Which Notes are Better? Hand-Written or Electronic?

Virtually every student takes notes in class and, thanks to laptops, it’s easier than ever. By a certain age, students require laptops for many courses anyway, so they are already carrying their “notepad” with them. Notes can be typed and instantly saved, e-mailed to others, and very easily copied, backed up, and printed. We haven’t yet mentioned tablets and smartphones, which are even smaller and easier to carry around.

Sounds perfect. So what’s the problem? Well, some are arguing that old-fashioned note taking is better because you are more likely to retain what you’re copying down. Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles published a study in Psychology Today that states while typing allows you to write faster (and thus, a greater volume), the more selective act of handwriting means you are more likely to record things that will stay in memory. Using that manner of thinking, students have less to work from, but it is of more value to their memory than the longer typed notes. That also means less to pour over when studying, which can save time.

“The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking” also had some other interesting conclusions. In the authors’ study, they found that students using the two types of note taking scored about equal when it came to remembering info such as dates. However, those using pen and paper were more effective in their ability to answer conceptual questions. Following other tests, they came to a rather startling conclusion: the more notes the laptop users took, the worse they did compared to the old school writers.

The results also suggested that those writing notes unconsciously reframed the words in a manner that made them easier to recall. That mental shorthand seems to be the key element that produces superior results.