In most of my classes, you’ll find me shifting my gaze from the board to my notebook as I take meticulous notes. I find comfort in the way my gel pen glides across my college-ruled paper. Moving my pen to write down the information that will later appear on a quiz or midterm helps it stick in my mind.
But this is not the case for a large portion of my classmates. With the plethora of technologies we have at our fingertips, the pen-to-paper approach for note-taking is becoming uncommon. Laptops, tablets and recording devices have taken over the old-fashioned method, and lecture halls are now filled with the clicking and tapping of keyboards.
I’ve found that I perform better on tests when I take notes by hand rather than typing them. A study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, validates this. In a study of 65 students, those who chose to take notes on their laptops performed “significantly worse on the conceptual questions” when tested compared to their peers who took notes by hand.
In order to perform better on exams, students should start closing their laptops, and instead, open their notebooks.
Alex Carpenter, a sophomore psychology major, said she likes to type her notes for class. Typing makes note-taking “a lot neater than [she] could have possibly made it” while writing.
She added that it helps her “keep up with whatever the professor is saying because professors sometimes they go way too fast.”
While I understand that students appreciate the ease, speed and neatness that can be attributed to typing their notes, I don’t think most of them are aware of the disadvantages. According to Medical Daily, a health and science news website, motor memory plays a tremendous role in the way we remember things. Writing by hand allows students to recall information later by using a person’s motor actions, according to the Medical Daily article. This feedback is different than that received when typing the same notes on a keyboard.
The act of physically writing out letters to form words and phrases engraves the information in our minds.
Vishnu Murty, a psychology professor who studies memory research, said there are three phases of memory: encoding, consolidation and retrieval.
“Encoding is when you’re learning all the information,” Murty said. “Consolidation is right after learning when things start to get stabilized in your brain. And the third phase is retrieval, which is how you’re able to pull that memory from murky pits of your brain.”
“The benefit of writing the information is that it gives you another way to retrieve the information,” he said. “There’s more associated with it.”
When students type their notes, they have a tendency to copy their professors’ slides word for word. It’s easy to do, as typing is much quicker and simpler than using a pen or pencil. This dispels the need for students to actually process what they’re typing, Murty said.
With a writing utensil, they’re more inclined to read, analyze and summarize each slide — helping them to retain the most important ideas. Murty said this phenomenon is called “levels of processing.”
It is an “old psychological phenomenon known to highly benefit memory,” Murty said. Students are “forced to think about the material in a deeper way.”
Technological advancements are not slowing down. And where there are advantages, there will always be disadvantages, too. I understand that many students enjoy being tech savvy, but their personal devices may be getting in the way of learning. Students might want to rethink their personal preference, given some concrete evidence that writing down notes is better for learning.
Murty said there may be a way to find a compromise if you’re not ready to reach for a pen and paper. Tablet writing, he said, could offer a “happy medium.” You would still have the benefits of handwriting while electronic storage takes care of the rest.
If you’re a student who succeeds through electronic note-taking, you may not see the benefits of switching to handwriting your notes. But writing down this information by hand will aid you in remembering and understanding it more thoroughly, even after your test.
And if you’re a student who is fruitlessly searching your mind for terms and facts you could’ve sworn you stored somewhere, I highly suggest you pick up a pen. In my experience, it can do wonders.