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Primary ITO: Knowledge to grow

News & Features

Three Ways to Better Notes in Learning or Business

19 September 2017

In this age of mobile technology, it’s tempting to take your laptop or tablet into a meeting or lecture but the science is emphatic – taking notes by hand wins hands down when it comes to better retention and understanding.

In the study *‘The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking’ which appeared in Psychological Science’, researchers found that students who took notes longhand outperformed those using a keyboard by some considerable margin in exams with conceptual questions.

When you use your laptop or tablet, you take the notes down verbatim, which means you’re typing word for word – or mindlessly transcribing. The result is that you’re less engaged with the content. Even when students consciously decide not to take the notes verbatim, they invariably end up doing it anyway.

However, when you’re taking notes down by longhand, you’re struggling to stay up with the pace of the meeting or lecture – most listeners write at a pace of 0.3 to .04 words per minute, while speakers are moving at about two to three words per second – which in turn forces you to condense and, importantly, use your own words and to do that it is necessary for you to process the information first.

Another study ‘Computers and Education’ also found longhand note takers outperformed those using a keyboard, and identified as one of the potential reasons that students may be distracted by notifications and the temptation to browse the Internet from time to time.

There are several different methods for effective note taking, and a lot of debate about which one works best. Possibly the best rule of thumb is to research each one, try them all and decide on the technique that works best for you:

Matrix note taking

Good for comparing various theories or breaking up a project into various actions and roles, this method essentially involves drawing up a table with four or five columns. In the left-hand column, write down the key theme or action, and using the other columns to list alternative theories, arguments, ideas, comparisons or even actions and responsibilities.


Split page note taking

Draw a wide margin down the left-hand column. Label this column as main topics – keywords, concepts, actions, big ideas. Use the right-hand column to write down the more detailed notes that accompany the main topic. At the bottom of the page, create a space where you can summarise the meeting or lecture.


Mind mapping

Defined as a “diagram in which information is represented visually, usually with a central idea placed in the middle and associated ideas arranged around it”, mind maps are most often associated with brainstorming. However, it is a useful system for organising facts and thoughts around a centre image that encapsulates the theme of the meeting or lecture, because the information is held in a format that is easy for the mind to quickly recall and review.


Another system you may want to research is called Smart Wisdom. However, no matter what system you choose for taking notes the objective is always to listen and understand first – even in business.




Muller, P. A., and Oppenheimer, D. M., (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25 (6), 1159-1168.