What are lectures really like?

Lectures at university can be quite different from lessons at school and college, particularly when you are taught in a big group. This activity will help you to make the most out of lectures.


It’s hard to know what an undergraduate lecture is like until you’ve been to one. Even if you’ve been to a public lecture or sample session as part of visiting your university, it’s not quite the same as the real thing because people behave differently at those events and you don’t often have to take notes.




How could this affect me?

Keeping up with note taking, being in a big group and dealing with sensory stimuli can be both challenging and exciting – just like the content of lectures themselves. Many students really enjoy lectures as it’s a chance to learn more about a subject you’re really interested in from an expert in your field.


What to do next?

Think about your coping skills

Practical tips

Making notes

  1. You can’t really write down everything that is said, even if you have amazing shorthand skills. Though developing your own shorthand and abbreviations isn’t a bad idea (see this Guardian article).
  2. It’s pointless copying exactly what’s on the slides – they are often uploaded to the virtual learning environment (Moodle at the University of Bath) and/or printed as a handout.
  3. Try to write what you think about the contents of the lecture, reflectively, as well as the main points of what is said.
  4. Mind mapping, either via software on your laptop or drawn by hand, can be a really useful way of showing how ideas are linked and might suit your way of thinking better than writing down full paragraphs or even bullet points.


  1. Lectures don’t always start on time, but it’s better to assume that they will. If you can, join early as you will not miss anything and you can get settled before it begins.
  2. Sometimes being late is unavoidable – while some lecturers don’t allow latecomers, they should tell you in advance if this is the case. You should be able to catch up later from the recording if you can’t join in the live lecture stream.
  3. Other students may well arrive late or need to leave early themselves. This can be distracting, but it’s okay to do this at university, as everyone has things going on outside the course.
  4. If you have time, go to the loo first! It sounds obvious and embarrassing, but lectures are often two or three hours long and not all of them have breaks (and if they do, there can be queues). You don’t want to be thinking about it throughout the session or having to run out at the end.

Question time

  1. There will often be an opportunity to ask questions in a lecture – either the lecturer will ask if there are any questions during the session or there will be specific time left aside for this at the end. Write your question down and save it for later.
  2. You should only ask a question publicly in a lecture if you think everyone in the session would benefit from hearing the answer. This is quite hard to get to grips with. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask things that are more personal to you and your understanding of a topic or assignment, it’s just that you need to either ask privately at the end of the lecture, email your lecturer or arrange an appointment with them.

Telling the lecturer about your autism


“In first year I missed a lot of lectures and also would sometimes have to leave during one as I would have severe anxiety due to having to sit surrounded by people, not moving and often in a room with no windows and unnatural light. Lecturers were aware this could be the case and so did not mind and knew I was not being rude.” (Fern, final year student, Autism&Uni interview)

It can be beneficial to tell your lecturers know (in person or via email) that you are autistic and how it affects you – even if you think they already know. Read the rest of Fern’s interview and the toolkit section on Telling people at university about your autism, if you haven’t already done so.

Questions to think about

  1. Do you prefer to read handouts online or on paper?
  2. What helps you to focus on someone speaking, like a lecturer, when a lot is going on?
  3. Do you feel comfortable asking the lecturer to use the microphone if everyone else says they’re OK without it or the lecturer starts speaking quietly?
  4. If you need to leave a lecture early, either because you have an appointment or you need to go somewhere quiet for a while, how will you sort that out in advance?
  5. Do your lecturer and fellow students know that you are autistic? Do you think it might help if they did know?