Need to act like you’re paying attention? Sit up straight, nod once in a while, and don’t even think about texting your friends. Here are some more tips.

Let’s face it – it’s impossible to pay attention in class 100% of the time. Some days you’re just too tired, or too bored, or too distracted. Even the best students find their minds wandering now and then. Unfortunately, professors don’t take too kindly to students not paying attention; that’s a professor’s pet peeve. And you really can’t blame them. How would you like it if you were speaking to a group of people and some of them were tuned out?

So here’s the trick: pretend like you’re paying attention. It isn’t easy, but it’s a skill you can practice – and one that will come in handy in the working world too, when you’re pretending to pay attention at a meeting! Here are some tips to help you act like you’re paying attention.

Nonverbal Cues: Good Posture, Nodding, Eye Contact

Your mind may be wandering somewhere else, but if your body looks like it’s present, then you might look like you’re listening. Sit up straight in your seat, and lean forward just a little bit. Practice good posture. Cross your legs slightly or place them comfortably in front of you on the ground. Avoid playing with your hands or hair.

You can also send nonverbal cues with your face. Nodding is a crucial non verbal cue, especially when the professor glances over your way. As a speaker, it’s affirming to see people that you’re speaking to nod now and then, so do it. Eye contact is important too. There’s no need to maintain constant eye contact with your professor – which is hard to do even if you are paying attention – so glance periodically at the professor when he or she is looking your way. A quick smile can’t hurt either. And if there’s something you’re supposed to be looking at, like PowerPoint slides, keep your eyes in that direction.

Take “Notes”

Taking good notes is an important skill (and for when you feel like actually paying attention, here are some tips for taking practical class notes.) You can’t take notes if you’re not paying attention, but this is nonetheless an excellent way to look like you’re tuning in. Pay attention to what everyone else is going through. When they write, you write. And who knows: you might write down something useful. Meanwhile, you can doodle away.

Taking notes on your laptop is practical, too, mainly because you can do other things on your computer that look like taking notes. Be careful, though. Please don’t get so caught up in Facebook or email that it’s clear that you’re doing something other than copying the PowerPoint slides.

Avoid Obvious Student Distractions

Most professors can forgive a little daydreaming. But if you want to avoid getting on your professor’s wrong side, don’t even think about texting, Sudoku, doing homework for other classes, reading the school paper, or engaging in other prevalent student distractions. One behavior you want to avoid: talking to other students. It is distracting to everyone, and there’s no faster way to make a professor mad.

So can you text at your desk without your professor noticing? Maybe. But this is harder than it looks, so it can’t resist, try to keep this to a minimum.

Be a Good Student (Most of the Time)

Want to avoid catching your professor’s eye when you’re wasting time? Then be a student who doesn’t waste time very much. Students who usually pay attention, ask questions, get decent grades, and generally act like responsible students and adults can pass under the professor’s radar when they’re having a bad day. And students who waste time frequently? The professor will be looking for signs that these students aren’t listening. (The same is true in the working world. If you work hard most of the time, the boss won’t notice the afternoon you spend surfing the web.)

And here’s the thing about not listening. Most of the moment, it’s a bad plan. You’re not going to do well in class if you don’t pay attention, and you know it. But once in a while, everyone needs a mental break. So use good common sense, and with some practice, you’ll learn to convey that wide awake and ready to learn.




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