Take notes by hand for better long-term comprehension

Dust off those Bic ballpoints and college-ruled notebooks — research shows that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes on a laptop for remembering conceptual information over the long term. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Walk into any university lecture hall and you’re likely to see row upon row of students sitting behind glowing laptop screens. Laptops in class have been controversial, due mostly to the many opportunities for distraction that they provide (online shopping, browsing Reddit, or playing solitaire, just to name a few). But few studies have examined how effective laptops are for the students who diligently take notes.

“Our new findings suggest that even when laptops are used as intended — and not for buying things on Amazon during class — they may still be harming academic performance,” says psychological scientist Pam Mueller of Princeton University, lead author of the study.

This is a photo of a student taking notes by hand.Mueller was prompted to investigate the question after her own experience of switching from laptop to pen and paper as a graduate teaching assistant:

“I felt like I’d gotten so much more out of the lecture that day,” says Mueller, who was working with psychology researcher Daniel Oppenheimer at the time. “Danny said that he’d had a related experience in a faculty meeting: He was taking notes on his computer, and looked up and realized that he had no idea what the person was actually talking about.”

Mueller and Oppenheimer, who is now at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, conducted a series of studies to investigate whether their intuitions about laptop and longhand note-taking were true.

In the first study, 65 college students watched one of five TED Talks covering topics that were interesting but not common knowledge. The students, who watched the talks in small groups, were either given laptops (disconnected from Internet) or notebooks, and were told to use whatever strategy they normally used to take notes.

The students then completed three distractor tasks, including a taxing working memory task. A full 30 minutes later, they had to answer factual-recall questions (e.g., “Approximately how many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?”) and conceptual-application questions (e.g., “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?”) based on the lecture they had watched.

The results revealed that while the two types of note-takers performed equally well on questions that involved recalling facts, laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions.

The notes from laptop users contained more words and more verbatim overlap with the lecture, compared to the notes that were written by hand. Overall, students who took more notes performed better, but so did those who had less verbatim overlap, suggesting that the benefit of having more content is canceled out by “mindless transcription.”

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers write.

Surprisingly, the researchers saw similar results even when they explicitly instructed the students to avoid taking verbatim notes, suggesting that the urge to do so when typing is hard to overcome.

The researchers also found that longhand note takers still beat laptop note takers on recall one week later when participants were given a chance to review their notes before taking the recall test. Once again, the amount of verbatim overlap was associated with worse performance on conceptual items.

“I don’t anticipate that we’ll get a mass of people switching back to notebooks,” says Mueller, “but there are several new stylus technologies out there, and those may be the way to go to have an electronic record of one’s notes, while also having the benefit of being forced to process information as it comes in, rather than mindlessly transcribing it.”

“Ultimately, the take-home message is that people should be more aware of how they are choosing to take notes, both in terms of the medium and the strategy,” Mueller concludes.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

64 thoughts on “Take notes by hand for better long-term comprehension”

  1. Distractions are a part of our every day life. I don’t know about you, but the first thing i do when i wake up is check my phone or go on Facebook. This is the same with my laptop.

    Taking notes via your laptop or tablet will offer several distractions while you are suppose to take notes. Learners taking notes electronically will often be more interested in making their notes look pretty than actually recording the information of the lesson. Thus they won’t get all the information needed to do well.

    Taking notes by hand will definitely increase your long-term memory when it comes to studying the material you’ve jotted down in class. Indirectly, you have already studied the work two times before really sitting down to study: Once hearing it from the lecturers mouth and once writing ti down in your own words, using your own words to remember it better.

  2. At a school level, writing notes by hand was a custom, in my school at least. The teacher would write something on the board, explain it and then give you time to write it down. During university however, I find that it is impossible in some lecturers to write notes by hand. The pace at which the lecturer moves doesn’t accommodate for students to write down and comprehend simultaneously, hence in this respect, it would be better for the student to listen and comprehend instead if frantically writing down notes and not understanding a single thing-This analogy was used to degrade technology in the blog.
    Secondly, those who have untidy hand writings will dread making notes. Typing is much faster, neater and more manageable than notes. One can even compile an exam book, consisting of various sections combined and colour coded.

