Taking notes in class can be a struggle. Too often, the professor clicks through the slideshow at lightning speed, and with each click, a new impenetrable wall of text is revealed. As I begin to glance at the text, and perhaps make out a few words, all of a sudden it is swiped out of view, never to be seen again.
With how fleeting the opportunity is to take notes, it is understandable why so many students opt to take their notes on a laptop. You can easily take notes at a fast pace, and it even feels sleek to do so. Your fingers glide lightly against the keyboard, and you watch as word after word effortlessly appear on the document. Even major spelling errors are rapidly corrected, so you do not have to worry about the finer details as you rush to get down every bit of information.
Taking notes by hand, on the other hand, can be far more cumbersome. Sometimes, your pen refuses to work, and you have to run it across the paper again and again, only to give up and switch to an inferior pen. Your hand aches, and your handwriting is mediocre; after all, you haven’t had to seriously write anything since middle school. The very premise of being forced to take notes by hand often elicits groans and kvetches from the entire class.
I am not here to argue that taking notes by hand is always fun or convenient. Instead, I argue that it is necessary if you want to truly document, digest and understand the material presented to you in class. Despite its convenience and simplicity, taking notes on a computer has far too many disadvantages compared to taking notes by hand.
For example, computers invite distractions. The ease by which you can tune out a lecture or discussion by clicking on another Google tab makes diverting your attention from the class nearly inevitable. I can attest to many hours spent exploring Google Earth or playing 2048 during lectures. I know I am not alone in this regard—email and social media notifications make concentration difficult for even the most diligent students.
Additionally, taking notes by hand actually improves your memorization and understanding of the material itself. In a study conducted by Princeton University, students who took notes by hand were more likely to remember the overall concepts presented in TED talks compared to those who used laptops, even after a week had passed. This effect may be attributed to the fact that taking notes by hand requires more conscious cognition than taking them on the computer. Thus, the greater effort required to write down the information resulted in better retention of the information.
Finally, I believe there is a subjective satisfaction that comes with taking physical notes that is lost when taking notes on the computer. I have to take physical notes for my Arabic class because I still struggle with typing the Arabic alphabet on the computer. After each class, however, I feel a sense of accomplishment in being able to look at my organized, physical notes in my notebook, which I can easily reference at a moment’s notice. My notes on the computer, conversely, feel distinctly hollow—they’re simply bullet points of the most important words or details I could manage to make out in a lecture.
In my opinion, the advantages of taking physical notes clearly outweigh the sometimes irritating disadvantages. I am not arguing that professors should ban laptops, but I am making a plea to the students reading this article to reconsider their habits. Changing the way you take notes may not be easy, but neither is fruitlessly trying to recall the notes you took on a computer.