5 Ways Handwritten Notes May Help Your Studies

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Taking your iPad or laptop to university, instead of the old faithful pen and paper, may seem more convenient and less cramp inducing. Yet, there are more and more studies proving that writing your lecture notes down on paper instead of typing is more beneficial in terms of studying. Here we’ve listed the top 5 reasons why writing your notes on paper may help you study more efficiently.

1. Storage space

Writing your notes on paper improves your memory, allowing you to store more when studying and reducing the chances of forgetting your work as soon as the lecture doors open and your laptop screen has been shut. There is also less chance of temptation to speed read or skim over notes, potentially missing important information. I think we all know the week before exams when everyone makes unspoken vows to write down more notes in class, cursing days wasted playing candy crush under the table.

2. I wonder what’s happening on Facebook…

There are plenty of ways to distract yourself online or offline, on a laptop or on an electronic device (I’ve seen someone playing Plants vs. Zombies in the middle of a Sociology lecture – it’s true!)  So if you feel like you may be easily distracted, rather leave the laptop at home, bring an exam pad and a few pens and you’ll be good to go.

There is less chance of becoming sidetracked when you write notes down.  In a study conducted by scientists, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer in April 2014, students were tested on the contents of a lecture. Students who typed and those who wrote down with a pen and paper both wrote down the same amount of facts. Those who chose to write by hand performed far better than those who typed when later tested.  The students who wrote by hand also performed better when conceptualizing the information.

The studies reflected that a small percentage of the class were busy using other applications or searching the web when they should have been recording the information from the lecture.  It’s so easy to fall into the habit of opening that Facebook url when you’re on an electronic device (I’m sure we’ve done it all…)

Even though the above information differs with this opinion, many students still claim that typing is more beneficial as it allows you to write more down in less time and that it is easier to store the information on hard copy than run the risk of losing your notes.

3. You use more of your brain when you write

When you handwrite your notes while listening, you tend to make the notes more concise by summarizing and editing only the most important information.

While typing allows you to get more word-for-word conversation down, studies have shown that the brain isn’t really focusing on the work going in because you aren’t using the brain’s cognitive function to edit or summarize the information being typed. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted a study in 2014 that suggested that students say it is easier and more beneficial to type notes as it saves on time and effort. The catch here is that it negatively affects cognitive function.

While the debate continues, many experts in the writing field believe that writing uses different, more complex skills than typing on a keyboard. Writing the work down means you are fully engaging with the text. Think of it as free revision as there is a higher chance you will remember the work you wrote down in class than if they were typed.

4. You erase your mistakes

Even though the computer keeps an invisible record of the changes you’ve made or information you have deleted, there is no physical evidence of what those errors were, or which information you corrected or edited. Writing your notes down helps highlight the information you may have previously remembered wrong, ensuring you don’t make the same mistake again. This also helps conceptualizing the knowledge taken in. Yes, we all forgot about that moment when your computer forgets to save and all your hard work is lost…

5. Muscle memory

When taking notes by hand, the act of physically writing the letters and symbols out helps develop muscle memory. This process is also known as haptic feedback and is caused by physical contact with the pen and paper, which you do not receive from an electronic device.

Personally, I like to take handwritten notes during lectures, revise and then type them when I get home in the evening. Looking over your work at the end of the day sometimes helps studying in the long run (in other words hopefully you don’t forget it as soon as the lecture ends.)  This way, you aren’t risking storing less by typing, but covering all bases to ensure the information stays fresh and relevant.

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All this being said, of course everyone has his or her own personal study methods. To end off with a sweet cherry, what may be best for one person may not work for someone else at all. In the long run it really depends on your own working style and habits. If you’re interested in the importance of writing skills in our day and age, read “The Dean with the Write Stuff.”

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