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I am an undergraduate student. This semester, I'm taking a 1.5 credit course, which is a 1.5 hour lecture once a week from a rotation of different speakers. There will be a final at the end of the semester.

The course coordinator, Mack (Not His Real Name™), cannot come to every lecture. He therefore asked me to give him my notes, both for his review and also as as a basis for the final exam. Because my notes will be a part of the test, he asked that I 1) do not tell anyone that my notes will be a basis for the test 2) do not share my notes with anyone else.

A number of students noticed that I take notes during lecture, and have approached me to ask for a copy of my notes. They're not constantly asking for notes; in fact, at least one of these students (who I know to be a very hard worker in school) does take his own notes, but wants to compare notes just in case he missed something (this is something that he does in every course).

I'm having some difficulty convincing them that they don't want my notes. I told them that I write in partial shorthand (which is true), and that the notes are just rough notes (also true), but some students say they want my notes anyway. I suppose I could always "forget" to give them my notes, but this is neither foolproof nor polite.

How can I politely refuse to share my notes with my classmates in this situation?


I am aware of the XY problem -- I can imagine a solution to the situation where I share the notes anyway, or ask Mack for permission to share my notes. However, I'd like to help Mack (his alternative is to listen to 15 x 1.5 hour recordings), while still remaining on good terms with my classmates, and not ruining the final exam.

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    I don´t think this is a good solution to come up with an exam on Mack´s side. I also had a course with different speakers. (Faculty and industry.) In this case the exam was divided in different parts provided by the different lecturers and also checked by them, then graded as a whole. Of course not all lectures could be included in the exam this way but this is better imho because a) no advantage for note taking/providing students b) questions provided by the lecturer (best inside on the topic) and c) also graded by the lecturer (again, best iniside on the topic). – asquared Mar 30 '17 at 14:05
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    This is a really cruddy situation in which to put a student by the coordinator. – Daniel R. Collins Mar 30 '17 at 14:20
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    I had cases where a friend of mine was taking "official lecture notes". We knew they would be used for future courses and maybe for our exam, but he also gave them to everyone who asked nicely. If Mack does not pay you to write up notes exclusively for you, it is just a favor of you giving him your notes, as it will be a favor to give them to any other students. If Mack wants exclusive notes he needs to come himself or pay someone for it. Honestly, they are your notes. You should be free to do with them whatever you want. – skymningen Mar 30 '17 at 14:27
  • Like the other comments pointed out, i forgot the most important point regarding your question: d) no secrecy and "note taking dilemma" on the side of the students. So maybe talk to Mack if he would change his approach (even if it is only for future classes). – asquared Mar 30 '17 at 14:37
  • What is a "course coordinator", and why would they need lecture notes? – JeffE Apr 1 '17 at 15:45
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I think Mack put you in a very difficult situation. You should not have agreed to his terms, and should ask to change them now.

There is no problem sharing your notes with Mack, though he should probably be getting notes from several students.

You should either have agreed not to share your notes with others, or agreed to keep confidential the fact that they will be used in setting the test, but not both. If you were freely sharing your notes, nobody would pay any special attention to them. If you could say "Mack asked me not to share them so that he can use them in setting his test" people would understand the non-sharing.

There are other ways Mack could have constructed his test. For example, he could have asked each lecturer for a question or two with marking criteria.

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  • You're right. One condition or the other makes sense, but there shouldn't be reason for both of them. I'll talk to him about it. – Shokhet Mar 31 '17 at 1:54
  • The only issue I could think of is that he might consider creating questions word-for-word from what's written in my notes...which isn't even a very good idea. I don't write so prosaically when I'm trying to keep up with a lecturer. Barring that, there shouldn't be an issue with sharing notes so long as no one knows that Mack is borrowing them as well. – Shokhet Mar 31 '17 at 1:58
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Based on your agreement with Mack, you can't share your notes, and you can't tell people why you can't share your notes. But you can say: "I can't share my notes because I agreed not to. I'm sorry." It's certainly strange, but saying you agreed not to talk about it gives a definitive reason you can't share the notes.

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Just say, "sorry but I'm not comfortable with that." If they pressure you, or ask for reasons, focus on how rude it is for them to do that. Be polite and gentle, but if it comes to it there is no harm in saying "what is wrong with you, I said no. Grow up and leave me alone." As for getting along with your classmates, it wont seriously damage any relationships with anyone that truly matters. Decent people will not care, because decent people do not pressure others into things they do not wish to do.

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    This answer is rather socially tone-deaf. Telling others to "Grow up and leave me alone" is a good way to get a reputation as a prickly, rude person. (Yes, returning rudeness with rudeness is still rudeness.) As is cavalierly dismissing others as people that don't "truly matter". – R.M. Mar 30 '17 at 14:41
  • @R.M. I don't think this is a fair summary of what the answer suggested. – lighthouse keeper Mar 30 '17 at 15:03
  • @lighthousekeeper My comment wasn't intended as a summary (instead it was voicing a disagreement behind the philosophy of what I saw as a few key points), though if I've misinterpreted the answer, I encourage James to edit the answer to expand and clarify. – R.M. Mar 30 '17 at 15:27
  • Just say, "sorry but I'm not comfortable with that."To whom? If you're suggesting saying that to Mack, then I agree. If you're suggesting saying that to other people in the class, then I don't. – JeffE Apr 1 '17 at 15:47

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