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Study: Students who take notes by hand outperform students who type (wsj.com)
174 points by walterbell on Apr 9, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 105 comments



It would be nice to see a comparison against students who don't take notes. I never took notes in any of my classes, and my father (a senior Chemistry professor) is a firm believer in this approach -- while he doesn't prohibit students from taking notes, he has provided lecture notes for two decades and encourages his students to pay attention instead of transcribing.

Of course, there's always the inherent problem of observational studies: Is the note-taking style affecting student performance, or does student aptitude determine note-taking style? The students who already have a reasonable grasp of course material are likely to be manage with the limited bandwidth of handwritten notes, whereas students who don't understand anything and are consequentially unable to identify which parts are important may be predisposed to prefer a higher-bandwidth note-taking system.


Why does one want to take notes in a university lecture? Usually it is because you are expecting to go to the lecture and have the professor pour knowledge into your head. Only, that's impossible because the material is difficult and large. So you go to the lecture and record what the professor is saying and study it later.

What if you did the opposite? What if you found out what the professor was going to lecture on and studied it (using text books) before the lecture? That way you could spend the lecture time listening to the professor and devising questions for the things you don't understand.

Yeah... I only figured that out in my last year ;-) We really should teach students how to study.


Hand writing increases engagement. I didn't record verbatim, but drafted my version of the material, as if writing a textbook.

Handwriting, being free-form, is far superior to typing for this, as it's easy and quick to insert things, add arrows to relate ideas, circles for grouping, emphasis in several different ways etc.

I agree the quality of this personal textbook does vary with your preparation, background knowledge, density of the material is, and your aptitude for this particular material.


When I was in school, I almost never actually consulted my notes, and they were often practically illegible, but I still found that the process of taking notes helped me retain more information. It also had the side benefit of making it harder to doze off.


Likewise. I can't read my own handwriting but the process helped a lot.


Exactly this, on all points! And my notes act as a reference sometimes when the professor provides a piece of info I couldn't find in the others sources.


You can do this sort of thing with mind mapping software


I've experimented with lots of digital note-taking styles: mindmaps from open source to paid, notebooks like evernote, bookmarking systems, PPT flashcards...but none can really replace writing notes with hand. Its a lot faster, no accidental clicks, and drawing and annotating specific things are a non-brainer. When I got a highly sensitve tablet to actually write things in it, it still felt clumsy. I have to take pictures then import them into my notebook app, I have to switch pen colours and nib width, and then there's the ironic trouble of not being able to find a specific information I want, unless i do sophisticated tagging but that's also too much effort. And oh boy the panic that came with the battery running out halfway through a lecture.

Back to pen and paper for me, and loads of post-its for bookmarks.


I've tried dozens of different software suites to try and replicate hand written notes, and nothing else comes even close to handwriting (for me, at least)


This is what the Hagakure (book of the Samurai) says about this [1]:

"In Yui Shosetsu’s military instructions, “The Way of the Three Ultimates,” there is a passage on the character of karma. He received an oral teaching of about eighteen chapters concerning the Greater Bravery and the Lesser Bravery. He neither wrote them down nor committed them to memory but rather forgot them completely. Then, in facing real situations, he acted on impulse and the things that he had learned became wisdom of his own. This is the character of karma."

Personally, I'm all for taking digital notes as they are searchable and can be backed up. I think either way, the process of taking notes is more important than the tools.

[1] https://github.com/hollanddd/hagakure/blob/master/chapter-10...


That is really a description of Zen and spontaneous learning. Personally I've never experienced this phenomena...


I like the idea, but I'm not sure I would want to rely on it, say, in an exam.


So what you are saying is that in your personal opinion you think the carefully designed and executed study reported here is wrong, because you disagree with it. Because the study specifically says that when taking notes, handwriting outperforms using a computer.

So tell me, why is the study wrong?


I don't necessarily agree with the findings, but you may have missed something. The article talks about typing vs writing. This person talked about listening instead, and that does work for some people.

Let me give you an example where the study can be wrong. My son is an Aspergers. He is classified as gifted or near gifted (it's a fine line). However, he struggles to write. So, in his case, he has 2 options: (1) just listen [he has a great memory and this has proven to work well], or (2) type.

I take these types of advice with a grain of salt. Rather than the what, I focus on the why.

