Note-Taking: Writing vs. Typing Notes

It’s time for the note-taking showdown everyone has been waiting for. Today, we reveal the winner of the ultimate note-taking battle… pencil-and-paper vs the computer. This has been the hottest question on note-taking for the past few years, and we have an answer for you!

So, which is better?  

Writing Typing notes (2)

Full Disclosure

Before we dig into the facts, I want to share my education background. I am a full-time member of the SOAR® team, born in the year 1993. I am a millennial. I started my schooling taking notes on paper. In high school, I started using computers for school-work. By the time I got to college, everyone (myself included) was using the computer for everything, even in the classroom.

I have used all of the options when it comes to note-taking. I am sure after reading this short bio you have a guess of which method/tool I have a bias towards. But, I ask you to keep reading.

My experience —and the data– might surprise you.

The Research

Two professors (one from Princeton and one from UCLA) conducted a study by running three experiments. They had students take notes in a classroom setting. The study looked at students taking notes on a variety of things: bats, bread, algorithms, faith, and economics.  After, the students were tested on:

  • Memory of factual detail
  • Conceptual understanding of the material
  • Ability to synthesize and generalize information

The study revealed that students who wrote their notes on paper learned more than those who typed their notes1. Students who wrote their notes by hand were aware they wouldn’t catch every word. It forced them to focus on listening and digesting, then summarize in their own written words. The process made the brain work more efficiently; it also fosters comprehension and retention of the material.

The research shows that students who took notes on their laptop did take more notes. But, they retained much less. This is because students who use a laptop simply type a record of the lecture. They don’t use their brain to process what is being taught. Therefore, students are merely transcribing, not processing.

Effective, Yet Modern Approaches

There are two solutions for successful note-taking. I have personally put them both to the test.

Solution #1: Take notes the classic way, pencil in hand.

Whenever you can, write your notes by hand. Put your brain to the test. Listen, comprehend, and summarize in your notes. Besides the increased opportunity for higher retention, you won’t have the distractions that come with a computer.

Research shows that college students taking notes on a computer only spend 60% of class taking notes. They spend 40% of class time using the internet or other programs unrelated to the class. Plus, electronic devices introduce the opportunity for social media to interrupt your focus.

Unfortunately, I can personally attest to this statistic. I spent lots of time in class on Pinterest. Or working on other homework. Basically I did anything I could find to do besides taking notes during the lecture. (Sorry, Mom!)

That being said, I am not unreasonable. Being fresh out of college, I know how important it is to use laptops and other technology in school. No one can deny the speed at which you can take notes, compared to writing by hand. 

At some point, you will encounter a class in which you truly can’t keep up with how fast the teacher is teaching. If you try hand-written notes and end up feeling completely overwhelmed or with short phrases that don’t make sense, pull out your laptop and try…

Solution #2: Type, then write!

When hand-written note-taking is overwhelming, you can then take notes on your computer. But, in order to successfully retain the information, you will need to follow three guidelines:

  1. Turn off all distractions. Don’t connect to the Wi-Fi. Don’t do other homework. If you don’t have faith in self-control, there are even apps/programs that you can set up to block all distractions.
  2. After class, transfer your notes from the computer to paper. Yes, rewrite them. It doesn’t take as long as you would think and it gives you the opportunity to cut useless things out from your notes. It also helps retention, counts as studying, and is also the perfect set-up for the SOAR® “Take-Ten” strategy.
  3. Take Ten!* “Taking Ten” is SOAR®‘s study method that consists of: taking TWO minutes each day to clean out your book bag and organize papers, and EIGHT minutes to review all notes and handouts from the day. This review helps the brain process information much faster, dramatically reduces study time for tests, helps you work through the homework faster, and will ensure that assignments get turned in!
  4. Turn your notes into test questions. The most effective and time-efficient way to learn your notes is to turn them into potential test questions. (Creating questions is far more engaging and effective than memorizing!) 

Do you feel like you don’t know what you should be writing in your notes? Or, want to see our fast and simple method for turning notes into test questions? We’ve got you covered…

The SOAR® note-taking process will decrease the amount of time you spend studying, eliminate “all-nighters”, and increase comprehension!

If you are a parent and want your student to learn these skills at home, click here.

If you are a teacher looking to impact your whole classroom, click here.

Happy note-taking,

Jessie S.
SOAR® Team Member

* This is a step you should take whether you started with hand-written notes or just transferred them.

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