OPINION: It’s time to update your note-taking habits

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Note taking method seems like a trivial topic. Some people write their notes, others write them by hand, and that’s it – at least, that’s what I thought.

Since I always write my notes by hand (typing never appeals to me), I was curious: Do people who take notes by hand do better than those who type?

I’ve always been told that longhand notes are the obvious answer to better retention. Record and repeat what you see on the projector while simultaneously following what the professor is saying.

That’s how I originally took notes.

Growing up, laptops weren’t introduced to me until middle school, so I had no choice but to take notes. Even after they were there, I kept pen and paper true.

Most people agree that writing your notes is more useful for retaining information.

“I don’t think it’s controversial when I say, ‘You really should take notes on paper, it works better if you never look at it again.’ Jennifer Seltz, a history professor at Western Washington University, says most people seem to take notes with pen and paper.

Most of her classes, especially those that offer general university credit, are based mostly on speaking and reading.

one Research A study conducted at Princeton University looked at the note-taking techniques of college students. Researchers asked pairs of students to take notes on a TED Talk. One student had a computer and the other used a pen and paper.

They found that students who took notes using a laptop scored worse on questions that asked students to apply concepts than those who wrote their notes down. All students, regardless of notebook, scored similarly on fact-based questions.

Whether you’re typing or writing, transcribing information verbatim will be the least effective method. All I knew at the time was verbal note taking. This is when I realized I needed to change my note-taking habits.

The aforementioned study also confirmed that students whose notes were not copied verbatim scored higher in exams.

Students and teachers can attest to this in their own note-taking style and agree that verbatim copying is not worth it.

“With laptops, you can take notes quickly. You can write a lot of things just by copying everything down, but the thing is, are you conceptualizing something?” Michi Matsukura, an assistant professor in Western’s psychology department, said.

While transcribing, students are not only focusing on composition concepts, they are missing out loud the important things that the professor said.

“I miss a comprehensive picture of what’s being said in class because often the professor throws in a personal experience or an example that isn’t on the slide. I feel like I’ve lost those little things that are important and often help me remember material,” said Abigail Ross, a former student of Matsukura’s last year at Western.

Different Research Another reason computers aren’t very good at taking notes is because of—you know—Internet access.

In this study, the researchers tracked students’ Internet use during classes to determine their subject interest, motivation, and SAT scores. The researchers found that how often students used the Internet during the lessons affected their levels of intelligence, motivation and interest.

It doesn’t matter if the student is interested in the class or topic, motivated, or intelligent, as determined by standardized testing.

“What did you find? [is] “Students cannot escape using the Internet for non-academic pursuits,” Matsukura said. Different A study on the same question was conducted at Michigan State University.

The internet is not only distracting to the user, but it also distracts the people around the user.

“When I go to meetings or conferences and have the option to check my email or text messages or shop, even if I’m interested in what’s going on, I’ll do it,” Stetz said.

look out? It happens to our teachers too. Even in the middle of a situation that demands our attention, it’s hard to escape the temptations of texting, TikTok, or Amazon.

Students find it just as difficult to focus, if not more.

Last year, Michaela Keller, a former student of Matsukura’s at West, said she had to shift her focus to the lecture or event after being bullied by a student in class online.

Personally, I find it hard to get away from anyone who imagines Wordle, especially when I know the word.

After this study, I concluded that my note-taking technique needed some work. Flipping is a lot of effort to minimize reactions. It’s a place to take conceptual notes – big ideas, keywords and fun facts.

Keller used to copy her notes like I did, but changed her ways after taking Cognition 210 with Matsukura. Keller says that conceptual note-taking simply means more to her and she finds it more useful in her studies than simply jotting down or taking notes without a plan.

However, the switch was not easy.

“It was like the fear of losing. I kind of had FOMO when I didn’t write down every single thing that was on the PowerPoint,” Keller said.

Sometimes the turnaround is big and hard, like going from zero notes to a full set of quarter notes, like when students like Spencer Thomas went back to school in person after quarantine.

Another tip I’ve found useful is to leave white or blank spaces in your notes, regardless of the format.

“If you only have one page of notes, written or typed, with no breaks, it’s going to be really hard to navigate through that. And taking a lot of notes means being able to go back and find information easily,” Matt Hawthorne said. Hawthorne Learning Solutions. Hawthorne co-owns and manages this teaching facility with his wife, Emma.

I’ve started jotting down key phrases and ideas during interviews for stories. It was very helpful to go back and identify the quotes and information I wanted to include from the people I was talking to. For classes, I do pretty much the same thing, except I try to copy the information in my words a bit. Not too much copy, but a presentation of useful information.

Note-taking is a complex subject with many variables, such as handwritten versus digital and conceptual versus transcribed. At the end of the day, they are your notes, so do what works for you.

Sophie Bechkowiak

Sophie Bechkowiak (she/her) is writing for this quarter’s commentary in The Front. She is in her fourth year at Western pursuing a journalism news/editorial major and a philosophy minor. On her days off she enjoys thrifting, art, watching documentaries and hanging out with friends.

You can find her on sophiebechkowiak.thefront@gmail.com.

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