Students retain information better with pens than laptops

Writing notes by hand may lead to deeper understanding of lecture material, study suggests

TAKE NOTE  Students who take notes by hand have a better understanding of material than those who rely on laptops, a new study suggests. 

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When it comes to taking notes, the old-fashioned way might be best. Students who jotted down notes by hand remembered lecture material better than their laptop-wielding peers did, researchers report April 23 in Psychological Science.

People taking notes on laptops have a shallower grasp of a subject than people writing with their hands, and not just because laptops distract users with other activities such as web surfing, the new study suggests.

Students from Princeton and UCLA watched videos of TED talks or of a graduate student delivering a lecture. Students who wrote in longhand and were able to review their notes before a quiz performed better on conceptual questions than did those who typed notes. Pen users’ notes included around 100 to 150 fewer words than those of people who typed. But those words seemed to be more sophisticated: People who wrote by hand were less likely to take down verbatim what the lecturer said, indicating that these people reframed the concepts in a more meaningful way, the authors suggest. 

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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