Handwritten Notes Speed Up Learning

Handwritten Notes Speed Up Learning

It seems like a paradox because so many people can type faster than they can write, but the research proves it: handwriting your notes will accelerate your learning. In this post we explain the reasons why this is true and provide tips for how to take effective notes. Plus don’t miss the video at the end of this post explaining a creative way to review your notes and make them truly your own.

student talking to brain Why typed notes aren’t the best

Most people type so fast they’re able to get down every word out of the teacher’s mouth. These students don’t have to process the information; it just goes straight from the teacher to the iPad without having to pass through their brains.

Why handwritten notes are better

The main reason handwritten notes are more effective is that they don’t leave time for you to write every single word. You’ve got to choose what’s most important. That means your brain has to sift through all the incoming information, decide what’s most important, and reorganize it in a way that makes sense to you.

Putting forth all that effort sends an important message to your brain. It says, “HEY! THIS INFORMATION IS IMPORTANT!”

And your brain responds accordingly. It says, “Okay, I’ll get to work remembering it.”

With typed notes, you’re not making your brain work, so it kicks back and relaxes quickly forgetting the information.

Need Some Evidence to Convince You?

Two groups of students took notes, half on laptops and half on paper. Those with typed notes did only slightly better on simple fact-based test questions. But those with handwritten notes did significantly better on conceptual test questions.

Furthermore, brain scans of young children who are learning to write show much more brain activity if they are handwriting versus if they are typing. And they show a greater ability to come up with creative ideas and retain new information when they write by hand.

So how do I decide what to write in my notes?

Maybe you’re one of those people who thinks, If the teacher says it, it must be important, so I’ve got to write down everything. Here’s where you should focus your efforts:

Dates – looking at several dates helps you understand how one event relates to others

Names – names are like symbols we associate with certain ideas or events

Theories – theories are often the main ideas of a lecture

Definitions – these concepts will help you understand everything else in the lecture

Debates – noting pros and cons of an issue helps you appreciate multiple perspectives and teaches you how new ideas develop in various fields

Causes & Effects – you can use arrows to note these and quickly see relationships between ideas

Images & Examples – these bring big concepts to life and help you remember how things work

Your Own Questions – write down your questions so you remember what you need to ask your teacher or where you need to focus your studying efforts

Expert Note-Takers Do a Few Key Things

  1. They use shorthand or abbreviations like…”w/” for “with,” “cnxn” for “connection,” “btwn” for “between.”
  2. They use headings, subheadings, & bullet-points to show a hierarchy of ideas.
  3. They leave white space where they can go back and add more notes later.
  4. Many use Cornell Notes which require a lot of engagement with the material.
  5. A new trend in note taking is sketchnoting or visual note-taking. This may be too time-consuming to do during class but could be a great follow-up activity for reviewing classnotes and engaging with new information. Watch the video below.

We hope we’ve convinced you to give handwritten notes a try!