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If you experience difficulties with motor skills, reading, listening, comprehension and maintaining focus, every assignment can feel like a mountain to climb.

Your university can offer many useful resources for improving and developing these skills such as online guides, courses and workshops but there’s a set of tools already at your fingertips.

You’re probably already familiar with Office 365 and its suite of productivity apps, but are you using them to their full potential? There are many features built-in that you can customise to create and consume documents faster and more efficiently.

To save you time exploring all the options, the experts at Ultima Education share six of their favourite (and free) Office 365 features that help with reading, writing, spelling, presenting, notetaking and getting organised. 

MS To Do is a task management app that allows you to keep on top of whatever you have to do, wherever you are. Everything can be organised quickly and easily, and your assignment deadlines can live happily alongside your shopping lists. Simply set up your categories, drag tasks to re-order them and add details such as reminders, due dates and supporting files. If you have a larger project to tackle, you can also add steps here, breaking it down into bite-size sections. 

You may already use OneNote to take notes in lectures, but a feature that’s often overlooked is the ability to record audio at the same time to ensure you never miss a thing. What makes this especially useful, is that the program automatically syncs with your notetaking so you can play back a specific point just by selecting a section of your notes. You are then free to concentrate on actively listening and taking your own notes which further aids your understanding.

Find out more about how tech can take the stress out of notetaking.

If you struggle with concentration and think faster than you can write, MS Word Dictation can help. This function creates content with your voice so you can get down your ideas quickly and easily. It’s simple to get started and you can edit, format, add punctuation and comments all while dictating. Your transcribed text can then be used to create essays, presentations and coursework.

Discover more dictation software options with our comprehensive guide. 

Another quick win in Word is Read Mode which changes the document layout for a more comfortable reading experience. Read Mode automatically fits the page layout to your device, opening full screen in a landscape format which is ideal for absorbing long documents. When you read in this view, you get fewer distractions from menus so you can remain focused on the text itself. You can also make changes to the page colour, text size and brightness to suit you.  

One aspect of essay writing that can feel a bit intimidating, is correctly recording your source materials to avoid plagiarism. Luckily, MS Word makes this easy with their referencing tool which automatically formats in-text citations and generates a reference list. To add a citation, position the cursor at the point in your text where you want to reference something and click Insert Citation. Once you’ve added all the sources, you can use the tool to create a bibliography. 

After all that effort, you want to present a polished piece of work which is where Presenter Coach in PowerPoint comes in. Having to showcase your work in front of your peers can be daunting, but Presenter Coach gives you all the skills you need to confidently deliver an impactful presentation. This feature allows you to rehearse your presentation whilst getting real-time feedback and guidance on your pacing, recommendations of inclusive language and even letting you know if you’re using too many filler words. At the end, you’ll get a summary so you can see how you performed and advice for making improvements. 

If you have a disability, long term health condition, specific learning difficulty or mental health condition that affects your studies, you can access a package of support including specialist software that’s tailored to your specific needs. Jump to our guide to see if you are eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA). 

Get in touch with us today to see what support you could receive through the DSA.

Take Note

Notetaking is a part of everyday life for students but it can also present challenges, particularly if you have a disability, a specific learning difficulty like dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD, a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression or a long-term health condition such as diabetes, epilepsy, RSI or hypermobility.

Taking notes in fast-paced lectures requires a great deal of multi-tasking; listening to what is being said, writing at speed, deciding what information is relevant and organising notes in a logical way.

When we are bombarded with information, it can become overwhelming and even more so if you struggle with maintaining focus, reading and listening comprehension and difficulty with motor skills.

If you want to make notes faster and spend more time actively participating in lessons, we’ll show you some examples of the assistive technology that you could get as part of your personalised support package with the Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs).

Typing versus writing

A laptop, iPad, smartphone or good old pen and paper – whatever your preferred method of making notes, you’ll encounter similar problems.

No matter how fast you write or type, it’s impossible to capture everything that is said. Then there’s illegible handwriting, sheets of paper to lose, distracting noises, notifications on your laptop…

Information overload.

If you can find a technique to take down information in a way that works for you, it’s a powerful aid to understanding what you have learnt and remembering it in the future. Effective notetaking isn’t just important for your studies – it’s a transferable skill that can be applied to all areas of your life. 

Time-saving tech

There are other methods of notetaking that could be better suited to your needs so you can be more confident, productive and independent in your studies. Let us take you through a few of our favourites:

Livescribe Echo Smart Pen

If you’re a fan of handwriting notes, the Livescribe is a natural fit for you. This clever smartpen allows you to record everything you hear, say and write, helping to improve your notetaking and saving time. Being able to record audio and write at the same time means you can capture a lecture or conversation at a meeting, alongside your own written notes. Audio can be quickly replayed from your Livescribe paper, a computer or a mobile device by simply tapping your handwritten notes.

Sonocent Audio Notetaker 

Do you spend more time and effort writing notes than taking on board what is being said? Sonocent Audio Notetaker would be a good choice for you. This programme allows you to record complete sessions which you can interact with at the same time; colour-coding important chunks of info and adding images as you go. You can either use the software on a laptop to make recordings and type notes during classes or lectures or the companion Sonocent Link app on a smartphone. 


For iPad fans and more visual students, this iOS app is a great option as you can use it like a virtual whiteboard, using the Apple pencil to make notes, annotate material and record audio all at the same time. Notability allows the user to combine handwriting, photos, pdf documents, typing and recording in a single note making it ideal for jotting down your ideas, creating on the go and organising all areas of your school, work and home life. It’s simple and convenient to use with the additional benefit of writing your own notes and a great way to keep everything digital.

Microsoft OneNote

This digital notetaking app is free and already available through your college or university’s Office 365 subscription so is well worth exploring. OneNote makes capturing, storing and sharing information easy and has a multitude of features such as recording audio and video, the ability to highlight your notes, scan your handwritten text and convert it into typed text and even draw using your stylus or finger. It can also be used on any device meaning you can access your notes and create new ones wherever you are. Some students report that it’s tricky to get to grips with at first due to the sheer amount of options, but it’s user-friendly and once you get familiar with it you may find it becomes an essential productivity tool. 

If you like the sound of the specialist software mentioned and feel it could help you study better, jump to our guide to DSAs to see if you are eligible. And to discover more recommended assistive software, check out our comprehensive guide.

For more information and for advice on your individual situation, call us on 01252 721095 or email us today.