My own experiences reflect those of many commenters here: I wrote notes and either couldn't read them or didn't go back to them. I most probably should have listened rather than scribe myself.


you are saying that a large collection of self-reported anecdotes more correctly describes a population than a study; we say "you're wrong," and there is plenty of statistical evidence that proves you are wrong, but of course you don't believe in statistical evidence, instead you'll tell me that you can think of ways you could be right and you can remember some times when you were right and some times when your family members were right.

I'm exaggerating of course, but I think that sums up the discussion here?


I wouldn't say the study is wrong, but I think there are two different aspects here: tools used to take notes vs. amount/ kind of notes taken. From the article:

> Laptop users instead took notes by rote, taking down what they heard almost word for word.

That does sound like a bad idea. However, a student could also use a laptop to take more abstract notes (as I assume the pencil users did). On the other hand, a pencil user might be able to write shorthand, thus taking almost verbatim notes (which would probably be less useful).

So, instead of ditching your laptop, think about how to use it.


I understand where instructors are coming from when they encourage just paying attention and not taking notes. That's because students often just copy down exactly what is being written on the blackboard verbatim without giving it much thought.

What enhances both information retention and understanding for myself personally is "active note-taking" - that is, not only writing down what the instructor is saying, but writing down my own thoughts along with it.


When I joined a very demanding part of the French education system [1], my grades started to drown. I had basically never had to study to be top of my class in High School, and suddenly I was in the bottom quarter. I resolved to work much harder, and my grades went back up, but by the half of the first year I was still not where I wanted to be and I started feeling depressed and wondering what I was doing there.

At the time, there was one national exam you could take at the end of first year to join a mid-tier "École" (engineering school) directly. I knew I was good enough that I would almost certainly pass, and I decided to take it. There were two days of written tests. The first one went well, but as I was walking up to the 2nd day of tests I was mugged in the street. I ended up spending that day in a hospital, so I couldn't take the test. Now I had no other choice but to stay in CPGE for one more year.

After that episode I decided I couldn't continue like before, something had to change.

One of the main things I changed was that I stopped transcribing classes. That was considered heresy by teachers, who told me I would certainly fail. You have to understand that math teachers (not all of them, but mine did) wrote their lecture on a black board, and you were supposed to transcribe all of it. You would end up with binders full of math demonstrations that you were supposed to learn by heart.

The problem is, I am completely unable to focus on two things at once, and writing takes focus. So while I was copying what was written on that black board, I was not understanding it. Just the math classes took something like 16 or 18 hours per week, and I was wasting all that time. So instead, I bought books. I would read them in advance so when I went to class I knew what the teacher would talk about, and I would understand the details and the demonstrations.

The result? My grades went back up. At the competitive exams at the end of the year, I got the best rankings of my class, better than those of students who had taken the 2nd year twice.

So of course, this is anecdote, but I just wanted to say that what you wrote resonates with me 100 %.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classe_pr%C3%A9paratoire_aux_g...


That's a great approach if you have a good memory. If you don't, not so much.

When I was younger, I used to never take notes and remembered almost everything. I never had a photographic memory, but certainly remembered enough to understand and do very well on tests.

As I got older, doing that became harder and harder, so I started relying on notes. My note-taking skills went from pretty poor to really good, and now I feel crippled if I can't take notes. This is especially true when the course-load is high, and you're expected to remember a ton of material per course. Relying exclusively on your memory for something like that is only effective for a certain fortunate segment of the population.

Notes are also great for review years or even decades later, when the things you may have remembered at the time are long forgotten. They're also great for sharing with friends and publishing, like Sacha Chua[1][2] does with her notes.

[1] - http://sachachua.com/blog/2013/05/how-to-learn-emacs-a-hand-...

[2] - http://sachachua.com/blog/sketched-books/


Definitely agree here. After being told to take notes for years, I spent a lot of time trying to make the notes fit. Even still be busy jotting down older notes 10 seconds after the lecturer had moved on. Those 10 seconds of having two trains of thought - what was being written down, and what the lecturer had moved on to - are terrible. And it happens at least once or twice in a lecture, often more depending on how quickly the lecturer is moving.

After throwing away the idea of taking notes and concentrating on understanding exactly what was being said 100% of time, everything got easier and if I remember right, my marks even improved. And the best part: less stress.

I very much recommend never taking notes. If you concentrate and understand exactly what is going on, you don't need notes. You can look up whatever little facts you may need later in the textbook or online. If you understand the concepts, there really are no notes that need to be taken.


I have a strategy of only writing key words or phrases and noting things that are emphasized. For example, my notes on the previous sentence would simply be "notes-key words".