    In the defense of old school pen and paper, its quite strenuous fro students to be staring at a screen for hours on end. Illnesses such as carpal tunnel syndrome and eye strain are associated with technology. According to Mayoclinic (2014) , a good tip to avoid eye strain is the 20-20-20 rule: After every 20 minutes of looking at a screen, look at an object 20 feet away (6 metres) for 20 seconds.

    Over and above all one may justify that I am neither for nor against note making with technology. Both sides have pros and cons that cannot be concluded by one individual.People should adjust to whatever works best for them.

  3. I once used laptop for taking notes during the lesson.I agree with the writer when he says there are many distructives. Another destructive when it comes to taking notes using electronic device is pattern and additions. When students take notes they take their attentions out of the lesson and start to focus on editing their notes. This results in not getting full core ideas and main points of the lesson.

    Those who take notes using hand get more chances of understanding what they are writing when they tends to look for spelling, unlike in electronic device where you just edit your spellings without checking the whole sentence.The writer did a full research and iI agree with this article.

  4. Technology has changed the face of the 21st century, but certain things can never be replaced and one of them is the human brain and the functioning of it, and that’s where I agree with this article, that taking notes with a pen and paper is far better than taking notes with a laptop.

    Taking notes by hand forces you to listen to the whole sentence, to grasp it and then to phrase it in your own words and with diagrams, colours, underlining and mapping. As the article states, you recall what you have heard and written down far better, than if you had typed it out on a laptop. A laptop can help you organize your work and save alot of work under certain headings which makes it easier to access,but in the long run, the old-fashioned, faithful pen and paper is still not replaceable and effectively works as a study tool.

  5. i really don’t know the difference between taking notes by hand or taking notes by typing them since I’ve been taking notes by hand all my life, so i cant really judge between the two until i’v experienced the other. However talking from common sense i agree with this topic, i mean electronic devices have a lot of things that may distract you while you are trying to take notes, social networks, online shopping and games so you might get carried away and forget about taking notes, and besides taking notes by hand helps you memorize and recall most of the things related to the lecture. But then after all we are not the same, what works for one person might not work for the other.

  6. While there are many students who prefer taking notes by electronic means, I for one despite having the means could never grasp the concept of taking notes via a laptop. I feel that while typing out notes may be faster and more efficient- depending on the users typing abilities- writing notes has always given me a better understanding of the subject material. When typing out notes while someone is talking, more effort and concentration is placed into typing out the notes than in understanding what the speaker is referring to. When taking hand-written notes, there is no way to write down what the speaker says verbatim as no one has the capability of writing as fast as someone is speaking. This ensures that the note taker must first grasp the material and then jot down points of their own understanding on the subject matter. This method ensures that the same knowledge stays in your subconscious mind long after it is written so that when revising for a test or examination it is much easier to recall the important points because they have been imbedded in the mind as soon as they are written down in ones own words rather than those of the speaker. Thus I can honestly say that note-taking by hand us a preferred and reliable method which I have become comfortable with as well as accustomed to and can bear witness to its efficiency in my learning techniques.

  7. I completely agree with this article based on personal experience. In my opinion the process of taking hand-written notes forces you to focus on including key information which results in better recall. In contrast, using a laptop can result in the “mindless transcription’ of information which will hinder recall.
    However, it is worth mentioning that a study done by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching found that students who did not attend lectures but reviewed notes given to them by lecturers or students recalled information almost as well as those who attended lectures and reviewed their own notes. This poses the question of whether or not the medium on which the information is presented has some effect on recall.
    In my opinion, writing down information results in better recall because you have to process the information as you are writing it. In addition, writing notes by hand forces you to write key information which means you review only the most important information thus resulting in more effective studying. Personally, i have always taking notes by hand and I will continue to do so.

