You should stop typing your notes.
I know this might sound like an odd opinion coming from a 21-year-old who relies heavily on her computer for the majority of what I do in college.
A study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer concluded that students who took notes by hand performed better on tests than students who took notes using a laptop.
Now you might be thinking “but I can type so much more efficiently, handwriting is so slow.” That’s actually the point. Mueller and Oppenheimer’s study found that yes, students with laptops took more notes than students who wrote their notes, but that being able to type the notes faster was actually working against them. Students who hand write notes may not be able to get every word that’s on a powerpoint slide or coming out of their professor’s mouth into their notebook. This means they have to process the content and be able to effectively summarize it in their notes. This process forces them to be more engaged with the material instead of just copying down the words.
Not to mention, regardless of how many notes you’re taking, using a laptop presents other challenges. You’re sitting in front of a little screen that gets you access to every one of your upcoming Blackboard alerts, all your favorite shopping sites and the Sims 4. Avoiding getting distracted by any of that is a perfectly understandable challenge. But this temptation is removed when you take notes by hand. There is nothing for you to do besides listen and take notes, so you will be more engaged with what’s happening in the class. Your notebook does not have access to Cool Math Games, and that’s probably for the best.
Not only is it more beneficial to your learning, it’s also just way more fun. Who among us hasn’t stumbled across those videos on TikTok or Instagram of people who use four markers, two highlighters and a calligraphy pen to create incredibly aesthetically pleasing study guides. Is that not incredibly satisfying to witness? That could be you! Well, the calligraphy pen might be overkill, but you get the idea.
A cute highlighter (might I recommend the pastel ones) or a fun colored felt tip pen might be the exact thing you need to make your notes fun and better organized. Sure, you could use plain lined paper, but you could try dotted paper or even unlined copy paper to give you more freedom when it comes to organizing content. I personally am a huge fan of buying the paper designed for the Cornell Note Taking System, and using it very incorrectly. I use the lines for general notes but then put important definitions or diagrams in the unlined side and bottom sections. Maybe the Cornell method is more academically effective, but whatever, mine is more fun.
Now of course handwritten notes aren’t always the right solution. In some classes being able to have digital readings at your fingertips is an asset. Business or math classes might require Excel or coding programs in order to participate. Some students have physical limitations that make handwriting much less accessible than typing. Even I don’t do it 100% of the time. I often work as a notetaker for the Office of Accessibility, where we are supposed to turn in typed notes, so in classes where I am assigned as a notetaker, you will always see me on my computer. But in general, handwritten notes will still give you the greatest benefits.
So next time you go to class, consider closing your computer and taking out a real live pen and paper again. It might just be the secret to a better grade.
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