Yeah I've tried that too - but you're now spending half your time understanding, and half your time summarizing. The idea of summarizing as a method of learning is also pretty heavily pushed and does seem to work, but for my personally, understanding is more important than summarizing.

I split understanding and summarizing personally, because understanding is more about being able to replicate the methods used, while summarizing is about condensing the lesson into a key point that could aid understanding. I personally find that the summarizing technique does not aid understanding any more than simply following along with the logic and concentrating fully on why it's happening.

Obviously some people may require that extra summarized step to allow them to recall the lesson, but I've been able to do without it by concentrating on the flow and linking it to other knowledge that I've already internalized. That way you don't need those key points jotted down for later - you just need to reason about where you're trying to go and use the understanding to plot a course. Then look up the steps where you know you're unclear on the details in a textbook or web search.


I'm also a not-taker (as opposed to a note-taker) and my entire school career consists of binder paper covered with doodles while I listen, with half-hearted notes taken when the teacher required it for some reason. This got me into some trouble once or twice when the teacher lectured a fact that was nowhere to be found in the textbook, but for the most part it was just one of multiple things that made me a poor fit for academia.

I do make use of mind-mapping now, though. It's handy for dissecting a big linear text into branches and partitions and not overlooking parts when I try to review.


I remember our algebra professor adopting aprroach that seems like a compromise between those two.

He provided us with lecture notes, usually containing all the definitions, theorems, lemmas, and proofs and then encouraged us to take notes on the margins of the lecture-notes.


They key point is to be engaged and your father had the right idea. Someone who writes everything down, or writes nothing down, probably misses out.

My first year I took no notes, and attended lectures intermittently. And got the middling results you'd expect.

The next year I looked in the syllabus and tried to do the assigned reading (to be read after the lecture) before the lecture. Often it was confusing, but some of it I'd understand. But that way the lectures were more useful since I could tell when the prof was explaining something I didn't understand, and I had the context for it.

Of course the ideal lecture would be "well you all have read the material; here's the stuff that's hard and/or non-obvious about it." But since what's hard varies from person to person, it's not really possible for a prof to do this except in a small seminar.

And of course note I said "I tried to do the assigned reading" ahead of time. In retrospect I wish I'd done it 100% of the time, but really humans are humans and the amount I did manage it paid off.


For logic based classes the effectiveness of note taking is greatly diminished because the majority of learning happens at home while grinding problems.

However in memorization based classes, skipping notes is entirely suboptimal. When you're expected to keep esoteric information in your head for months at a time, you need every edge you can get. And in my experience, the most powerful edge is knowing exactly what was said in class.

At the end of the day it comes down to picking the right tool for the job. Back in college, I took handwritten notes for my technical courses so I could draw in figures. For courses like Biology, I took transcript-style notes on my laptop, and they were extremely effective.

I suspect the confounding factor in this study is that students who bring laptops are far more distracted on average than note takers, not that typed notes in and of themselves produce worse outcomes than hand written notes. Unfortunately, people see headlines like this and immediately jump to conclusions, which is a shame. Computers are powerful tools if used properly.


My problem I that I can believe any bullshit that is in the blackboard when I don't take notes. But when I'm copying them I have to think about the details, like "From where does this 2 came?"


You could do an encouragement design to try and get at a causal effect here. Randomly assign some classes to be encouraged to take notes, not take notes, or do nothing. It'd take a lot more work to get your statistical power, but if you see that over a large aggregate the kids who don't take notes tend to perform better over the long run (you'd definitely want to look at performance in subsequent classes that aren't actively being experimentally manipulated when measuring outcomes), that'd certainly be indicative.

An encouragement design might be more appropriate to the question, anyway. The policy decision from an institution's perspective isn't really, "Should students take notes or not?" It's, "Should we be advising students to take notes or not?"


I'm amazed how much stuff I've learned from school that I've totally forgotten. Now if I want to learn something I write a note and later put it into the flashcard system anki. Anything I don't take notes on I basically expect to forget within a few months if not sooner.


Unfortunately many teachers don't post notes, they expect you to transcribe what they're saying. So inevitably, no one is actually listening, students just wind up comparing and trading notes, trying to 'study' from there, and seeing where it lines up with the textbook.

I agree, the classes where I've learnt the most are the ones where notes are posted ahead of time, you can look over them, actually listen during class, and gain an understanding of the subject, not just memorize bits and pieces to then transcribe on the exam.


The bigger issue is that lectures themselves have been consistently shown for decades to not be effective for learning, so this is just fiddling around the edges.

