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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

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      Last Updated on September 20, 2018

      8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

      8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

      You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

      Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

      When you train your brain, you will:

      • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
      • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
      • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

      So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

      1. Work your memory

      Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

      When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

      If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

      The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

      Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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      Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

      What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

      For example, say you just met someone new:

      “Hi, my name is George”

      Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

      Got it? Good.

      2. Do something different repeatedly

      By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

      Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

      It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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      And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

      But how does this apply to your life right now?

      Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

      Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

      Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

      So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

      You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

      That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

      3. Learn something new

      It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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      For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

      Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

      You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

      4. Follow a brain training program

      The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

      5. Work your body

      You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

      Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

      Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

      Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

      6. Spend time with your loved ones

      If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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      If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

      I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

      7. Avoid crossword puzzles

      Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

      Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

      Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

      8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

      Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

      When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

      So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

      The bottom line

      Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

      Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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