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Maximizing note taking accommodations

Permission to Audio Record Lectures

The strategies we discuss here apply to DRS students who are physically able to write notes.

Record the lecture and write notes

If you’re wondering why you need to write notes if you’re recording the lecture, consider the following points:

  • You’re busy! You do not have time to re-listen to every single lecture.
  • Even if you had the time, listening to a lecture over and over again is not an efficient way to study. It takes too much time.
  • Re-listening to lectures is also tedious. Most students find that they just can’t make themselves sit through the same lecture twice.

What should be in your notes

Do not try to write down everything your professor says. You will learn better if you use your mental energy to listen closely and digest the information.

Your notes need to contain two different types of information:

1) What do I need to listen to again?

You may need to re-listen to something because you didn’t understand it or because you spaced out or because it seemed really important and you want to dive deeper into what the professor said. By indicating this in your notes, you can quickly return to the exact moment in the lecture that you want to hear again. This is way more efficient than listening to the whole thing twice.

Come up with a list of symbols or letters that indicate different things. This is called a legend. You’ve probably seen a legend before. Most maps have them. The different symbols show you how to find things you may need like a parking lot, lake, picnic area, or restroom.

The legend you create for your notes will help you find the information you need later. Here’s an example legend:

The letter T stands for information likely to show up on a test. The letter P stands for information or a quote you want to use for a paper. The question mark symbol stands for something you found confusing and want to revisit. The letter x stands for a time when you spaced out. A smiley face stands for something you found funny and want to hear again.

TIP: Note taking software has different options for creating legends. Make sure to explore functions such as labels, symbols, and highlighting to figure out what works best for you.

2) What information is important?

The second thing you’ll want to put in your notes are key concepts and brief summaries of your professor’s main points as well as important dates, names, facts and other critical information from the lecture. This is the type of information that people usually think of when they take notes.

How many of these content-related notes you write depends on your disability. If writing notes is effortful or makes it hard for you to pay attention or learn information, then experiment with taking as few content-related notes as possible. This will allow you to focus on comprehending what the professor says. Keep in mind that you can always add to your notes later. Revisiting the lecture later to fill in the gaps you missed will also give you a chance to review the material, which can improve your retention.

However, if taking more detailed notes during the lecture helps you remember the content, then you can combine your symbols with more detailed notes. The symbols will help you review the information more efficiently by helping you remember where you want to dive deeper into the content of the lecture or fill in holes where you were confused or distracted.

For tips on how to take better content-related notes, check out our resource on taking effective notes in class.