How to Take Notes—Laptop or Pen & Paper?

How to Take Notes—Laptop or Pen & Paper?

Walk into any college classroom and there they are—student faces lit up by laptop screens. A few students still have notebooks, pens, pencils and a handful of highlighters. When they all leave class, who will retain more of the professor’s lecture?

Taking good notes is arguably the most important component to your academic success. Writing notes is, in a way, a form of learning to help your brain solidify key concepts.

There are advocates for both typed and handwritten note-taking. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. But, which is better—old school or new school? Typing or writing?

Let’s find out by weighing the pros and cons of both.

Your Computer—Pros


Fast talking professor? They’re no match for the speed of your fingers on the keyboard. You probably type much faster than you write, and your notes will be more complete than those with pen/paper. Typing can be a benefit if your lectures are dense with sequential and organized information.

Your notes are backed up on “The Cloud”. By using your laptop and web-based word processor like Google Docs, your notes are always safe and secure.

Using your notes can be easier—you can use the ‘search’ function to quickly reference any topic you need from all of those pages.

Sharing notes is easy. If a friend misses class you’ve got their back and can quickly send them what you wrote.

Your Computer—Cons


Typing your lecture word-for-word may not be as helpful as you think. Your mind will be focused on typing the words, sure, but not engaged in relating overarching concepts you can learn by actively listening.

Computers can freeze or glitch at the worst of times—like the last lecture before the semester final. Lost notes mean lost time.

The most common liability for laptops in the lecture hall or your study time is—online distraction. You get to class 10 minutes early and scroll through your social media, checking out the cute puppy videos. Before you know it, the lecture on chapter 12 is half done. Chapter 12—the one you didn’t understand when you read it and you missed the lecture because you were sidetracked online.

Your Paper Notebook—Pros


If typing out the lecture notes produces the lecture verbatim, how can hand writing notes be a benefit? Well, writing by hand creates a cognitive and physical connection to the course material more than typing does. To write notes by hand, you must listen closely to your professor and extract the most important and necessary parts of their lecture. A focused mind writes focused notes, leading to learning permanence.

Pen and paper notes gives you immediate flexibility to relate pieces of information together. When your professor refers back to something they explained earlier, you can quickly mark it and draw an arrow to your earlier note. If they give vocal emphasis to something, it’s quick to note it’s important to the professor so you’ll want to learn about that issue later when you study.

Your unique thought processes can be accommodated through writing by hand. Doodles in the margins can become quick graphs to fill in. If an image pops in your head during an ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment, sketch it…that tree with an elephant in the branches will remind you of the concept that jelled for you. Others might not get it, but you will.

And, those highlighter pens? Not only does it make your page look like a piece of art, but separate topics can be done in different colors, quickly showing you all the notes that relate to each other.

Your Paper Notebook—Cons


Remember the fast-talking professor? Writing may slow you down and trying to keep up can even lead to hand-cramps after hours of class. It may be hard to listen, choose what to write and then put it on paper. If your lectures cover a lot of information, very quickly, typing may be better for you.

Some people have poor handwriting. There’s no point in taking notes if you can’t read them after the fact. Time spent deciphering your notes is lost time learning. If legibility is your issue, it might be best to type your notes so you can read them later.

Laptop users have online distractions during class. Pen and paper note takers whose minds wander may find after class they have a page full of doodles and not enough notes. It’s always going be tough to focus if the lecture is delivered in a monotone or on a subject you find tedious and boring.

Which One Is Better?


Studies show that hand writing notes increases memorization and recall. Students who took notes by hand did better on conceptual tests and had higher academic achievement and increased learning permanence. If the objective of taking notes is to help you learn more, good old pen and paper is best.

We’ve outlined pros and cons of both note taking options. You may decide to try both–typing for some classes and writing for others. This approach allows you do decide which works best for you.

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