learn. Active learning can involve doing work experience, talking with friends or conducting experiments.
But one approach to active learning could be blogging.
Trust me – you learn a lot as a blogger!
So why not start a blog about all the things you’re learning? You can try to write about the topic in the lecture in a way that you think is more engaging and entertaining.
Use this time right now to set one up. It’s super easy! Head over to wordpress.com to get one set up in a matter of minutes for free and start writing down all your thoughts and musings.
Plus, if you decide to blog about your topic you’re helping others out. People who don’t understand what their teacher is talking about go on google search for info from blogs all the time. If you explain it clearly, people will log on and read your stuff!
The other good thing about it is that you can show your future employer your blog as evidence of your initiative and knowledge on the topics you’re going to be employed on.
It’s win-win-win. Your lecture will be less boring because you’re doing something engaging; you’ll learn things by actively writing blog posts on the topics; and you’ll be able to show the blog to prospective employers!
16. Look for a New Major Online
If you are finding you’re bored out of your mind in your lectures a lot, maybe you’ve selected the wrong degree or major?
Consider looking for a new major online that might be a better fit.
I recommend starting by looking for a new major at the same university that you’re currently at. It’s almost always easier to change majors within the same university than to switch universities.
When you switch universities, you have to jump through all the hoops of getting transfer credits for the courses you’ve already completed.
Furthermore, universities often cap the amount of credits you’re allowed to transfer, making it difficult to change universities after the first year or two of the degree.
So, have a think: what other interests were you considering studying before you selected your current degree or major?
For me, it was European Languages. I studied Education to become a teacher, but if I had my time again I’d probably have chosen to study European Languages instead.
For you, you might jump from a Social Sciences to a Humanities major, or a Psychology to Chemistry major.
Do some research, ask friends, and see what strikes your interest and what career prospects there are for each major you look into.
17. Use the Time to Brainstorm Alternatives to College
If you find university boring all the time then maybe you could consider an alternative career path?
This is for you if you read Step 16 and didn’t thing changing majors would make you any happier with university.
There are a ton of really interesting, valuable alternative paths in life than the College path.
And the reality is, some of them will end up getting you equal or better pay than if you got a college degree. Plus, you’ll be earning money a lot sooner and may be in less debt!
I’ve written a post on 17+ Alternatives when College isn’t for You if you want to check that out.
Here’s a few options:
- Do a trade
- Defer University for a year and take a Gap Year
- Join the Military or Police Force
- Become a Flight Attendant
- Work a Ski Season
If you like any of those options or want to check out the other 12 I’ve suggested, make sure you click over to that post.
18. Organize your Notes
There’s two steps that I follow when organizing my notes.
First, I sort out my paper notes. Then, I sort out my computer notes.
a) Paper notes
All the notes I’ve got written down on lecture slides always need to be sorted properly.
I print the lecture slides and scribble notes all over them, then store them away for when I need to go back and study them.
This causes tons of problems. Do-eared papers, notes shuffled in the wrong order, and a lot of loose paper lying around.
The most common thing I do (and often in the middle of lectures) is to type up all my notes that were hand-written so I can go paperless as much as possible.
I find that the additional benefits of typing up the notes that I hand wrote in previous lectures are:
- Re-engaging with and re-typing the notes help me reinforce the points in my mind;
- My notes end up being re-written in a cleaner, more understandable way. Part of the re-writing process is also re-organization and consolidation of ideas into categories.
b) Computer notes
If you’re anything like me, my computer is a mess.
My desktop is always littered with articles I downloaded from google scholar,
19. Write a Study Plan
Writing a study plan can help you increase your productivity in the long run.
It’s really quite a simple process. Simply get out your diary or calendar and block out some time to study!
If you haven’t got a calendar, now’s the time to start it!
I usually start my study plan by thinking about my goals:
- How many hours a week do I think I’ll need to study?
- What weeks will I need to dedicate extra study time? These are usually the weeks before exams.
