I Took Notes By Hand For a Semester—And I Got Better Grades (Seriously)

You often hear professors tell you at the beginning of the semester that students who take notes on their computers do worse than those who take notes by hand.

I, however, was always sure that I was the exception.

Up until this semester, I was the student that had fifteen tabs open during every class (Facebook, BuzzFeed, and Tetris being my top priorities) but still managed to take everything down. But what I didn’t realize was that even though I was able to type fast enough to take down what the prof was saying, I wasn’t actually absorbing anything during class. I thought that pulling off mediocre grades and attending class half the time was good enough, so I cruised through three years of university that way.

This semester, though, I decided to try things differently. I switched to taking notes by hand and committed to not skipping class. At all. Even on a Monday after a long weekend. I can honestly say the change has been remarkable.

Studying for Midterms Was Way Easier

Taking notes by hand is a lot slower than typing, which is why I had always ditched the idea in the past. What I didn’t think would be a direct result of writing my notes out was that it forced me to engage in all my classes’ lectures. This led me to spend about half the amount of time studying for midterms to get the same (or better) grades than before. The difference? I was reviewing material I had already learned rather than trying to learn material that was vaguely familiar. No more telling myself “Oh yeah, I think he said that during the class that I found that hilarious Buzzfeed article about cats.”

I always thought that I was out-smarting the system. Admittedly, I wasn’t.

I Had More Motivation to Go to Class

There’s something about having an incomplete section in your notebook that will bother even the biggest slacker. When I took notes on my computer and skipped class, I would just copy and paste the professor’s notes into my Word document and tell myself I would read them all later. The problem is that skipping class meant spending an hour at home writing the notes out into my notebook so that I wouldn’t have a section missing, which made made sleeping in way less worth it as opposed to just going to class.

I Got Better Grades (Seriously)

A study published in Psychological Science revealed that taking notes by hand is better for long-term comprehension, even if you are using your computer effectively. Another study, published by The Independent, describes how the benefits of note-taking disappear when notes are mindlessly taken down verbatim.

I’d heard these sorts of statistics before, but I always thought that I was out-smarting the system. Admittedly, I wasn’t. This semester, my grades have improved by nearly an entire letter grade across the board. How cool is that? I no longer have to spend time reading notes the instructor posted online because I skipped class, or trying to figure out what was going on when I go back to study my notes, which means I can spend that time on my papers and assignments.

For me, taking notes by hand was the first step towards taking initiative in my classes and getting the most out of every lecture. It meant absorbing more while the teacher was talking and spending less time learning things at home. And we all know what having more free time at home means—Netflix marathons!

Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.
Hilary Hoogsteen

Hilary Hoogsteen

Hilary Hoogsteen is a third year environmental studies student at Simon Fraser University. She takes full advantage of BC's natural playground, spending those dreaded winter months on her snowboard and the summer on the beach.