I've found the main reason that lecturers don't hand out the notes in advance is that they fear the students only attend for the handout (which is a pretty damning critique of the lecture if true) and the lecturers are in turn evaluated via student attendance.


Add they try "flipping" where you watch video lectures at home and actively solve problems in classes. Small, active classes arent cost effective for universities.


Taking notes is usually considered a tool for paying attention.


I can see the correlation to student performance, comparing typing on a full laptop with a big bright screen and distractions VS a blank sheet...

However, at least for some subjects, I think note taking with technology can be perfectly accurate and enable review better than handwriting. (At least for me.)

This was my note taking system for a more recent history class, (usually a poor subject for me) where most everything in the lectures had to be remembered:

Record audio, while basically typing a transcript... (I used audionote and a Bluetooth keyboard on an iphone (small screen) with no notifications.) This helped me stay focused on every word. I also sat near the front.

In an audio editor, (audacity) I removed background noise, changed the rate 2x, detected and removed pauses between words, then edited out where he repeated himself...

That compressed a two hour lecture to about 25 minutes.

Then I could listen and follow along and correct my notes, reviewing the entire semester fairly quickly.

Students that took handwritten notes near me asked for a copy of my compressed audio and transcript/outline, which I put in a Dropbox.

I personally would not have aced or (perhaps) survived that class by just handwriting notes. I'm too slow/messy and prone to doodling...

With malleable text and audio it's easier for me to accurately trim, condense, and focus on what is needed.

Another route would be to improve at hand note taking, but I'd worry that I missed something important.


As a college student, I've considered recording lectures, but have never done that for two reasons: overhead and referencing.

How much time did it take you per lecture just to clean up the audio recording? My guess is 10-15 mins. The way I see it is that it's not a lot in general, but if you factor in the cost of context switching, it can become a time sink.

Then, as you noted, there's the task of writing a pseudo-transcript to make later referencing easier. Without it, the audio is completely useless in my view. But there's a trade-off here between granularity and effort required to set it up.

I might still give it a go though, just to see if I can manage it for more than a few weeks. I get distracted easily :(


It took a few minutes to process it in Audacity- more the first time while I figured it out.

- Select a pause in the recording.

- Effect -> Noise removal, get noise profile

- Select everything.

- Effect -> Noise removal

- Effect -> Change tempo, 100% change? (don't remember exactly, but whatever is still understandable/not boring to you, try on a smaller chunk before processing everything.)

- Effect -> Truncate Silence. (don't remember what settings I used, but to your taste.)

...

Then manually trimming out repeats, useless questions, extra stuff took some time... it was also how I studied. Then more so by playing it back and fixing my notes.

I first picked Audionote (android and ios) because typed text is time-coded, so you can skip to that part of the recording by tapping on the text.

But I ended up not really using that feature and using it as a dumb recorder and text editor. It did a good job of automatically adjusting the sound level though. (Compressor. You can also do this in Audacity.)

Also it was nice that I could have the mic (at the bottom of the iphone) pointed at the prof, and the screen turned 180 degrees facing me.

...

I wish there was a better tool that:

- During playback, skips pauses. (by audio level threshold.) then easily pick more areas in the recording to skip. (Please just non-destructive editing/filtering though; just build a list of times to skip during playback.)

- High quality time compression playback. Variable, even up to 3x perhaps. (without increasing the pitch like audionote.)

- AND synced the notes with the recording.

- (Even better would be for reliable voice to text, and automatic trimming/outlining... but at some point it may deter grey matter processing.)

Perhaps there are better tools now?


There's also a third reason. It can be illegal without consent of those involved (e.g. lecturer, students, university). To comply with the law, you would have to clear rights such as copyright, performer's rights, moral rights, and privacy rights before any recording takes place.


Yes, great point. I did ask permission before the class. I was not allowed to offer the recordings to everyone, and I took them down after the class.


Also, I think it helps that I'm writing/reading/editing and listening. multi-sensory.

Perhaps it could be better by adding video, smelling, tasting, and feeling... :)

But no, just capturing the exact words, and being able to trim to what's needed helped me.


Did the time spent editing the audio outweigh the time spent studying the shorter lectures? I guess there must have been some cost/benefit there otherwise you wouldn't have continued doing it.


Yes.

The editing/condensing the audio and text was part of the studying for me though. It made the otherwise one-way-brain-dump class a bit tactile. Then being able to review everything quickly was helpful too.


Did you ever sell your notes or audio files?


