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Preparing for success

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Are you ready to hear what makes a successful student?

In the next step, you’ll watch a video about successful students at Coventry University, which may include many words or phrases that are new to you.

So how can you prepare to watch the video, to ensure you get the most out of it?

Read our tips for successful listening.


When you listen it is important that you get your brain ready by preparing properly. One way to prepare to listen is by predicting.

Usually, when we listen in everyday situations we are helped by the context we are listening in. For example, when you go to a supermarket to buy some food, your brain is ready to receive language like ‘would you like to pay by cash or card?’ or ‘would you like a bag?’ because you are in a supermarket. However, if someone in the street came up to you and asked if you would like a bag, it would be confusing and difficult to understand.

This is the same when we are in a lecture. If you haven’t prepared for your lecture by thinking about what the content will be for the specific context, then it can be really confusing and difficult to understand.

One of the best ways to prepare to listen is by predicting what you will hear. This helps you to put all of the useful words you already know about the subject at the front of your brain and makes it much easier to understand what the lecturer is saying.

You have already made some predictions in the previous step, when you discussed what a successful student looks like.


Listening to lectures at university can be very difficult because of the amount of information and because you might not know some of the subject-specific words the lecturer is using.

It is very easy to get lost when you don’t know a word because your brain starts to focus on the word you don’t know and you stop listening to what the lecturer is saying. That is why it is important to learn how to listen for gist when you are listening to something for the first time.

When we take notes in lectures it is important to remember that it is the quality of our notes that is important, not the quantity.

Do not try to write down everything the speakers say.

When taking notes, you should not write down everything you hear and you should try to listen and think more than you write. You should try to understand what the speaker is telling you and then summarise this in your notes.

What is gist?

Gist is the main idea or important information in a lecture or a text.

It is important to make sure you focus on recording the main ideas from a lecture, seminar or reading and not get distracted by the words you don’t know.

Listening for gist

It is possible to understand most of the important information in a lecture without understanding every word the lecturer says. Here are some tips to help you listen for gist, record all of the important information from your lecture, and not get lost by focusing on words you don’t know.

  • Think about what the speakers are saying and try to write down the key information;
  • Do not try to write down everything the speakers say; try to relax and let the important information jump out at you;
  • When you hear something that you think is interesting or important, think about what the key idea is and summarise it in a few words to help you remember; and
  • Use the information on the PowerPoint slide or the words that appear on the screen to help you focus on the most important information.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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English for Academic Study

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