It’s a great understatement to say that seminary is a very crazy time of life. The old cliché of seminary being like “drinking from a firehose” has stuck around for a reason. Trying to juggle work, family, church, and school responsibilities can leave you feeling like you have almost no time or energy left for actually learning anything in your classes.
While we can’t always do much to reduce our workload or free up more time in our busy schedule, we can take some small, practical steps to get more out of the time we do have to dedicate to our classes.
Here are six tips for getting the most out of each of your seminary courses:
- Take Notes by Hand
If you have a professor who does not allow laptops in class, please consider this a blessing. If your professor leaves your note-taking preferences to your discretion, I strongly urge you to leave your laptop in your backpack still and break out the paper and pencil.
This one tip alone will help you get a lot more out of every class you attend. The reasons are two-fold:
First, you will be much less prone to distraction. I was amazed (in a bad way) by just how easily distracted I was in class when using a laptop. I would be listening to an interesting lecture and, next thing I knew, I was on IMDB trying to figure out how many movies Morgan Freeman has been in (at least 87). I’m not alone. You may think that you have enough willpower to stay off of Facebook or that you won’t work on your Greek during Systematic Theology, but you’re wrong. Laptops will distract you.
Secondly, when you are typing just as fast as your professor is talking, you are not doing any mental work digesting and restating the material. Writing by hand is slower, so you are forced to condense concepts, listen for the most important parts, and put the lecture’s content in your own words. Many studies suggest that the act of writing by hand also aids in comprehension and recall, and this may be a major reason why.
- Take Time to Reflect
When you’re in the thick of seminary life, it can be difficult to take time to think deeply about what it is you are learning. Remember, your goal is not merely to get a good grade or earn a piece of paper in three years. Your goal is to be equipped for the work of the ministry. It is vital that you take time to think about what you are learning and how it will apply in your ministry context.
But how are you to sit and reflect on your classes when it seems like you hardly have time to go to class? Here are a few suggestions on making time to reflect:
- Skip the headphones – Skip the music or podcasts as you are walking, riding, or driving to class.
- Eat lunch with a friend – You’ve gotta eat, right? Try to grab lunch with a friend after class and talk about the material that was discussed.
- Add to your notes – At the end of your handwritten notes for that class period, take a few minutes and write down three of the most impactful aspects of what you learned that day, as well as how you hope to apply these lessons in your future ministry.
- Be Curious
At some point in your classes, the professor or another student is going to drop a name or use a term that is entirely foreign to you. You’ll look around and notice that no one else in the room has shown any sign of confusion, and you’ll convince yourself that you are the only student in the entire seminary who doesn’t already know what Patripassianism is.
If you’re not brave enough to raise your hand and ask the question, write these terms down in your notebook. Look them up and write the definition down alongside it – the term is likely to come up again.
Never leave a term or name unknown after it comes up in class. Even a 1 or 2 sentence definition will help you make these unknown terms and people more understandable the next time they come up. Then you’ll be able to laugh right along with your classmates when the professor tells a joke with fideism as the punchline.
- Use Evernote
Even if you are taking notes by hand, you can benefit from making use of Evernote. This free program is available for your computer, phone, and tablet and lets you organize notes, PDFs, photos, and much more. Create a notebook for each class and upload a photo or typed copy of your notes as well as the syllabus and any PDF handouts the professor provides. If you snap a picture of your notes, Evernote can even make your handwriting searchable! Best of all, everything you add into Evernote is easily findable by searching for titles, keywords, or tags.
If you’re not already familiar with Evernote, there are tons of helpful articles online you can find to get started.
- Embrace Audiobooks
In a perfect world, you would be able to read every recommended article and book that your professor mentions in class (not to mention completing the assigned reading). Additionally, you are likely to find your knowledge in some areas of church history or theology sorely lacking. A good book can help close that gap, but it’s difficult if not impossible to make time for non-assigned reading.
Here’s my tip: embrace audiobooks. Is listening to an audiobook just as good as reading it? No, not quite. You’ll lose out on the ability to stop and reread passages, highlight key paragraphs, and you may not retain as much as you would if you were reading. That being said, listening to a book is far better than not reading it at all. There are a variety of ways to get audiobooks, and depending on the class you may be surprised at how many titles are available in audio.
Libravox: These free, public domain audiobooks are read by volunteers from all over the world. The selection is surprisingly good, and most of the narrators are easy enough to listen to.
Hoopla: You can usually get free access to Hoopla through your local library. While it also has video and ebooks, the audiobook selection is great, and you’ll find a lot of the books you want to read are available.
Christian Audio: This will have a complete library of audiobooks, but you have to purchase them. You can try it out for free for 30 days though.
Audible: Like Christian Audio, you have to purchase individual titles. They do have a free trial where you get two free audiobooks for 30 days.
There are other ways that you can read more books, but audiobooks are about the fastest way to consume more material in less time.
A note on academic honesty: Don’t treat listening to an audiobook as being equal to reading an assigned text. If you are forced for lack of time to listen to an audiobook rather than read the book, note that on your assignment for your professor to take into consideration.
Listening to a book is an excellent way to catch yourself up on material that is mentioned in class or is recommended by your professor. There will be no shortage of good books to read during and after seminary, and listening to audiobooks can help you along the way.
You can’t always control all the various demands on your time and energy while you’re in seminary. Even so, by putting a good strategy in place, you can still get the most out of seminary (even when you’re crazy busy). As you get started on a new semester, use these five tips to get the most out of each class.