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Why You Should Still Handwrite Your Class Notes

young man hand writing class notes in a lecture hall
Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

School’s back in session and you’re headed off to class. If you want to succeed, should you type up your notes or handwrite them?

In this article, we’ll outline why handwriting your notes is the best option if you want to retain the information you learn in class.

Note-Taking By Hand Helps Your Memory

Most of the time, handwriting your notes helps you absorb the content more fully than typing the same notes on the computer. For instance, a study found that people remember vocabulary words better when they handwrite them versus when they write them on the computer.  Other studies have indicated that students who handwrite their notes tend to perform better on their tests than those that don’t.

The evidence is clear that handwriting your notes has a lot of benefits and can potentially have a serious positive impact on your ability to perform. That said, handwriting your notes isn’t the best solution for everyone. Some people prefer using technology or will even perform better when they use technology to take notes. Here are some factors to consider when trying to decide which method is best for you.

What to Consider When Deciding Whether You Should Hand-write Or Type Your Notes

Note-taking isn’t as simple as it seems: many factors can affect which option is best for you. In this section, we’ll outline those factors so you can decide what to do.

The Length and Type of Notes You’re Recording

The type of notes you’re taking will have a significant impact on whether or not you decide to take notes with a computer or by hand.

If you’re recording a professor’s lecture, for instance, typing lets you record notes faster than writing by hand. If, on the other hand, you are taking notes for a class that requires a lot of formulas or diagrams, you may want to write by hand, because it can be challenging to format that type of information on a computer.

Consider what the class is and what kind of notes you’ll be taking. Maybe you’ll write by hand for your calculus class, but on a computer for history. Ultimately, you want to feel like you’re easily able to capture the information provide with your notes.

What Tools You Need

Whether you’re writing by hand or on your computer or iPad, each platform has its advantages and disadvantages. Consider your needs when deciding how to write your notes.

If, for instance, you’ll need to do a lot of supplemental research, it could be beneficial to write your notes on a computer or something else where you have access to the Internet.

Similarly, if your notes are very long, it could be helpful to have the ability to link to internal headings within your notes that you can use to search efficiently. Any of these reasons would be a good excuse to use a computer or iPad to take your notes instead of writing by hand.

Your Study Technique

Ultimately, your notes are to serve your study needs. If you find that it’s better for you to be able to search through your notes or read them on multiple platforms (e.g., on your computer, on your phone, on your iPad), then typing your notes is probably the best way to ensure that you can study when and how you need to. Similarly, if you need to share your notes with someone, it’s easier to grant access to a document than to give your physical notebook to your study partner. Consider all of these factors when deciding whether to handwrite or type your notes.

Our Recommendation for Handwriting Your Notes

At the end of the day, whether you decide to handwrite or type your notes is up to you. That said, our recommendation is, when you can, to handwrite your notes. The evidence is clear: handwriting leads to an increase in retention and learning that just can’t be beaten by typing. Similarly, handwriting your notes is the most flexible way to make sure that your formatting, images, and diagrams look exactly how you’d like them.

If you’re worried about losing your notes or needing to share them with someone later, here’s an idea: handwrite your notes, then turn them into a digital copy by scanning. Problem solved!

Hayley Milliman Hayley Milliman
Hayley is a former Teach for America teacher turned curriculum developer and writer. Over the past five years, she's written hundreds of articles on everything from education to personal finance to history. She's co-author of the book Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females. Read Full Bio »

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