4 Ways to Survive in a Boring College Class

How many times have you taken a class – perhaps a General Education class or a class in your major or minor – that bored you to death?  Sitting in those classes may feel like a death sentence, but you are required to take them and so the question is how do you get through these and maintain your sanity?  Oftentimes, people recommend different forms of “psychological escape,” but the problem with that tact is that it will take your focus off things you need to learn, which won’t help you grade-wise. So the following strategies are intended to help you cope with boredom AND -more or less – keep you engaged with what’s happening in the classroom.

1. Find three things of interest.  One of the biggest reasons that students become bored in the classroom is because whatever is being discussed doesn’t interest them.  You can probably relate to this.  How many times have you caught yourself “zoning out” during boring lectures or discussions?  It’s easy for this to happen and it takes energy and mental effort to stay “zeroed in” on the topic at hand.

So here’s the challenge:  Be on the lookout for three things that are of interest to you within a lecture or class.  Ask yourself what makes some aspect of a topic interesting and/or how they apply to you.  Are you a music major?  How might a psychology or physics lecture pertaining to the four properties of sound (I.e., pitch, dynamics, timbre and duration) contribute to your understanding or playing of your instrument?  Are you a math major?  How might learning about the cultures and customs of different ethnic groups in a sociology class help you understand the differences among people that promotes perspective taking when listening to or reading news stories about these people?  Maybe this will help you develop and foster relationships with these people in your current or future work roles.  It’s not always possible to find things that apply, but the general idea is to resist the temptation to wade in the waters of negativity or frustration and be on the lookout for something interesting – even if it’s only something seemingly insignificant.

2. Segment your time & reward yourself.  Have you ever heard of the strategy of breaking down big projects – like writing research papers for classes – into smaller chunks?  The idea is that it doesn’t seem as overwhelming when you only have to knock out smaller pieces of a project a little bit at a time.  The same thing applies to time.  If you have a boring three-hour class once a week then it may help to break it up into smaller chunks psychologically.  In other words, telling yourself, “OK.  My goal is to make it through the next ½ hour of this class successfully.” You could make a game out of it by giving yourself a point when you make it through a certain amount of class time – perhaps for a 1/2 hour of the class in this example – and rewarding yourself if you earn a certain number of points (e.g., ½ hour of video game playing).  Of course, you would need to define what it means to get through a part of a class “successfully.” Success might mean taking notes, making the effort to be attentive and even engaging in class discussions.  It may also mean resisting the urge to get on social media, surf the internet or sleep.  You would also need to pre-determine your rewards, which could be anything from video game playing time, hanging out with friends, etc. (e.g., if you could earn a maximum of 6 points for a three-hour class then earning 1 – 2 points might mean no earned privileges that night or the following day; 3 – 4 points might mean some privileges, but not the normal number of privileges; 5 – 6 points would earn you the normal amount of privileges that night or the following day).  So basically you would reward yourself with privileges, which must be earned.  You’ve probably thought about it already, but you have to be honest with yourself and stick to the system for this strategy to work.  BTW – keep in mind that you can adjust the time segments based on how long a class lasts.

3.  Doodle.  Yes, believe it or not doodling on a piece of paper can help you when you feel restless or trapped in a situation that, well, may seem unbearable.  The results of a study conducted by Jackie Andrade and published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology showed that doodlers have an easier time recalling dull information than non-doodlers because non-doodlers are more likely to daydream when performing a drab task.  Making zentangles is one form of doodling in which you make a series of loops, lines, curves, etc. that intersect with one another – perhaps in a random fashion or in a more structured way – and then draw different patterns within the empty spaces.  The challenging part is to maintain your focus on the professor while you’re doing this so you don’t miss out on important information.  It’s harder to do that when you’re daydreaming, texting, checking out social media posts or surfing the internet, which are more likely to be your go-to coping behaviors when you’re in situations like this.  And so once again – the idea is to switch to coping behaviors that don’t take you away from the bottom-line objective of learning.

4. Prepare for the lecture and engage in class activities.  Believe it or, the more often you prepare for class and participate in class activities the less bored you will feel.  You’re probably thinking, “You mean I have to do one boring thing so I don’t feel bored in class???”  Um, yeah that’s pretty much it.  It’s sort of like preparing for a big trip:  the more you prepare for the trip ahead of time the less overwhelmed you’ll feel when it comes time to leave.  This obviously takes effort on your part, however.  You have to make a decision that you’ll take notes, actively process information by asking yourself or the professor questions throughout the course of the lecture and participate in class discussions.  You may be more likely to do this if you sit in the front of the classroom because it’s more difficult to text message or look at social media posts when you’re closer to the professor.

How about trying a little experiment?  Think of a class in which you routinely get bored.  For the next two classes prepare for the lectures ahead of time by reading the textbook or whatever you need to do to prepare for it.  Sit in the front of the classroom.  If you want to throw in a dash of creativity you could take on the persona of a secret agent in which you are gathering information to report to your leader.  As a secret agent for the “good guys” your mission – if you choose to accept it – is to listen for the professor – who is a spy for the “bad guys” – to say certain “code words or phrases” (which in reality are key words, phrases or concepts pertaining to whatever the professor is lecturing on) and consider how the professor wants you to think about them (e.g., “Right.  He wants me to think that positive reinforcement is all about rewarding someone for some behavior so it’s more likely to happen again, but I know he was secretly telling his accomplice – that student sitting in the back of the classroom – that he needs him to ‘take someone out’ and he’ll reward him when he does it.”).  The goal is to “crack the code” so to speak, which will involve sifting through a bunch of information that’s presented in class.

So are you willing to give one of these strategies a try this week?  Keep this in mind:  it’s not unusual to give a strategy a try and for it not to work – or work that great – the first couple of times.  Give any strategy a try for at least a week before you decide that it’s unhelpful and move on to the next strategy.

BTW – if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stress of college and are looking for a flexible and easy “Skype-like” experience in which you can talk to a psychologist from the comfort of own dorm room, apartment or home then contact Dr. Quarto at (615) 403-5227 or chris@chrisquarto.com(https://chrisquarto.com/counseling/).

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