Nope, those that asked were showing up and putting effort in the class.


As someone who always "thinks with a pencil", this isn't terribly surprising. Even if coding, if something was especially tricky, I'd sketch/doodle/write on paper to get ideas straight. Always worked out quicker and better for me, though I know some saw it as quaint.

Same for note-taking and todo lists+organising (I have smart phone always on me, but small notebook that's my todo list). I tried and failed with dozens of electronic organisers, apps and so forth.

I've only ever seen anecdotal ideas as to why this is so. I'd be fascinated to see some study into why. Is it a more manual process, does it involve more brain regions, does it interface with memory differently?


My anecdotal contribution:

I always took notes on paper, even though I never even read them. I have trouble sitting still and get bored and distracted very easily, so having something to do with my hands helped me pay attention in university. Doing the same on a computer would mean I would tab into something else and get distracted.

Note taking is similar, if I write something on a piece of paper on my desk, when I get fidgety and move around I'm going to see it. If I wrote it on my computer, it'd be buried and forgotten behind my 20 browser tabs, mail client, editor windows, terminals, etc, and that's if I remembered to open it the next day.

Having a whiteboard on my desk made me way more productive at work. So I would think the reasoning is less deep, it's more that there's less distraction on paper than on a computer.


Also my approach. I always (try to) bring some notepad and pencils. Most often it's not even notes for myself, but just writing down a few points I find remarkable, or on which I'm going to ask questions or make a remark at a later time into the presentation or lecture when they might be relevant.


I am near certain that if I were 40 years younger I'd have been ADHD diagnosed. So I can easily believe it's a distraction / concentration mechanism, for me at least.


I suspect the same, am also a rabid note-taker, and rarely revisit my notes. Writing is a means by which I build houses of cards in my head.

Last year I tried some Ritalin I'd been given so I could understand the effect. What I found was that it gives me a sensation that is similar to when I'm in flow. But - for me - it feels plastic. I found it to be inferior to normal flow and I felt less in control than with normal flow. That might improve with exposure.

I can see where Ritalin would be useful if you needed to get to flow on-demand. A back-door I use for this - write a throw-away dear-diary whinge about why I can't get started. The obstacle is a feeling - so I name that. Then I look for a source of it. This is generally a technical problem that's energy-intensive to load into my mind. So I write about the complications that make me see it as energy-intensive. By then it's started. [I've mentioned this before on hn and apologise if I get boring]


Thanks for the trick. (Writing about the issue)


Also when writing with pen/pencil you are essentially always drawing. I think this allows the writer to capture a lot nuances on the page which might not be ideal for review but at the time of capture they help reinforce ideas as the brain is processing them.


Hmm, I knew this a lot better a couple of years ago so what I'm about to say may not be entirely accurate but it is a line of thought that is out there and I guess you'll get the idea.

What I have noticed is that when you take notes you're slower with writing something down compared to when you type it up. This basically means that there's a bigger chance that whatever you write down gets remembered since you're repeating it to yourself more often.

I don't think it explains the whole story though. I'd be interested to see if fairly slow typers (as in: typing as fast as writers do with their pens) are better notetakers as well compared to fast typers.


I think this has not only todo with focus, but also with more brainregions involved into manual drawing of shapes, instead of just hitting a relatively large space.

I think more "picture thinking" is involed while typing seems to be more like speech (linear).

Maybe this just stems from the fact that you learn to write manually and learn to type much later in life.


1. Writing takes longer than typing.

2. The longer you think about something the more permanent of a memory it becomes.


And the longer it takes more you miss during lecture.


I left college right as the "everyone always has a laptop" trend was beginning. I never could see the point of one in a class.

You can type much faster, yes, but you can't easily draw. Especially for math, engineering, science type class you really need to be able to quickly copy down diagrams, graphs, equations, etc that aren't always easily entered into a text editor. For me those always helped understanding much better than trying to describe the same concept in words.


Yeah, I tried taking notes on my laptop a few times in engineering classes before I realized how hard it is to sketch digital logic in an emacs text buffer!

Even the guy who used a Windows tablet with Onenote didn't actually use it much... and now that I have a Surface for work, I hardly use it as a tablet, I just carry a notebook with me.


When I went to university, I took a 10 megapixel camera to every class and took pictures of all the notes. The first 2 years or so of notes (5731 photos) are here:

http://notes.robertelder.ca/

You can also view page visit statistics for how many visits the site got in relation to each exam.

http://www.robertelder.ca/2anotessite/visitsandexams.jpg

Also, I apologize for the site design on the notes site. It was an experiment in building the UI entirely in Javascript that I won't do again.

