• Take Note: How you take notes affects recall

    By Gloria Rothenberg, PhD


    Most of us have probably learned that more is better when it comes to taking notes and using laptops and other keyboard devices helps us accomplish that.  However, research comparing results of hand written notes versus electronic notes has consistently shown that hand written notes lead to superior recall and better conceptual understanding of studied material when tested both shortly after a lesson and on delayed assessment.    

    Research on this finding was reported in Scientific American (2014).  It describes the results of a series of studies conducted at Princeton University and UCLA by psychologists, Mueller and Oppenheimer, in a variety of subjects.  Students who take notes on laptops tend to produce more detailed, verbatim accounts of lectures but seem to do less processing and analysis of the information compared to those taking hand written notes.  It seems that as we write notes by hand, we are making more judgements about what information is important (main ideas) and how concepts relate to each other.  This leads to a deeper understanding of the content and a kind of cognitive organization of the information that facilitates better recall.  Mueller and Oppenheimer have written about these findings in Psychological Science (2014) under the title “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard.”

    Many students find the use of a template is helpful to learn a good note-taking technique. The Cornell Note was developed as a template for recording key points and concepts and a summary in addition to the details from a lesson.  These can make your notes function as a study guide when you prepare for a test.

    See the links below for articles about the research, templates for the Cornell Note, and a youtube video on how to set up a Cornell Note: