Life @ U of T

Why I handwrite all my notes

I vaguely recall one of my first classes at U of T.

Sitting inside the dimly lit Isabel Bader Theatre, somewhere on the upper floor deck, I looked onto the dark stage where the professor was lecturing, past a sea of white/blue screens and the sound of furious clacking keys.

I too brought my laptop to class and diligently attempted to write down every one of the professor’s words.

But it turns out that I was taking notes wrong — at least that’s what studies have proven.

Research shows that the best way to take notes is to write them out. In a 2020 study, two groups of participants were quizzed. One group took notes on a laptop and the other took notes by hand. The results revealed that those who took handwritten notes performed better than their keyboard co-participants.

The study even highlighted that previous research had found that students who brought a computer to class got lower grades, a lower GPA, were confused about the material and had poor attention.

An aerial photo of a desk of someone that's been studying. In the frame, a black coffee, a plate of fruit (peaches, blueberries and figs) and a book, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
All the studying essentials: paper for writing, coffee for doing, snacks for snacking. I still use my laptop, of course, just not as heavily as before.

After I learned about the benefits of handwriting, I switched. Writing tends to be harder for me because I’m slower at it than typing, but overall I found that it was worth it.

For the last two years, I have been consistently taking notes by hand and the results are pretty amazing. My GPA is higher, I can recall concepts faster and something about taking notes by hand gives me better confidence in my work in general.

To motivate myself to handwrite, I always buy pens that are comfortable and notebooks that bring me joy. A little bit of motivation goes a long way for me.

I still bring my laptop to class because I think it’s a great way to be engaged with the lesson. I use it to pull up readings or find relevant material for discussions when in class. Outside of lectures and tutorials, my laptop is my main tool for completeing all my papers and drafts. (It would take a lot of incentive for me to write a 2,000 word essay on paper.)

Laptops are also a great accessibility tool. However, I would challenge those who are curious about handwriting notes to try it out if they’re able to.

If you’re curious about more tips about note-taking or how to improve your studies, with or without a laptop, the Academic Success Centre runs workshops that help students improve their skills.

Happy note-taking!

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