Finally, since we're talking about grades, here are all of my grades from university:

http://photos.robertelder.ca/view/se-grades.jpg


When I went to university, we didn't have any digital cameras.

And we liked it!


The article doesn't link the study which it is based on. This is terrible science journalism to begin with.

In case anyone wonders, it's probably this study: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/22/095679761452... It's paywalled, so... http://sci-hub.io/10.1177/0956797614524581

It doesn't strike me as an incredibly powerful study. I see no indication that it has been independently replicated. Usually these kinds of studies shouldn't be trusted unless you have a bunch of them and can do a metaanalysis.


My theory is that typing is more of an automatic brain activity (e.g. learned muscle memory) than writing (which involves more brain centers because you have to expend more CPU on recognizing what you wrote). Also, when you type notes, you can edit furiously - while with hand writing, usually (but not always) you need to maintain a 'stack' of what has been said in your head.


I've been publishing notes on many of the books I read this year. I found that taking notes on my laptop is a pretty damaging context switch whereas writing notes on paper doesn't cause much of a problem, to the point that it's faster to take notes on paper and transcribe them afterwards.

But... I started learning to write at 3 years old and I started learning to touch-type at 16 years old. I wonder if a more native typist would not need to split their attention in the same way.


I've been touch-typing for most of my life (as long as I can remember), but I still think that paper is better for taking notes too.


My own observations have led me to believe that this is true; I'm glad that there are now studies being done on this subject.

I've had the frustrating experience of trying to influence the way classes were being taught in my daughter's lower school (grades Pre-kinder through 8th). I tried to prevent the early introduction of tablet/laptops into the school, but the whole industry built up around selling teaching systems to schools has been very successful in convincing teachers and school administrators that more money spent on technology will produce better educational results.


I think I have very poor studying skills. So I've been wondering lately if maybe how I think about notes is wrong.

How often do you review your notes for a topic? It probably varies between subjects, but I bet the answer is that once you take notes once most people never review their notes. This is probably more the case for studying done on your own and outside of a school setting because you don't get tested on those topics as much. I guess thats not as effective, but it probably works for most topics given that we all usually have limited time.

And, are the notes concise versions of the information (like pegs in a memory system to find the real information) or copies of the information entirely so you don't need to refer to the original anymore? I wonder if with computers the fact that you don't need to copy information form a book to avoid carrying it thanks to PDFs and Kindles has made natural habits that happened before unnatural. Why copy everything when it's right there? Why not just copy and paste it? "Thats what I would have written, it's so much easier if I just copy and paste it."

It's kind of like with programming books, esp the intro ones, which always offer the code but tell the reader to please type out all the code.

So maybe when we teach those like myself with poor study skills we should explain: Use pen/paper because you can express more, you will probably not read this later so using pen/paper will help you remember more given that, copying information isn't bad (Even if it's duplicate thanks to computers) because it helps that retention factor with information that prior to it being on computers would have been smart to take notes on.


I find that when I am studying something tricky (weird or new math), outlining as I read helps a ton. I almost never refer back the notes later, but the act of trying to write something down intelligibly forces me to make my high level understanding explicit and prevents me from glossing over important details. To some degree taking notes during a lecture did the same thing for me when I was back in college.


I've put a lot of effort into figuring out which way is the best to take notes. I think the key to notes is to understand that yes sometimes all you're doing is copying everything they're saying, but you're effectively writing your own book on the subject to _maybe_ review in the future. The act of doing it is enough to help the overall goal: learn this material well. The notes don't need to be perfect. However, if they're good then they can act as a good way to catch up again on a topic and limit your need to re-learn from brand new source which you can then use to just fill the holes you left in your note taking (which if you take notes on those parts now you don't have those holes anymore).

I have also finally accepted that digital forms do not work as well for reading or notes when learning new topics. Our brains and systems of learning simply operate better with pen/paper much to my extreme distaste. (I have a strong hatred of paper. Ever since I was younger.)


When I was in school I was surprised that my hand written notes were better than my friends who typed their notes during class. My notes had all of the relevant information, without being a long as my typing friends.

I really thought I would miss some things by writing, but that was very seldom the case.

I'm a big fan of writing notes during a lecture and then typing them up after class.


