Poor Notes, Stressed Studying

Develop Processing Speed

Rely on Multiple Note-taking Sources

You may notice that your child doesn’t do well on tests or becomes stressed while studying because his notes from class have big gaps. If he manages to assemble the basic outline of material covered, most of the details are missing. He can study well enough from his books, but not from his incomplete notes. As a result, he doesn’t have the opportunity to learn all of the material and isn’t sufficiently prepared for his test.

Most high school children miss occasional details during lecture-style teaching. But when your child chronically misses huge chunks of information and is stressed about keeping up with the pace of note taking, this could indicate he is struggling with processing speed.

Processing speed is one of our executive functions: the set of skills that let us execute daily tasks.

Solution: Leveraging help from others and technology

Knowing your child has back-up measures to secure thorough notes can remove distracting anxiety and enhance focus. But mainly, leveraging these crucial measures will sidestep a processing-speed problem. He’ll get the detailed notes so that he can process the information at his own pace — and study effectively.

When he gets to college, your child may be able to have a full set of notes delivered to him, anonymously, through the Office of Student Services. Until then, he can use basic measures to secure the detailed notes he needs. He can:

  • Ask the teacher in advance to email him the Power Point slides used in class, and then take abbreviated notes on the outline.
  • Ask a friend for a copy of the notes.
  • Learn to type (there are many online programs available) to increase his speed; typing is always faster than writing and minimizes the burden of editing.

Don’t do this: Let your child record a whole lecture with a traditional recording device. He likely won’t get around to transcribing it because it takes so long.

Try this instead: Help him to put a system in place for note taking. He can talk to friends in advance to gauge who is willing to help. (Being asked after the fact may cause a friend to feel put upon due to stress; asking in advance may allow the friend to feel honored and want to help.) Also, the teacher may be willing to send slides.

Remember: Your child’s note-taking difficulties aren’t a matter of his paying attention or not; they are tied to a processing speed problem. The problem can be resolved largely by sidestepping it, and getting the extra support he needs to absorb the scope of information at his own pace.

It is perfectly normal for children to experience some degree of difficulty and frustration as they learn to execute new tasks. Toddlers can tantrum, school-aged children can yell and argue, and teenagers can ignore instructions. When deciding if executive function weaknesses require intervention, ask yourself: “How frequently is this occurring? How intense is the experience/significant the impact?” If your answer to these questions is “too much,” “too often,” “I don’t know what to do to change this,” or “it’s only getting worse,” you may benefit from a face-to-face conversation to help problem-solve your concern. Effective problem solving will help you clearly identify the problem, goal, steps it will take to achieve your goal, possible barriers, and available supports.

What to Expect

You and your child or adolescent will meet with a pediatric neuropsychologist for approximately one hour. 

Executive Function Interventions

These interventions aim to create new habits that can sidestep or override a child’s cognitive challenges.


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