Students with Disabilities and Note-Taking

Does your child have difficulty taking notes during class? Or, perhaps not have enough quality/quantity notes from class lectures that one would expect to demonstrate understanding the lecture material that day, and to properly prepare for a unit, midterm, or final exam later. Note-taking has been examined and, often, supports and accommodations are required for the student to have the quality and quantity of notes equivalent to that of students without disabilities. 

A Study Examining Note-Taking and Students with Disabilities

A study by Joseph R. Boyle (2010) examined the impact of strategic note-taking on recall and test performance in a science class with middle school students that have been identified with the IDEA disability category, specific learning disability. In middle school and the grades above, the majority of content-specific classes such as science, history, mathematics, etc. largely use teacher-led lectures to teach subject information.  For students to do well, they must have strong listening skills to take comprehensive and informative notes. 


Fewer Notes and of Lesser Quality for Students with Disabilities

Students that have a learning disability are at an academic disadvantage because they take fewer notes and notes of lesser quality than students that do not have a learning disability.   The study seeks to understand the result on quality, quantity, recall, and comprehension if students with learning disabilities employ strategic note-taking during a lecture. 


Would Strategic Note-Taking Make a Difference? 

Would strategic note-taking increase the ability to capture more notes? Would students develop stronger listening skills and strengthen the ability to identify relevantly versus irrelevant information?  Would the lecture be more memorable?  Would comprehension improve?   Would strategic note-taking allow the student to better succeed?  Specifically, the study sought to address the effect of strategic note-taking on four measures: (1) number of notes recorded (2) recall and a comprehension performance (3) record of cued lecture points (lecture points subtly highlighted by the teacher – e.g. “listen up this is important,” or a numbered point “there are three types of toads”) and lastly, (4) recall of cued lecture points when the lecture was over.


Study Explanation

A group of forty, sixth through eighth-grade students, who were previously diagnosed having a learning disability, were chosen from two middle schools in the Mid-Atlantic region.  From the forty students, two groups were created by random sampling, an experimental group, and a control group.  The groups were identical across gender (11 male/9 female), with ethnicity, IQ scores, achievement tests, and writing samples noting few differences. 


  1. The experimental group received strategic note-taking training over two sessions using videotaped lectures that simulated a typical science lecture. 

    • The first session was used for strategic note-taking training

    • The second session was used as a student test session – practicing strategic note-taking. 

    • This group received paper purposely designed for strategic note-taking.

  2. The control group received no training and received normal white lined paper for their note-taking. 

The students in both groups were to take notes on a videotaped science lecture; none had prior knowledge about the topic. 


The independent variable was strategic note-taking. This variable (training, practice, and specialized note-taking paper) is the difference across the two groups.   


There were four dependent variables measured: 

  1. Total notes recorded (cued lecture points, non-cued lecture points, total lecture points, and total words)

  2. An immediate free recall (immediately after the lecture, facts, vocabulary, and lecture points were collected without the aid of notes)

  3. Long-term recall (same as the immediate free recall but conducted two days after the lecture)

  4. Finally, a 15 question multiple-choice comprehension test (purposely difficult to avoid a ceiling effect and administered right after immediate free recall). 

  5. While not a dependent variable, student feelings towards the method (how they felt strategic note-taking affected them) were also measured. 


Voilà! Strategic Note-Taking Works!

The results indicate that strategic note-taking makes a positive significant difference in recall, comprehension, and overall increase of note-taking. 


Notes Increased in Total 

The experimental group recorded more notes as they almost doubled the total lecture points in their notes compared to the control group. 

Increased Recall

There was a significant positive difference in the recall by the experimental group. The immediate free recall (remembering notes, lecture points, and vocabulary right after the lecture and without the aid of notes) and long-term recall (same as the immediate free recall but two days after the lecture) with the strategic note-taking group doubled and almost doubled, respectively, the lecture points from the conventional note-taking group. 


Stronger Comprehension

The strategic note-taking group also scored slightly higher on the multiple-choice test, indicating a stronger comprehension of the material.  The strategic note-taking group was also able to decipher better between relevant and irrelevant information as the group had more cued lecture points than the control group. 


Favorably Received

Lastly, the strategic note-taking group reported favorably on the effects of strategic note-taking on their notes when compared to taking notes conventionally.  They reported that they remembered better and their notes were more organized but also noted that it took more time to write the notes in the correct part of the strategic note-taking paper. 


In Review

Strategic note-taking worked positively by enabling the experimental group to have better recall and comprehension than the control group.  Their notes contained more lecture points overall and more total words.  Although no students without learning disabilities were included in this study, the percentage of possible lecture points recorded from the strategic note-taking group is reported to be very similar to that of students without a learning disability recorded from a different study


Additionally, the experimental group recorded and recalled more cued lecture points.  Given the importance of cued lecture points (distinguished by teachers) in subject importance and the likelihood of those cued points appearing on tests and quizzes, having added cued lecture points should increase achievement.  The study saw the achievement improvement as the experimental group achieved better on the multiple-choice test than the control group.  Also noted, neither group was able to study notes prior to test-taking.  It could be argued that had the groups had an opportunity to study the notes prior to the test, the experimental group may have outperformed the control group even more. 

Remove the Inherit Disadvantage for Students with Disabilities!

Students with learning disabilities come to note-taking disadvantaged as note-taking draws upon skills and areas where these students often have difficulties, such as the ability to switch from listening to writing, a strong working memory, good listening skills, and switching from working memory to long-term memory. 


Interpretation of the results of the study should keep in mind that a single lecture was used to measure the strategic note-taking effectiveness.  Also, a videotaped lecture, not a live lecture, was used for students to record notes; this may or may not have an effect on student note-taking.  Additionally, students were made aware that study results would not count toward student grade; thus, they may have been more relaxed on note-taking skills.



Boyle, J. R.. (2010). Strategic Note-Taking for Middle-School Students with Learning Disabilities in Science Classes. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33(2), 93–109.

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