I taught at a school for students with dyslexia. Handwriting comprised a large part of their tutoring. We were told (paraphrasing from memory) that engaging the muscle groups in the arm during writing engaged more of the student's brain. Maybe something similar is going on during the pencil-on-paper note-taking process.


Definitely aligns to my experience for studying. I started using handwritten notes again with my Surface after years of only typing notes and my retention has been far better and certification exam results, especially for self paced Web /video training. The difference in business meetings using a pen vs using typing on the display or laptop was huge because I find that people can't help but think that the other person is working on something else or otherwise distracted. Handwriting recognition works surprisingly well in OneNote and my experience with EverNotes handwriting recognition was positive too, I used to scan my paper notes into it. The benefit of being able to find a specific note months or even years later is invaluable to me.


I've constantly observed in my highschool/university life that students who didn't take notes were performing better than students who were taking notes.

Worse, the few that dared typing everything in LaTeX and share it to the rest of the class flunked their years.


I guess you studied some technical subjects. In this case, best students are usually doing their pet projects that take all their time, so going to lectures and typing notes in LaTeX will reduce the time they can spend working on their projects and learning from hands-on experience.


I wonder if we could reach a compromise, by using stylus instead of using keyboard on a digital device (such as iPad pro or MS Surface Pro) and apps like OneNote.

On a side note, there is a handwriting organization (http://www.chirography.org/) that really inspired me to start writing more with pen/pencil/markers/etc instead of digital counterpart. What struck me the most was the image of an old postcard inviting a friend for a drink. It felt so personal and memorable, compared to a quick text message or an email.


I'm currently reading Sunni Brown's "Doodle Revolution", which goes into detail on how drawing-writing notes is really helpful. Just moving a pencil in circles helps people concentrate on the information! Taking notes using dramatic fonts and diagrams helps the user understand and process information.

She also has a brief TED talk on the subject. https://www.ted.com/talks/sunni_brown?language=en


I've stopped using my todo app and note-taking apps and instead write hand-written notes. I can visualize the page structure of what I've written as part of recall, and the emphasis on specific words, and the ability to spread sheets of paper out for a broader overview is also amazingly helpful.

Before I used to put everything on a private wiki, but I found it makes it hard to maintain an overview, and the information often gets stale and unmaintained very rapidly.

It's frustrating, because I'd like it all searchable etc., so I keep looking for a digital workflow that is good enough to replace how I work with the paper notes, but I keep going back to paper regularly.


I used to write my notes by hand, but eventually I switched to using my laptop. At the end of the semester, I often found my handwritten notes illegible.

While many other laptop students seem to simply try to type down everything the professor says, I still use the same method as when I wrote by hand: filter out what's non-important. When comparing notes, I've seen fellow students go as far as writing down jokes and anecdotes told by professors…


I've noticed this in my own classes. I switched to using a tablet with a pen years ago for this reason. Paper and pen are nice too, but I do like the ability to look up things if questions arise. It's also great for classes that are based on discussion of current research articles, as it eliminates the need for printing and carrying a big stack of papers to class.


My strategy in school was to take quick notes by hand during the lecture. Basically highlight big points and jot down things I had more questions about. Studying was then just typing up those notes and expanding them where needed. Usually after typing them up I never looked at them again, since it was really the act of typing them that made the information stick.


I've a very limited working memory and thus at university lectures my choice as I saw it was either (1) trying to understand the content, or (2) taking notes.

Looking back, it never occurred to me that notes written without comprehension were unlikely to be good. Yet without notes the finer, unofficial details of the exam syllabus would not be recorded.


A few people have made this same point and the thought of this being true, and it very likely is, genuinely makes me angry.

What a waste of time and effort and human potential to have hundreds of bright young minds, sitting for hours just to catch details that could have been written down years ago in a shared textbook and tested on a shared exam. Across the globe this must squander centuries of human progress.


I have always taken handwritten notes. I have been out of college for decades and I still carry a small 3x5 bound notebook in my shirt pocket for things that I want to remember. Truth be told, though, I sometimes use my smartphone camera to take pictures of things that I want to recall, like a pylon in a parking garage for instance.


I would've liked to have taken notes, but there was no possible way I would be able to take notes and listen (no actually listen) to the lecture at the same time. I can only really focus on one thing at a time. Sometimes less. Usually lecture material could be reviewed from some other source after the fact anyways.


I find — anecdotally, of course — the people who type notes in class are usually the ones that sit at the back, don't pay attention, and seem inattentive.

The people with their notebooks open, and pens in hand, are usually in the first few rows. I've never seen someone handwriting notes at the back of the class.


