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Studying with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties

Expert guidance from Study Advice at the University of Reading

Tips for lectures and seminars

Most teaching in universities happens in lectures and seminars.  However, it can be difficult to get the most out of them when you have an SpLD, which may make simultaneous listening, watching and note taking something of a challenge. Below are some tips to get the most from your lectures and seminars.


Lectures and Seminars

Lectures and seminars can be extremely tiring for students with specific learning difficulties (SpLD’s).  Due to the way language is processed, concentrating for long periods of time on what is being said may require a great deal of effort, leaving students feeling 'drained''.  Also, lectures and seminars usually require students to perform a number of tasks simultaneously – such as listening, making notes and copying from a screen. As performing such tasks is less instinctive or automatic for students with SpLD's than for others,  the greater mental effort required may result in feelings of mental overload and exhaustion.  

Tips for getting the most from lecturers and seminars include:

Before the lecture/seminar 

Take some of the effort out of lectures and seminars by doing some advanced preparation.  

  • If available, print-off and read through lecture slides/handouts before the lecture/seminar;
  • If lecture slides/handouts are unavailable, look for alternative material providing a broad overview of the lecture/seminar topic, such as encyclopedic guides in your subject area. Try looking for this kind of information in the dedicated web pages for your subject, on the library web site;
  • Use this material to get the gist or a broad overview of the topic;
  • Use lecture slides/handouts (or other related material) to connect the lecture topic with module aims and objects - try to see where it fits within the overall framework of the module; 
  • Familiarise yourself with the meaning and pronunciation of any new vocabulary or technical terms - online dictionaries can help with this;
  • Highlight things you don't understand and/or questions you would like to have answered. Listen out for this information during the lecture; this will improve your understanding and has the added benefit of helping to engage your attention.

During the lecture/seminar

During the lecture/seminar make pattern, Cornell or linear notes (see below). Consider recording lectures (remember it’s polite to ask permission from the lecturer before you do so).

Note taking

Taking notes in lectures is a way of recording important information so that it can be referred to at a later date. Taking good notes involves being selective about what is recorded and using a format that makes important information clearly and immediately identifiable.  Good notes capture the information presented in the lecture briefly and accurately.

What should be recorded? Identify important  information using key words and phrases

One way of identifying important information from a lecture is to pick-out key words and phrases. key words tend to be strong nouns and verbs – i.e. nouns and verbs that create strong mental images. They act as triggers for remembering and save us time as they do not need to be put into sentences to be useful

Format your notes

Lecture notes can be set out as linear notes; pattern notes; Cornell notes


Linear notes are written in your own words; headings and sub headings are used to create a framework for organising the written information.


Title/Subject/Main heading


(a) Detail (e.g. key words/important points/examples/explanations/main points/conclusions)

(b) Detail(e.g. key words/important points/examples/explanations/main points/conclusions)

2. Subheading

3. Sub Heading

(a) Detail(e.g. key words/important points/examples/explanations/main points/conclusions)

(b) Detail(e.g. key words/important points/examples/explanations/main points/conclusions)

(c ) Detail(e.g. key words/important points/examples/explanations/main points/conclusions)


Pattern notes present information from lectures in the form of  mind maps/spider diagram.  Pattern notes have the advantage of making information more visual and gives equal weight to each sub-topic covered. (Linear notes tend to emphasise information presented at the start).  Pattern notes help to reveal relationships between topics, ideas and concepts etc.,and show how the parts fit with the whole.

  • Use keywords/pictures/symbols
  • Use paper in ‘landscape’ if possible
  • Start with subject/title/ main heading in the center
  • Branch out from the center with sub headings
  • From subheadings use further branches for details
  • Place important points near the center
  • Place details near the edges
  • Use colours/highlighters
  • Group/ make connections between details



To create Cornell notes, divide up each page into two columns and one row as shown below.  In the right  column, make linear or pattern notes as usual. Use the left column to record your observations on the content of your notes.  Jot down anything that comes to mind, such as examples, questions, contradictions or new vocabulary.  Follow up on this information and review it at regular intervals. For each page of notes, write a brief summary as soon as possible after the lecture. 

Review Column

Use for questions such as gaps in your understanding;



(later on)

Notes column

Make brief linear or pattern notes (during the lecture)


Summarise each page of lecture notes – (shortly after the lecture)

Adapted from Godwin, 2012

Cornell notes provide a framework for reflecting on the information contained in your notes and facilitate reviewing your learning at regular intervals.

After the lecture/seminar

  • Immediately after the lecture, reflect briefly on what you learned and write a short summary. Reflect on, and revise from your notes at regular intervals.
  • Try to arrive on time for lectures and stay until the end. The beginning and ending of  lectures are often the times when lecturers give out key bits of information, such as topics to pay attention to when revising or notifications about imetable changes.  
  • Finally, where possible, take short breaks between classes to allow yourself time to ‘recharge’.

Our guides and videos on lectures and seminars