Taking Notes On Your Laptop Could Be Ruining Your Test Scores

Many people take notes during interviews, presentations and lectures not with pen and paper, but with a laptop. But a newly published study concludes that people actually remember better when they've taken handwritten notes, rather than typed ones. In fact, studying from typed notes could actually hurt your test scores.

Photo Credit: Laura Kishimoto // CC BY 2.o

The study – which was led by UCLA researchers Daniel Oppenheimer and Pam Mueller, and appears in the latest issue of Psychological Science asked students to watch a video of a lecture or TED talk and to transcribe notes either longhand or on laptops. Students were later quizzed on the presentations, either after 30 minutes of difficult problem solving or a week's time.

To many people, a laptop is the clear choice of note-taking device because it allows them to take down more of what the speaker is saying. But according to UCLA researchers Oppenheimer and Mueller, the temptation to capture everything we're listening to might actually be the biggest issue with typed notation.

"We don't write longhand as fast as we type these days, but people who were typing just tended to transcribe large parts of lecture content verbatim," Mueller tells The Atlantic's Robinson Meyer. "The people who were taking notes on the laptops don't have to be judicious in what they write down."

In other words: Transcribing on a laptop in real-time may lead to verbatim notes, but doing so means you spend less time processing the lecture, and more time focusing on typing.

What's interesting is that warning test subjects against taking verbatim notes "was completely ineffective at reducing verbatim content." Another surprising takeaway: When research subjects were tested a week after the lecture and were allowed to study their notes, the students who took notes by hand still outperformed those who took notes on their computers. In fact, studying verbatim notes prior to the quiz seemed more likely to hurt test scores than help them.

Read more details at The Atlantic. For the full findings check out the study in the latest issue of Psychological Science.