We have all been told that it is better to take school notes by hand, rather than type them up. You may have been all too happy to accept this as an undeniable truth of the universe. An apple will fall when dropped, you will remember the definition of “phospholipid bilayer” when you write it out. But why? Why do you remember things better when they are written out by hand?
1. A study about taking handwritten notes vs. typing notes found conclusively that handwritten notes are better
How? Two groups of people were asked to learn an unfamiliar alphabet. One group used pen and paper, and the other used a keyboard. According to neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay of the University of Marseille, different parts of the brain are activated when reading letters learned through handwriting than letters learned through typing.
When writing by hand, the movements are remembered in the part of the brain that records motor memory, the sensorimotor, making it easier to recall the letters learned by using the classic pen and paper method.
As humans, we learn many things through touching things (as is evidenced by babies placing objects in their mouths so their tongue can feel it). The term ‘haptic’ describes how we interact with our world by using our fingers and hands to explore our surroundings. The sensory feeling of holding the pen or pencil and touching the paper helps immensely. When you take handwritten notes, you experience haptic learning.
2. It takes longer to write out your notes
From selecting which color pen to write with, to writing out each individual letter, you take more time to handwrite notes. This is good because it gives your brain more time to process and store the information. We learn by touching. We also learn better by doing. You can type out your notes day in and day out, but you’ll learn how to touch type, not the dates in your history class. When you take the time to put pen to paper, you reap the rewards of time well spent.
3. Computers can be distracting
We have a plethora of information at our fingertips, one Google search away. And on one hand, that is incredibly useful, but it can be very distracting. One minute, you’re paying attention in class, dutifully typing away, and then you decide to do some further research. Forty minutes later you’re waist-deep in a Wikipedia article on the origin of witchcraft in Wales and the class is over.
When you take handwritten notes, all you need is a pen or a pencil (or if you like to live large, ten different colors of pen and fifteen different highlighters) and a notebook. The only way you can get distracted is if you refer to your previous notes to figure out which shade of purple you used to highlight the titles of new sections. Maybe then you get distracted by how pretty your previous notes look, but you’re soon back to listening to your professor.
4. Writing by hand lends itself to summarizations
According to an article in Scientific American, taking notes by hand forces you to summarize what your teacher says. Students who take notes on their laptops tend to type what their teacher says verbatim. This means that they take a greater volume of notes, but they don’t process what they type. Conversely, students who handwrite their notes absolutely cannot copy down everything the teacher says. This causes them to process what they hear and summarize it in their notes. And as we all know, it is much easier to study with summarized notes.
5. You build a library of awesome, interesting notebooks
As a successful note taker, you can take pride in your steadily growing collection of notebooks. If you have even a slightly cool or nifty-looking notebook, it motivates you to take equally good looking notes (or maybe doodle a bit). If you’re inspired to start taking better notes, check out the design of the notebooks at Decomposition Book. If you’re environmentally minded, they are made out of 100% post-consumer waste!
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