No matter what grade you’re in, effective note taking is a skill that doesn’t come easy. Like many students, I thought that I took great notes when I was in high school. Then I started college. My first day of class I tried to write out my notes by hand … big mistake. I couldn’t keep up with anything that my professor was saying. Scared of missing key parts of the lecture, the next day I opened my laptop instead of my notebook and furiously typed out my notes word-for-word.
I assumed that typing my notes was the best way to study later. But when I went back to what I’d written, I realized I didn’t remember any of the important concepts. So I took another approach to see what method would work best. I started writing by hand in some classes and typing out my notes in others. While at first didn’t notice anything too drastic, my grades started to reflect which method was working better. I recalled more information when studying my handwritten notes than when studying my typed notes.
Handwritten Notes vs Typed Notes: Learning and Recall
Other students might tell you that they remember their typed notes more easily, especially since they have more information written down. But science will tell you differently. According to Audrey van der Meer, a neuropsychologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, using a pen or a pencil involves more of the brain and leads to better recall.
Quite simply, we engage more senses and activate more parts of the brain when we write by hand. By writing and listening at the same time, we begin the process of evaluating and encoding what that information means in relation to the topic. The movements that are required when writing each letter also allows us to more easily create mental associations between what we wrote and what we heard, helping with future recall.
If there’s one con to writing by hand, it’s that it’s slower than typing. But the ease of typing also allows students to write exactly what’s being said without putting any thought behind it. Writing notes verbatim might seem helpful but unless you review the information right after class, it’s the exact opposite. Taking handwritten notes forces you to be more selective about the key concepts that you’ll need to remember.
Which Method is Better for You?
From my past experience, writing my notes by hand helped me study more effectively and my grades showed that. Not to say that typing your notes can’t be helpful. When I wasn’t taking notes by hand, typing was my go-to. The convenience of having all my notes in one place made it easy to navigate. Not to mention, computers have a nifty function that allows you to find a specific word or phrase, which was helpful when I wanted to find information quickly but didn’t want to comb through pages of notes.
Figuring out what method works best early in your education is important to developing your note taking process. Whether you use your computer for your notes or if you stick to pen and paper, keep the science behind handwritten notes in mind and make sure you choose the method that works best for you.