  8. People have different ways of taking notes to help them understand and learn their work. But I strongly agree with this article in that handwritten note taking is the best form of understanding your notes when in a lecture, assuming that you aren’t just copying down what you’re seeing. Rather listening, understanding and writing down your own version of what you have just heard.
    Not only can you write things down, you can also add illustrations which improves your understanding even more. Einstein once said that, ‘If you cannot explain it simply, you do not understand it well enough.’
    I feel like note taking by hand and pen helps you change what you have heard into a version that you can understand and it helps you remember what you’ve written. While note taking on a laptop might be faster and easier, sometimes the words you type are going straight from the lecturers mouth onto your laptop, therefore not helping you understand the subject at all

  9. People have different ways of taking notes to help them understand and learn their work. But I strongly agree with this article in that handwritten note taking is the best form of understanding your notes when in a lecture, assuming that you aren’t just copying down what you’re seeing. Rather listening, understanding and writing down your own version of what you’ve just heard.
    Not only can you write things down, you can also add illustrations which improves your understanding even more. Einstein once said that, ‘If you cannot explain it simply, you do not know it well enough.’
    I feel like note taking by hand and pen helps you change what you’ve heard into a version that you can understand and it helps you remember what you’ve written. While note taking on a laptop might be faster and easier, sometimes the words you type are going straight from the lecturers mouth to your laptop, therefore not helping you understand the subject at all.

  10. I agree with the topic from experience.At the first days of my varsity i did not like to take notes by hand,but by the time i get home i would not remember what the lecture was going all on about, someone advice me to take notes by hand as it helps when you revise your work.I started doing so and even now i am still taking notes by hands and it helps.I can even remember in my imagination how the lecture said some the words.

  11. From firsthand experience on this topic I fully agree. Hand being the appropriate word. I was in awe of the amount of students behind their choice of technology when I attended my first lecture. So I was quick to buy my own techno-tool for note taking as it would allow me to have much less to carry around all day going from class to class and all of the other appealing factors it had to offer. But as luck would have it I wasn’t as productive as I would have liked. The shear amount of distractions on it was one of the reasons my recall in classes wasn’t too great and another was the gaps in my note taking skills. I had the exact same experience of looking up and not having a clue on what the lecture was about. I however found that the recording app on my techno-tool was of great help when preparing for tests. So I don’t find the idea of developing technology appalling in lectures but the fact that I grew up making notes by hand could be the reason I found adapting to the change hard at first. But I agree with previous comments made that one should eventually try give in to technology . ‘Adapt or die’. Now I still have my issues with it but the pro’s outweighed the con’s in my case and my advice to the new techno-fool-trying-to-figure-out-the-note-taking-tool would be to start by making notes by hand then use those notes and put the most important of the data in keywords on your chosen techno-tool. When you’ve mastered that try remembering what note taking is and try doing what you’ve usually done on paper on technology. If you were able to figure out a smart phone ,you will be able to figure this out too.

  12. Everyone has a specific style of note taking which works for them, it could be the Cornell method, the outline method, the charting method, the mapping method or the sentence method. The method one uses may determine whether they prefer to type out their notes or write them out by hand. For instance it might be easier for people who prefer either the Cornell, outline, chart or sentence method to type it out, whereas it would be a bit more challenging to create a well constructed typed out mind-map during an intense lecture.

    The important thing for us as students is knowing what works best for us as individuals. If you see that typed or handwritten notes aren’t working for you, before its too late switch and try the opposite method so you can succeed in whatever field of study you may be in.

  13. I agree 100% with this article.
    Technology has a positive impact on our modern lifestyles, and our lives wouldn’t be the same without it. Walking into a lecture hall where everyone is sitting with a laptop or a tablet is an everyday life now.

    A friend of mine told me that writing notes on a laptop is very helpful and that I should also do it. However, after I tried writing notes on my laptop during lectures, I realized that technology cannot take over humans yet.
    I prefer writing notes by hand, as it is much easier and helpful.
    With note taking by hand, it is impossible to write down everything the lecturer says, so you learn to summarize and paraphrase, which makes it much easier to understand later. Jotting down the important points definitely helps you to remember the information for a longer period of time. You can always go back and add on any details that you missed. Using colours, pictures, symbols and diagrams by hand is very easy whereas with laptops you have limitations on what you can or cannot do, and it is more time-consuming. By writing down note by hand, it helps to recall and revise more easily.

