Is the Pen Mightier Than the Laptop?

Posted by | Jan 13, 2015

Students who have trouble processing information might want to close their laptops and reach for their pens instead. Recent studies suggest that taking notes by hand may help students retain and recall concepts more effectively. According to the research, conducted jointly by Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, longhand notetakers may engage in more processing than laptop notetakers, selecting the important information that helps them study content more efficiently.

In three studies, the researchers found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than those who took notes by hand. The tendency of students using laptops to transcribe lectures verbatim instead of actively listening, analyzing, and paraphrasing the information was less conducive to learning.

Kenneth Kiewra, professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, says that note-taking is most helpful when it is thorough. Teachers who pause when delivering information can help students assess and record important points while keeping up with the lecture. Students who take notes can augment their efforts by using illustrations, symbols, bullet points and underlining to organize main ideas and highlight important facts. When taking notes, students should consider which concepts the teacher is emphasizing and how that information is related to what they have previously learned.

Not all students are adept at taking written notes—weak fine motor skills, dysgraphia, and attention issues can present obstacles for some—but those who have the ability to switch easily between the laptop and handwriting might consider leaving the computer behind during class and doing things the old-fashioned way.


“Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-Term Comprehension.” 24 April 2014. Association for Psychological Science. Web. 11 January 2015.

Izadi, E. “Ditch the laptop and pick up a pen, class. Researchers say it’s better for note taking.” 26 August 2014. The Washington Post. Web. 11 January 2015.

Pappano, L. “Take Notes from the Pros.” 31 October 2014. The New York Times. Web. 11 January 2015.