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Taking Notes By Hand Better for Comprehension

FILE - A student writes notes in the Advanced Placement Physics class at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., February 2014.
Many college students have long abandoned taking class notes by hand in favor of typing on laptop or tablet computers. But scientists from Princeton University and the University of California say that method is less effective.

According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, taking notes by hand is much better for long-term memory of conceptual information.

Computers may be distracting because they offer opportunities for quick exchanges of messages, checking sports results, browsing or even shopping.

Even without Internet access, though, scientists say computers may be harming academic performance.

Students who type notes tend to take down what the professor says verbatim, without thinking about what they are writing. Although these electronic notes contained more words, scientists say it leads to "mindless transcription."

Those taking notes long-hand need to process the information they hear so they can summarize it in fewer words.

In the study, students listened to a lecture, then took a test. Those taking notes by typing were as good at recalling facts as students taking notes by hand, but they did significantly worse when they were asked conceptual questions.

Scientists acknowledge that students probably will not abandon their laptops and tablets in class, but suggest some of the available technologies for writing notes by hand on computer screens might be an efficient compromise.