The Best Way to Remember a Lecture? Try Leaving Your Laptop at Home and Taking Notes by Hand

A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal for the Association of Psychological Science, suggests that students may be harming their academic performance by taking class notes on their computers.  Pam Muller of Princeton University, lead author of the study, says that even when students use their laptops as intended – and not for buying things on Amazon during class – they may still be harming their academic performance.

In the study, students listened to a lecture and were told to use whatever strategy they normally used to take notes – hand writing or typing.  Students then completed three distractor tasks and, 30 minutes later, were asked to answer factual recall questions (e.g. how many years ago did an event take place?) and conceptual application questions (e.g. how did equality differ in the countries discussed?).  The study revealed that while the two types of note takers performed equally well on the factual recall questions, those typing their notes performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions.

The difference in performance may be explained by the fact that typists take almost a verbatim record of a lecture while writers must process what they hear and then write down the ideas in their own words.  According to Muller, the hand written notes might allow students to better remember the message of a lecture because they have already processed what the lecture meant.