Going to lectures and tutorials

Academic Life

Articles for students and families transitioning into higher education.

Going to lectures and tutorials

  • AsIAm
  • 10/05/2021
  • 8 minutes read

Going to lectures and tutorials

Going to lectures at University or College can be a very different experience than going to classes at primary or secondary school. This can be the case both in terms of the size of lecture (there might be hundreds of students attending a lecture) and in terms of the level of participation that might be expected of you at a lab or tutorial, which are designed to be more practical in the ways of learning about the subject. This is really important to know when making the transition to University or College, and will help you break down what a lecture and tutorial might entail.


It can be hard to experience an academic lecture until you’ve been to one. It can be a very different experience to going to class at school or attending a public lecture as people behave differently in those environments. College lecture have very different expectations and, in many cases, the lecturer will not follow up to see if you have been doing the prescribed course work or paying attention in class. 

Lectures are structured in different ways, depending on the type of course you are taking and the course’s content. Some lectures will take a formal, traditional format where the lecturer is standing or moving around at the front of a lecture theatre, talking through a PowerPoint or video presentation, and giving insight into how they might see the topic. In this setting, there might be little to no input from students themselves, unless the lecturer actively seeks it. The lecturer might not let you know when they are saying something important that they believe you should take notes and they will not pause the lecture to give you an opportunity to copy information from the slides or take additional notes, so you might have to pay attention to as many words they say as possible.

In some lectures, the lecturer might also use a whiteboard or chalkboard which might contain information that is not available on the slides. This might leave you with the task of trying to keep pace with the lecturer’s style and deciding which information do you need to take notes on.

Labs and Tutorials

In contrast to this, labs and tutorials are classes which can help you deepen your understanding about a particular topic which goes beyond the scope of a traditional lecture. It can provide you with the opportunity to discuss the learnings raised in the lecture and to practically apply the knowledge you’ve gained. It can also provide the opportunity to read further into a topic that you might be interested in, engage with the course material, or clarify parts of the module you might have found confusing. It can help you to get to know your classmates better. 

The structure and content of a tutorial would depend on how far along the module you are, as well as the tutor, but it can involve the following:

  • A discussion on the topics raised in the last lecture, or in the lecturer’s assigned readings for the class;
  • Activities that aim to enhance your understanding of the topic raised at the lecture;
  • Working on practical problems or having group discussions about the topic:
  • Support and guidance around how to handle any assignments or assessments you might have;
  • Talking points from the last assignment (what the assignment is like, or any issues raised by the assignment)
  • Different ways of learning the course material
  • A way to chat informally to classmates and tutors, if you feel comfortable to do so.  

How lab and tutorials are arranged can change depending on the course you are doing and on the University. Some modules might randomly assign you a group with which you take tutorials for the semester, some might ask you to book a slot for the semester, whereas others might give students a range of options and to pick a tutorial time that best suits.   

How can going to lectures impact me?

Keeping up with the lecturer, taking notes of what they say, being in a big group of students and dealing with all the sensory stimuli that comes with being at a lecture theatre can be a challenging – and sometimes rewarding – experience. Many students enjoy going to lectures as it can provide an opportunity to learn about a subject that you’re passionate about from an expert, and to hear their perspective on a topic.

Lecture theatres differ in size and capacity, which can depend on where the hall is located and how many students are taking the subject. There may be students in the lecture theatre that are doing a different degree or different degree path but are studying the same module. In some modules, there might be a mix of people in different disciplines studying the same module. 

In contrast to this, tutorials usually take place in small groups and smaller classrooms, and it can pose different barriers in terms of having to participate in group discussions around the material, as well as different sensory barriers that go with being in a smaller classroom. Lots of people find going to tutorials a very positive experience, but one of the drawbacks is that it might be harder to ask for accommodations when you know it’s a room full of your peers as opposed to a lecture hall with hundreds of people.  It might be useful to get in touch with your tutor in person or over email if you have any difficulties with any aspect of the tutorial, and they will try to find ways of accommodating your needs.   

How can I manage the sensory load of being at a lecture?

Practical tips

Make notes:

