Lucy Huang
August 15, 2015 6:48 pm

When it comes to note taking, laptops and tablets have slowly dominated over the traditional paper and pen duo. In lecture halls, the light, rhythmic tapping of keyboard strokes are over taking the sounds of pen scribbles. Even when students are not distracted on their laptops during class—say shopping online or watching cute cat videos—their note-taking habits are still not up to par.

A study conducted by Princeton University and University of California, Los Angeles suggests that typing notes are not as effective in terms of retaining and understanding material compared to writing notes by hand. The study showed that both laptop and longhand note takers score about the same on fact-based questions after they sit in on a lecture. However, when it came to more difficult, concept-based questions, laptop note takers did significantly worse than their longhand note-taking counterparts.

A good percent of notes taken by laptop users are written verbatim. This generally means the note taker is on autopilot, absent-mindedly typing down the lecture word-for-word. Even when half of the laptop note takers were told to avoid taking notes verbatim, they did about the same as if weren’t told to be more conscious of their note taking habits at all.

The main argument for laptop note taking is that it allows students to take more extensive and thorough notes. In theory, students with more notes should be able to do better when tested because they have much more information to study from. Too bad that isn’t true. In the final study, instead of getting quizzed after the lecture, the participants took the exam a week later. This time, the participants were allowed to review their notes for 10 minutes before the exam. Even with the more comprehensive notes, those who hand wrote their notes did significantly better than those who typed their notes.

The researchers of this study believe that “longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers.” This processing allows them to select more important information to include in their notes and “enables them to study this content more efficiently.”

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