All students pay attention: taking notes in paper is better than taking notes on laptop

Taking notes on laptop vs paper

On a regular day in college, students have to deal with an onerous task.

While a lecture goes on, gallons of information flow from professor to students. Unless, students take notes of what is being taught, their job will increase further.

They will have to go through books the same day, probably link the content of the chapter with the information they have retained for the chapter and then note it down accordingly. This brings in the risk of missing on certain important content which the professor may have talked about in the lecture.

However, this only happens in an ideal situation when a student is willing to put an effort to go through a book and the subsequent task described above.

In most situations, students try to get the notebook of more sincere students to copy their work and then the demand increases with limited supply leading to chaos.

Well, we won’t go into that rather we comes back to our point note taking is essential when a professor delivers lecture.

Notes on Laptop

With the technology becoming cheaper to use, more and more students are taking notes on Laptop.

Some reputed universities and colleges themselves provide laptops to their students at the time of admission.

It becomes very easy to open MS Word, write simply the topic discussed in the lecture as the headline and start typing the lecture as it is.

Well, it is faster to type than write hence, it is normal that students are able to copy the content of the lecture as it is in on their laptop.

Therefore, more and more students are leaning towards recording the lecture on their laptops rather than using the conservative approach of taking notes on a paper or in a notebook

Take notes on laptop vs paper

We all know that benefits of taking notes on laptop are many. One of them is you type the entire lecture much faster than you can write it in a notebook.

Before the invention of laptops, note taking methods were few, the most popular one was as the lecturer spoke, writing it down in a notebook.

This also had a disadvantage of students lagging behind in the lecture as many could not cope up with the speed of the professor and hence would miss what lecturer said further.

So, all the relevant advantages of taking notes in laptop and disadvantages of taking notes in paper suggest that students of this generation are heading in the right direction. Isn’t it?

What if I told you if one of the conventional note taking strategies is better than the modern way of taking notes on laptop? Would you believe it?

Of course not! Why would you believe an ordinary blog writer of a second hand books selling website?

But it is true. And just so that you believe me I am going to provide here the details of a study conducted by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of Princeton University and University of California, Los Angeles.

The result of this study demonstrated that in the game of taking notes on laptop vs paper, taking notes on paper wins.


While many would say that use of a laptop helps transferring most of the content uttered in the lecture on a hard drive as it is but the research says that it switches off the encoding benefits that a human mind offers during taking notes on paper.

During the tenure of this research, 3 experiments were conducted.

Set Up of the first experiment

The first experiment took 65 students of the Princeton University.

They were taken in a room where the students were given laptops and notebooks which they could use as per their own preference.

The lecture played on a screen for them to watch and take notes accordingly. There was no invigilator or experimenter in the room while the lecture ran on the screen as the experiment was supposed to be natural.

It means not letting the students know that they are the part of an experiment.

After the lecture ran its course, the students were given a break of 30 minutes in which they had to complete certain mind distracting activities.


After 30 mins elapsed, the students were asked some factual questions from the lecture and then some conceptual questions.

So, the category of students which used laptops as the method for taking notes were able to perform the same as the category of students which took notes in notebooks or paper.

However, the discrepancy emerged during the conceptual questions when the students who taking notes on laptop performed much worse than those who took notes on paper.

It was also found by analyzing the content of both the categories that the students who used laptop wrote down 14.6 % of the lecture exactly the same which means 14.6% of the content played in the lecture was written as it is.

On the other hand, students taking notes on paper took 8.8% of the lecture as it is.

The term which is used to describe this is known as ‘verbatim overlap’. It was concluded that students who had less verbatim overlap with the lecture performed significantly better.

Set up of the second experiment

In the second experiment, the students were informed that they were being part of an experiment.

They were again given laptops as well as pen and paper to take notes during the class. This experiment was conducted in groups and each student was made sit in front of a monitor with a headphone to grab the lecture.

The students were also instructed to not copy the lecture as it is during the class. The instructions were a result from the findings of experiment I so that it can be confirmed that the tendency to write the content as it is among students using laptop is not impairing their ability to answer conceptual questions.


The results of this experiment were almost the same. The students taking notes on laptop were not able to perform as good as the students taking notes on paper.

In fact, it was also found that in spite of the instructions, laptop users could not help but take write some the lecture content as it is. Students who took more notes performed better at answering conceptual questions but, at the same time, those who processed the lecture and wrote it in their own words performed much better.

Set up of the third experiment

In the third experiment, the researchers introduced different types of questions apart from factual and conceptual like inferential, Application etc.

The participants were made sit in four different lectures with a headphone. They were also instructed to take notes using laptop or pen and paper.

After the lectures were over, the participants were asked to come back after a week to take the tests. Some of the participants who were in condition to study notes were asked to do so and then were asked to write the tests.

Some who were not in the condition to study immediately took the tests.


When the results of the experiment came out, it was not at all surprising. The people who took notes on paper won against those using laptops.

Participants taking notes using pen and paper and who studied them after a week before giving the tests gave smashing results while answering all types of questions in the test.

While more and more colleges and schools are encouraging the use of laptops, this study surely compels the education system to give a second thought to it.

Laptop can be used for creating projects or power point presentations but, the next time you think of using laptops or tablet for taking notes keep in mind the results of this research. Clearly, this research has diminished one of the benefits of taking notes on a laptop.

Did you read about this experiment earlier? Will you be sharing the information here with your fellow classmates?

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