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Here’s Why You Should Take Notes By Hand (Instead Of With A Laptop)

Here’s Why You Should Take Notes By Hand (Instead Of With A Laptop)

If you walk into any lecture these days, you see a majority of students staring at their screens. You hear a never-ending chorus of pounding keys. Yes, we live in digital age and I bet you can’t imagine not using your laptop for studying. Yes, laptops enable you to do more academic work and do it more efficiently. You can collaborate more easily on presentations and papers, get instant access to numerous libraries and sources online and take a huge amount of notes as you probably belong to the majority that types faster than they write.

The truth is, those who type do take more notes compared to those who use good old pen and paper. However, according to the new study published by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer (from Princeton University and University of California respectively) students who take notes on paper learn significantly more compared to their laptop-addicted peers. Here are the main reasons why:

Writing takes time and digestion is necessary

Our brain uses two different types of cognitive processing when doing these two operations: typing and writing. As tested on a group of undergrads, the research proved that laptop users type almost everything they hear without processing the meaning or devoting much thought to what it is they’re taking notes on. Basically, when you type, all you’re doing is mindlessly transcribing, and that does not require much cognitive activity.

When you take notes by hand, however, you obviously can’t write down every single word your professor utters. So you listen, summarize, and list only the key points. Your brain is more engaged in the process of comprehension and so the information processed this way is remembered better.

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Longer notes does not equal better notes

You may object to the point above by saying that transcribing everything will help you later on when studying for the test. Nope! Wrong again. Students who participated in the study were assessed within a week, and longhand note takers significantly out-performed those who took notes on their laptop. Oppenheimer states that handwriting provides more effective memory cues by recreating:

  • context, as you remember the original process of writing, the emotion, and the conclusions made in your own words, and–
  • content, e.g. some individual facts written and summarized.

When comparing test scores, researchers noted that laptop users and longhand note takers performed similarly on factual questions with slightly better results from the typers. However, laptop users did significantly worse on conceptual questions.

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    Laptops are overwhelmingly distracting

    Now this may sound like a no-brainier, but still, the facts are staggering. Students on average spend 40% of class time using all sorts of productivity killers, from instant chat messages to answering emails to simply browsing around the web. What may surprise you is that according to this research, undergrad and law students rated themselves less satisfied with their college education in general and were more likely to fail classes due to constant temptation to switch to unrelated tasks and the higher risks of academic dishonesty. Just think for a second, are you paying tens thousands of dollars per year to watch funny YouTube videos?

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    DeathtoStock_Wired4

      Have I convinced you? Great! Here are some tips for how to take notes by hand more effectively:

      Master shorthand

      There are numerous methods and shorthand systems for writing words and long letters faster by turning them into special symbols. One of the most popular ones is Teeline, commonly used for training journalists in the UK. You remove unnecessary letters (like silent letters or vowels, unless they come first or last) and twist them into simpler alphabet symbols that are faster to write.

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      If you find it hard to convert to shorthand entirely, try adopting a your own translation system for the most commonly used words in your writing – for example, “cld” for “could” or “w/” for “with.” Just make sure you don’t lose your cheat-sheet!

      Use the right formatting

      If you have just switched from laptop note taking to writing notes by hand, imagine the way you used to put down everything in Microsoft Word or any other writing app you’ve used. Make big titles, use bullet points and underline important phrases. Plus, leave enough white space between your notes so you can add extra information later on when studding for the test.

      Get a stress ball

      After a few hours of writing by hand your fingers, palm and wrist may be extremely exhausted. Get yourself a stress ball to squeeze once in a while to build up finger and hand strength. Also, do not forget to stretch out your writing hand to avoid elbow injuries and unpleasant muscle pains.

      Try the Cornell Notes method

      An old, yet still incredibly effective method, to take excellent study notes is the Cornell Notes method. Divide your page into two columns. The right one should be larger – that’s where you write down all the ideas, include tables, charts and pretty much everything else you do as you usually write notes. It can be messy. The left column is where you put big bulletin points and short statements, generalizing corresponding ideas from the right column.

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      Also, you can leave the end of each page blank and later write down a brief summary of the page in a couple sentences. Down the line, when studying for an exam or paper, it will help you find the necessary topics easily.

      Lefties: get a felt-tipped pen

      Ink stains, smudged letters and thus absolutely unreadable handwriting – sound familiar to you? Get a good felt-tipped pen that won’t smudge that bad when you drag your hand behind the pen while writing.

      Featured photo credit: Eric Jusino via flickr.com

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      Elena Prokopets

      Freelance Writer

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      Last Updated on November 19, 2019

      7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy

      7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy

      “Busy” used to be a fair description of the typical schedule. More and more, though, “busy” simply doesn’t cut it.

      “Busy” has been replaced with “too busy”, “far too busy”, or “absolutely buried.” It’s true that being productive often means being busy…but it’s only true up to a point.

      As you likely know from personal experience, you can become so busy that you reach a tipping point…a point where your life tips over and falls apart because you can no longer withstand the weight of your commitments.

      Once you’ve reached that point, it becomes fairly obvious that you’ve over-committed yourself.

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      The trick, though, is to recognize the signs of “too busy” before you reach that tipping point. A little self-assessment and some proactive schedule-thinning can prevent you from having that meltdown.

      To help you in that self-assessment, here are 7 signs that you’re way too busy:

      1. You Can’t Remember the Last Time You Took a Day Off

      Occasional periods of rest are not unproductive, they are essential to productivity. Extended periods of non-stop activity result in fatigue, and fatigue results in lower-quality output. As Sydney J. Harris once said,

      “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

      2. Those Closest to You Have Stopped Asking for Your Time

      Why? They simply know that you have no time to give them. Your loved ones will be persistent for a long time, but once you reach the point where they’ve stopped asking, you’ve reached a dangerous level of busy.

      3. Activities like Eating Are Always Done in Tandem with Other Tasks

      If you constantly find yourself using meal times, car rides, etc. as times to catch up on emails, phone calls, or calendar readjustments, it’s time to lighten the load.

      It’s one thing to use your time efficiently. It’s a whole different ballgame, though, when you have so little time that you can’t even focus on feeding yourself.

      4. You’re Consistently More Tired When You Get up in the Morning Than You Are When You Go to Bed

      One of the surest signs of an overloaded schedule is morning fatigue. This is a good indication that you’ve not rested well during the night, which is a good sign that you’ve got way too much on your mind.

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      If you’ve got so much to do that you can’t even shut your mind down when you’re laying in bed, you’re too busy.

      5. The Most Exercise You Get Is Sprinting from One Commitment to the Next

      It’s proven that exercise promotes healthy lives. If you don’t care about that, that’s one thing. If you’d like to exercise, though, but you just don’t have time for it, you’re too busy.

      If the closest thing you get to exercise is running from your office to your car because you’re late for your ninth appointment of the day, it’s time to slow down.

      Try these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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      6. You Dread Getting up in the Morning

      If your days are so crammed full that you literally dread even starting them, you’re too busy. A new day should hold at least a small level of refreshment and excitement. Scale back until you find that place again.

      7. “Survival Mode” Is Your Only Mode

      If you can’t remember what it feels like to be ahead of schedule, or at least “caught up”, you’re too busy.

      So, How To Get out of Busyness?

      Take a look at these articles to help you get unstuck:

      Featured photo credit: Khara Woods via unsplash.com

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