Don’t listen to the “super smart” kid in the back of the class who sleeps with his eyes open and never takes notes—note taking is arguably the most important component to your academic success. Writing down notes is, in a way, a form of learning, and helps your brain solidify key concepts. Plus, you’ll need those notes to reference when you’re studying for a test!
However, the way in which you take notes is a more polarizing topic. While some people will preach day and night about the benefits of typing out your notes on a laptop, others will always be dedicated to the art of handwritten note-taking.
In truth, there are benefits to both schools of thought, and drawbacks to both as well. But which method of note taking is better overall?
In this blog, the CLEP study guide experts will settle the score on old school vs new school notes. Who will emerge victorious in this showdown? Let’s find out by weighing the pros and cons of each method of note taking.
You can transcribe information quickly. For most folks, typing is much faster than writing—so much faster, in fact, that you can transcribe nearly twice as much information than with a pen and paper. This can lead you to take more complete notes and have more information at your disposal when your study session rolls around, which could help you get a better grade on that upcoming test of yours.
You don’t run out of paper. Running out of paper during a lecture can leave you with frustration and incomplete notes. In complex and high stakes courses, this could be the difference between an A or a B on your test. This is obviously not a problem when using a computer—just keep on typing.
Your notes are backed up in “the cloud.”
All it takes is a rogue cup of coffee or a bad, bad dog to tear up your notes and leave you in a state of panic and devastation. It happens to the best of us, but it’s one of the worst academic situations we can imagine.
By using your laptop and a web-based word processor like Google Docs, your notes are always safe and secure. Plus, you can use the “find” function to quickly reference your notes and find things you typed with ease. If only that existed for your 180 pages of handwritten biology notes.
Your computer runs out of batteries. A computer with no charge left is as good for note taking as your microwave. This can be problematic if your laptop runs out of battery during the middle of a lecture, but there’s a more likely problem: you forget to charge your laptop the night before class, and there are no charging outlets to be found in your classroom. Carry a paper notebook as backup, because this scenario will happen to you if it hasn’t already.
Taking your computer to all your classes can be risky. Losing a notebook isn’t a big deal—but losing your laptop is a different story. Students can often become too dependent on their computers for academic success, which becomes a problem only if your laptop is stolen, lost, or damaged. Lugging that shiny MacBook to all of your classes might be helpful for note taking, but it can also be a risk. Computers are expensive and in high demand, which makes them a target for theft on college campuses across the country.
There are plenty of distractions at your disposal.
Your Google Doc with all of your science notes is open, and you’re ready to take notes and have a productive lecture full of learning and discovery. But with a few clicks, you’re scrolling through Facebook, watching cute YouTube videos of puppies, and not learning a darn thing.
Computers are great learning tools, but they’re also great distractions. There’s so much to see on the Internet, and if you’re anything like us, you want to see all the cute puppy videos that have ever existed. But class time is not the time for these videos—it’s time to take notes and learn some stuff. If you have trouble staying focused on your computer during lectures, it’s in your own best interests to switch to a good old notebook instead.
Writing by hand increases your focus. For people who spend a lot of time in front of a computer, typing can become a near-mindless task (we’ll touch on this more a bit later). This isn’t the recipe for excellent note taking or learning. Writing by hand means you must listen closely to your professor and extract the most important and necessary parts of their lecture for your notes, which leads to better notes and increased learning permanence.
You’ll remember more about lectures. Writing by hand has been proven as a more effective method for learning and remembering course content—it forces students to take notes slower and really digest what they’re writing down. Plus, writing by hand creates a cognitive and physical connection the course material more than typing does.
You spend less time staring at screens. You spend too much time looking at screens as it is, whether you’re surfing Twitter, tweaking your fantasy football lineup, or typing up essays for your English professor. Using a pen and paper gives your eyes a rest and allows you to really focus on the task ahead of you: taking notes for your class.
Multitasking is tough for some. Ultimately, some people have too much trouble listening and writing notes at the same time, or they just can’t write fast enough to keep up with a fast-talking lecturer. In situations like these, typing might be the better option.
Some people have poor handwriting. There’s no point in taking notes if you can’t read them after the fact. People with poor handwriting often have trouble referencing their notes after class, which can make it very difficult to study or retain class information. Plus, the faster these people have to write to keep up with their teacher, the worse their writing quality gets. If legibility is your issue, it might be best to type out those notes so you can read them later.
Which one wins?
If the objective of taking notes is to help you learn more, then we have to give the victory to good old pen and paper in this showdown. Increased learning permanence and more thoughtful notes are crucial for academic success, so grab the old school notebook whenever you can!