  1. It’s impossible to write down everything the lecturer has said. However, it might be a good idea to develop your own way of getting as much information as possible down, through strategies like shorthand and abbreviations where appropriate.
  2. Copying everything that’s on each slide might not be that helpful, as often the slides might be made available on Virtual Learning Environment like Sharepoint, Blackboard or Moodle in advance of the lecture, or made as a handout for you to follow. It might be a good idea to print out the slides in advance of the lecture, and make additional notes on what you think might be important If you have difficulty with taking notes, you can through the University or College’s Disability Support Service ask for additional information, like the lecturer’s notes, or ask for a note-taker who can help you with taking notes, as a form of Reasonable Accommodation.
  3. Some lectures might be recorded, and an audio recording of the lecture and any related materials like PowerPoint slides might be made available as a podcast through a platform like Moodle, Blackboard, SharePoint or another Virtual Learning Environment. They might also provide access to a video recording of the lecture if it is done remotely. This might be helpful in case you want to listen to a lecture again, to make any additional notes you might have missed in the lecture or to clarify your understanding of a specific part of a lecture. If you want to record any lectures that the lecturer doesn’t record themselves, you can use your phone or borrow a dictaphone through the Disability Support Service to record the lecture. Make sure that you get the lecturer’s permission first to record the lecture, either by asking them or going through the Disability Support Service. In many cases, lecturers would be happy to accommodate this request.
  4. Try to write your thoughts about the contents of the lecture as well as the main points of what the lecturer has said. This can help you to gain a better understanding of the topic, as well as with ideas around assignments and assessments.
  5. Mind mapping, either through hand or using software, can be a great way to show how ideas are linked in a visual way that’s different from bullet points or taking down notes. It can be a good way to prepare for assignments or assessments. Your Disability Support Service, Academic Writing or Study Support can provide you with more information on mind mapping and how it can help you with your studies.
  6. Usually at a tutorial, it might not be necessary to take notes unless you feel it might be important later on. It can be useful to bring your study materials with you, as well as a pen, paper or calculator if your module requires them. If you have assigned readings for the tutorial, make sure that you study these readings (particularly if they are Essential Readings for the Course) and take notes as this will likely be discussed at the tutorial. It is also a good idea to also read the additional readings assigned for the course if you have the time to do so as this will help you to gain a deeper understanding about the week’s topic. 


  1. Lectures don’t always start on time, but it’s always a good idea to operate on the assumption that they will. Arriving early can be helpful, as it can give you time to get settled, prepare in advance and to pick the seat you want at the theatre. This is the same for a tutorial, as arriving early can help you to get settled, look over your notes or talk with your classmates if you feel comfortable to do so.
  2. Sometimes, you might not be able to avoid being late for a lecture or tutorial – you might have a number of lectures consecutively and it might take time to travel from one lecture to another, if you are working on an assignment or if you are studying for an assessment. Whilst some lecturers might take a dim view of students arriving late for lectures, most lecturers would understand, and they should let you know if they don’t tolerate latecomers. Come into the lecture hall as quietly as possible – whilst it might feel intimidating, most people will not take notice and it is better to miss as little of the lecture as possible. You might need to follow the same strategy if you need to leave a little earlier than the lecture finishes, or if you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the lecture.
  3. Other students might arrive late for the lecture or need to leave the lecture early. Whilst this can be distracting, it is more acceptable to do this at college, as they will not be punished for it, and everyone has things going on during college time that might cause them to miss lectures throughout the semester. 
  4. Sometimes if you arrive very early for a lecture or tutorial, the previous lecture or tutorial might still be taking place, or you might be caught in a crowd of people leaving the lecture hall or classroom. If you have some spare time during classes, particularly in the first few weeks, it might be useful to take some time and familiarise yourself with how lectures and tutorials are scheduled, and where the different entrances and exits are in each building in case you might find it overwhelming.
  5.  If you have some time, try to go to the bathroom before a lecture or tutorial starts. As lectures and tutorials often last an hour, if not more, and sometimes have no breaks between periods, this can be a good way of avoiding a situation where you need to go during a lecture or tutorial, or thinking about going when you would prefer to concentrate on the lecture or tutorial.
  6. Arriving early to a lecture can give you more options on where to sit at a theatre, and give you an opportunity to pick where you want to sit, as opposed to picking whatever seat is available. Most seats at the lecture theatre would have good sight lines regardless of where you sit. You can sit at the front if you think that this helps you to concentrate better, or you can pick a place near the door if you feel there might be a point where you need to leave quickly. 

Asking questions

The lecturer may leave time to ask questions at a lecture – the lecturer may ask if there are any questions at a point during the lecture or leave a specific time for this at the end. If you have a question, it might be a good idea to write it down and ask the question when the moment arises.

If you want to ask a question publicly in a lecture, try to do so if it’s a question that everyone attending the lecture could find useful when they hear the answer. However if the lecturer hangs around for some time after the lecture, provides an email address or an opportunity for you to arrange an appointment at their office, there may be opportunities to ask a question more privately, if that suits better or if you think that you might get a more detailed reply.   

If you didn’t get the chance to ask the question you wanted at the lecture, there’s always an opportunity to ask the question at the week’s tutorial. 

Disclosing your autism diagnosis

It might also be helpful to let your lecturer or tutor know in person or via email that you are autistic and how that might have an impact on your experience of the course. If you decide to let the lecturer know about your autism diagnosis, you can also let them know about any parts of the course that you might find particularly difficult (assignments, group presentations), and what accommodations might help. In some cases, your lecturer or tutor might put strategies in place to help you with aspects of the module, like giving contributions at tutorials or giving presentations, that you might have difficulties with. 





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