I think it takes discipline and practice to be good at taking notes with a computer in class.


Obviously you were not cool enough to sit in the back. ;-)


I won't deny it :P


I can believe it. I typed all of my notes for the last three years of college, yet it was re-writing those typed notes by hand that helped soak in that knowledge. It's very easy to type mindlessly.


I always took notes on paper and just the act of writing them down helped me internalize the info. I almost never had to read my notes, which is good because they were rarely very legible.


I think the goal to be good at taking notes when typing is to learn how to take notes. It seems the only way to do that is by starting with hand written notes.

But I just think it depends on the class.


Would be interesting to compare writing by hand to typewriters


Wasn't this in a recent Freakonomics Radio episode?


I was about to type the same thing. cf. http://freakonomics.com/podcast/who-needs-handwriting/


Weird. In my lectures (I study in the Netherlands) almost nobody uses a laptop to take notes. Maybe it is different for each major, but I study computer engineering so you would expect more laptops there if anything.

I myself would never use a laptop during lectures, too distracting. Also it would feel like I'm disrespecting the professor. I don't like to talk too people who are practically ignoring me. At least one professor feels the same way, since he banned laptops.


I think it is very major dependent. I've found most engineering courses are very hard to type notes for, just because of all the equations, graphs, etc.

I agree though I'll almost never have my laptop out during a lecture. The one exception is if we're going over sample code, in which case it helps me a lot to play around with it as we go through it. (that being said I believe going through sample code is actually a pretty inefficient way to learn programming)


I have the same experience a bit varied, I'm majoring in embedded systems and almost everyone uses pen and paper. Then I took some Law-courses and there i felt like most used laptops (and the laptops they used weren't any good, the noise of 30 "clicky" keyboards gets really annoying).

I also feel that its a lot easier and smoother to write notes on paper, You can really structure your notes how you want without clicking everywhere.


For a short time I took notes using my phone and the reaction to that was interesting to me. People just assumed I was texting and not paying attention. With a laptop in the US you can be browsing Facebook and at least look to other people like you are taking notes.


In math, I pretty much always need a reference. Professors don't seem to like explaining every property of things, particularly when it should have been explained previously. I used my phone continuously to look things up. That professor hated me.

My personal preference is working through proofs and problems on my own and being able to pause lectures. Sure it takes an extra 30 minutes, but it saves hours of time later when I don't understand what I'm doing.


Study: These students who take notes by hand outperform their colleagues who type them.


Study: Students who will outperform take notes by hand instead of typing them


Laptops in university are mostly about status signalling. Paper is much more efficient and practical for note taking.


Found this little gem down the article, past the "eyes glaze over" point:

"Laptop users instead took notes by rote, taking down what they heard almost word for word."

This would explain why they're adhering to Betteridge's law of headlines: "Can Handwriting Make You Smarter?"

Intellectual dishonesty at its best.


It seems others are always trying to convince me that reading traditional books is better than reading ebooks, and that taking notes by hand is better than typing. I'm willing to be open-minded about such things, so I put both to the test in my classes at school.

I've taken two classes per term during the last year. In one class, I've made a point to only use traditional textbooks and handwritten notes, and in the other class, I've gone all digital.

Here were my results:

In all classes, I received As (I have a 4.0 GPA), so there wasn't really a difference there. However, my digital classes were a lot easier for me. I was able to organize my notes better, use Flashcard Hero to memorize my notes, and listen to my textbooks in the car while I drove. In the all-paper classes, it took me longer to read my assignments, longer to write out my notes, and I felt like I missed a lot while I was note-taking. I never used my paper notes after I wrote them, because they were disorganized and hard to read.

Perhaps the situation is different for others, but for me, my grades were the same, but the digital options were faster, easier, and better able to fit into more aspects of my life.


I don't have to read the article to know this is meaningless.

The top 1% of performers will be those who take notes by computer. Why? Because if you are strategic, using a spreadsheet with tags you can optimize note taking of anything. Even if the human brain memorizes better when taking notes by hand, an optimal system that involves sorting, etc, will outperform.


I don't think it's the quality of notes that makes the difference but the act of taking them in a physical sense.

So optimal system for a better grade may be writing it by hand.

Optimal performance for producing a good course reference could be a spread sheet with tags erc


I dont see how having the most organized/tagged notes is so much of a benefit to make somebody a top 1% performer.


If the precision of your notes were the deciding factor affecting your performance, the process of education would be much simpler.




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