    Laptops also cause many problems.
    You need to be able to type fast to get everything the lecturer says.
    Laptops are expensive and fragile, and they are also vulnerable to viruses, which can make you lose all the information you have. Closing down, starting up and setting up a laptop also takes time.

    However, we are all different, and find that different methods suit different people. We need to find a way which is the most suitable for us.

  14. I can fully agree with this article and the proceeding comments. I have tried out note taking on my laptop and my tablet, which has a stylus, but I still prefer to make my own notes in my own handwriting. I find this method of note taking far more beneficial as I can remember what I have written down and where I wrote it on the page making reviewing or recapping my notes far less time consuming then having to flick through all my notes to try find that one typed line I was trying to remember.
    The other beneficial part of taking hand written notes I find is that you can draw diagrams to explain to yourself what your learning and, especially in mathematics, you can easily transcribe any characters you need to use which might not always be readily available on a keyboard.
    I think it is truely fascinating that even though we have advanced so much in our uses of technology, our best methods to use are that of our own human body. What a fascinating tool we have been blessed with.

  15. I think that taking notes by hand definitely improves better recalling of work. Surely notes that are typed on a laptop or a tablet are more organized, but there is also the risk of losing all your valuable notes when technology fails. When reading notes that are typed, it is as if you are reading from a textbook – the words written does not feel as if it is your own, thus it is harder for you to interpret it. By writing your notes by hand, it is as if you are studying it, because it needs a lot more concentration to write than to type. It looks like your own work and will improve your long-term memory.

  16. Sitting in lectures I have often envied the students around me who are tapping away at their laptops taking notes. My envy stems from the fact that my speed of typing is not yet at the level where I am able to type quickly enough to use this method of note taking for myself. Schools in South Africa are only now introducing technology like tablets and laptops into the learning environment and this means that we have completed our schooling taking notes by hand. I take my notes in lectures by hand and find that this works for me but perhaps if I had been exposed to taking notes electronically at an earlier age I would find this method equally beneficial. I agree with Batman (14116163) comment that electronic notes are limited however by the format in which they can be recorded. I think there is a place for technology in the learning environment and often take pictures of the slides that lecturers put up so that I can refer back to them later for instructions on assignments or to then make my own notes or diagrams when reviewing that section of work.

  17. Technology has without a doubt had a very positive impact on modern lifestyle, life would just not be the same without it. However, no matter how advanced technology may be in modern times, there are just some tasks that it cannot carry out as efficiently as human beings can.

    One of these tasks being taking notes effectively during lectures of course. As a student I can vouch for the accuracy of this article. I find that writing down notes with a simple pen and paper is far more effective than using a laptop or tablet. Apart from the fact that there are fewer distractions when using this method, I also find that it really takes much less of an effort to remember the key concepts during the lectures. As you write down the notes you get the chance to process what the lecturer is saying and its much easier to make sense of the entire lecture.

  18. It is no hidden fact that technological advancements are now fully dominating our lives as a whole. Indeed technology has made life all easy but turned us into potato couches. We should not depend much on it as in the long run we in return will suffer its consequences.
    I fully support this article and I’m glad a lot of studies undertaken back it up too.
    Advancements creations of virtual pens on our gadgets wont benefit compared to note-taking by hand.

  19. I agree to this blog. As a first year university student walking into the lecture hall where majority of the students have their laptops or ipads out ready to take notes is an overwhelming feeling. I prefer writing out my notes than typing it.

    When writing out notes, I find that when studying it is more easier to remember more of the written notes than most of notes made on slides on my laptop because I can remember and recall what I have written down. Even though typing out your notes keeps everything organised, writing them out forces you to be organised and focused.

    Not many people are fast at writing things down or a fan of writing however, writing allows you to have your undivided attention on what the lecture is saying which allows causes you to understand the work better.

    However, I fully agree that it is very important that each person should be able to choose a form of notetaking and working that suits them so that it can benefit them in the long run, helping them to get the results they want.

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