- When is the most productive time to fit all of this in?
The most productive times for me are usually:
- Between classes when I’m on campus at university;
- Mornings I have free from work;
- When I’m home alone so I can have some quiet undistracted time.
So, they’re the times I try to block off on my calendar!
I aim to block off at least an hour, preferably two hours, at a time to really get stuck into my work.
I’ll start with times between lectures and seminars. Do you have an hour or two between classes after this lecture?
Why not make that study calendar and implement it immediately?
You can head to the library after this lecture and start your first scheduled study session!
20. Consider Walking Out (Respectfully and Subtly)
Look, I’ve never done this. But it’s an option.
I remember once there was a lecture that was so boring that about 50% of my class walked out.
I felt too rude to walk out, so I sat through the whole thing.
But if, maybe, you’re the only one (or first one) to do it, you can just pretend that you’ve got a dental appointment you’re going to.
Take a look around. What’s the best escape route that’ll cause minimal disruption.
Did you manage to sit close enough to the edge that you don’t have to excuse yourself and bump knees with everyone as you shuffle by?
Is there an exit at the back so you don’t have to walk all the way to the front and be seen by all as you trudge out?
If you’re feeling really polite, you can send an email to your professor: “Hi, sorry I had to walk out half way through today. I got a message that I had to go and pick my sick niece up from her school.”
What’s a white lie, if you get to leave and go do something better with your time?
21. Rate your Professor!
As a professor, I always worry that I’m going to be rated by my students at my worst moment.
I take a lot of pride in getting a good review, and professors do take it to heart when they get poor feedback.
So, consider going to Rate My Professor and dropping a negative review of them … but only if they genuinely, really suck. It could help the next student avoid selecting this class and getting as bored numb as you.
But if it’s just this lecture, and last week’s one was actually pretty decent, then maybe hold fire.
Part 2: Fun Things To Do
I like to get my friends to read my posts before I publish them.
And most of my friends said something like:
“Chris, people probably just want to hear about fun stuff they can do in a boring lecture. They’re not interested in studying.”
Well, look … who am I to deny the people what they really want?
So, I crowdsourced some fun time-wasting things you can do in your lecture in case you don’t want to … you know, learn.
Here’s the crowdsourced ideas that people shared with me:
- Write an email or whatsapp message to your mom (She probably misses you. When was the last time you emailed her?)
- Update your social media profile photos
- I mean, when else do you get an hour of tedious boredom to just shut your eyes and shut out the world?
- Stalk old high school friends and check out what they’re up to with their lives now.
- Download Duolingo and start teaching yourself a language.
- Play Candy Crush Saga.
- Play Plants vs. Zombies (remember that game!?)
- Scroll through a job search website for your dream job.
- Create memes about how boring lectures are and upload them to Reddit.
- Play tic-tac-toe with your neighbor.
- Invent a new recipe then buy the ingredients on the way home. Use Pinterest for inspiration.
- Intent a new superhero. What will their superpowers be?
And here’s a post full of fun craft ideas that I came up with for being bored in class. It’s for school kids, not university students … but there’s actually some really fun stuff in there that adults might love to do.
My favorite ideas from the ‘bored in class’ post are:
- Create a new signature for yourself.
- Make a Chatterbox (also known as ‘origami paper game’, ‘salt shaker’ or ‘cootie catcher’).
- Make an Origami Ninja Star.
- Create a fold-over-story with your Neighbor.
- Learn to draw – try inventing a new emoji to represent how bored you are right now.
- Learn calligraphy. The post shows you a video with the basics of calligraphy listed there.
- Draw the Superman ‘S’
- Play the Wikipedia game ‘5 Minutes to Jesus’
- Write a funny Haiku Poem
- Design a new Tattoo for yourself
- Draw up the floorplan of your dream home.
- Try to draw a perfect circle.
Feel free to share any additional ideas you have in the comment box below and I’ll add them to the list!
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]