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The Note-Taking Strategy That's Good for Memory

A recent study found that those who take longhand notes--rather than type-- are better at long-term recall.

The way that you're taking down notes could have a real impact on your ability to process that information, according to a new study.

Princeton University psychological scientist and lead author of the study Pam Mueller found that those who take notes by hand -- as opposed to on a keyboard -- are more likely to remember conceptual information in the long-term. 

For the experiment, Mueller had 65 college students watch a TED talk, which covered topics that went beyond common knowledge. Some took notes in a notebook while others used a laptop.

Thirty minutes later, they were quizzed on the video by answering two different types of questions. One type was fact-recall. For instance, students were asked to remember the year that a historic event had taken place. The second type of question was conceptual-application. For example, “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies? 

Interestingly, the two groups of students performed equally when it came to fact-recall. However, pen and paper note takers outperformed the others on conceptual questions.  

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers wrote. They added that computers seem to encourage mindless transcription, judging from the verbatim notes that laptop users had taken.  

Mueller and her colleague performed a followup study one week later, and obtained similar results; laptop notetakers still struggled with conceptual questions, they found.

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Last updated: Apr 29, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.




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