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Princeton U study: Taking notes the 'old-fashioned' way is better for students

It's better to take notes by hand than to use a laptop
It's better to take notes by hand than to use a laptop
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A new study conducted at Princeton University suggests that students who use a laptop to take notes don’t fare as well academically as those who take notes by hand with a pen or pencil.

The study tested retention of lecture material and examined whether typing notes instead of writing them longhand was of any advantage to students.

Three separate studies were conducted. Graduate student, Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, coauthored the study, which was published in the June 2014 edition of Psychological Science under the title, “The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note-Taking.”

The research shows that while laptop users took almost twice the amount of notes as those writing longhand, their notes tended to be more verbatim.

Additionally, students who took lecture notes on a laptop scored lower on retention tests than those who wrote their notes by hand.

One reason for this might be that taking notes with a keyboard doesn’t allow for processing of the lecture material; students merely type what they hear.

The researchers posit that the act of writing notes, instead of typing them, engages the brain in such a way as to cause the student to select more important information to include in the notes. This translates into better material from which to study. As a result, students tend to remember the material better, and consequently, get better grades.

Students were tested on concepts and facts. Laptop users scored significantly lower on the conceptual part of the test. Both groups of note-takers scored similarly on the factual part.

The laptops used for the studies were not able to access the Internet so as to minimize distractions which could impact results.

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