Digital vs Physical Note-taking: What is the best note taking method for you?

physical note-taking

Are you more suited to be a digital or physical note-taking person? Thanks to the advancement of technology, there are so many more ways for students to study and revise their materials now. 

More often than not, we can hardly tell if we are either or neither and it is important to know what type of note-taker you are to reap the best results for studying. Hence this article will guide you to understand more about your studying habits. 

But first, let’s understand a little bit more about physical note-taking. 

It is scientifically proven that you remember your notes better when you physically note them down with a pen and paper. However, we all know that, during lessons and lectures, more often than not, the lecturer speaks faster than you can write. Hence, many students would choose to type their notes in class in order to be able to catch all the information said by the professor. But is that really the case all the time? 

As you continue on with this article, you will find a series of questions that you can answer ‘A’ or ‘B’ to. Be sure to keep your answers in mind and you will be able to find out what type of note-taker you are. 

woman standing in front of children

Understanding your lesson type 

Q1 – Do your lessons require you to:

A – Memorise content

B – Apply concepts

If your lesson requires you to apply concepts instead of memorizing them, then writing down your notes might be a better choice. 

Physical note-taking strengthens our memory for the concept as every handwritten word is tied to the movement required to write each letter. It takes more time to write than to type, allowing our brain to absorb and digest what we are writing and have written for a longer period of time. 

You must be wondering, if so, should we not also do physical note-taking for content memorisation? 

Physical note-taking helps students to better understand and digest the concepts that they will need for the exam. Whereas for content memorization, you can type it over and over again to remember them easily. It helps to save time, paper and your hands from being sore. 

Content memorization leans more towards repetitive work, requiring students to reread sentences over and over again. 

Hence, if your classes are solely focused on content memorization, going digital might be a better choice for you. 

Read also: How to Cultivate A Good Studying Habit

Q2 – Does your school/teacher use digital or physical copies of notes/textbooks for class?

A – Digital 

B – Physical 

This point is crucial as it changes your learning drastically. If your school notes are digital, it can be a hassle to firstly print all the notes out, secondly, carry them around and lastly, the accessibility of physical notes are much lower. 

If your school notes are digital and you happen to have a tablet or laptop, you can easily export the notes and do digital note-taking on the documents or PDF. 

Read also: iPad for Students: 9 Useful Tips and Features You Must Know!

Q3 – Does your class notes require you to use media tools such as scanning a QR code/ redirected links or recordings? 

A – Yes

B – No 

This question differs from students to students as it is solely based on the teacher’s choice of teaching. If your teacher incorporates a lot of technology into your study plan, it is better you follow suit to be able to keep up with their lesson plan. 

Teachers who incorporate technology into their teaching often will have their notes in PDF form with many hyperlinks for students to explore more. They would also use classroom tools like Kahoot to engage their students during class, at the same time to track their students’ learning progress. 

However, if your teacher uses hardcopy notes, it does not necessarily mean that you are limited to taking physical notes. Taking digital notes will be the same even when your teacher is not a very tech-savvy person. 

person using MacBook Pro

Understanding your learning habits 

Q4 – Do you (sometimes) find it a hassle to bring your specific notebooks to class for specific lessons? (Or do you find it extremely uncomfortable when you forget your notebook for class?) 

A – Yes

B – No 

Do you ever just forget to pack your bag the night before school or grab the wrong textbooks and notebooks for class? 

I’m sure we all have been there, but the real question here is, does it bother you? Does the wrong notebooks and textbooks that you brought to class affect your learning? 

It does affect some of us to a certain extent and if you are one of those that have an OCD for these types of things, Maybe going digital is a better idea for you. You will only ever need to remember to bring your tablet, laptop and charger to class. 

Q5 – Do you value the accessibility of notes? 

A – Yes

B – No

Study resources and notes are so much more accessible now that the internet is readily available all the time. The campus, the cafes you go to and the library, anywhere, has WiFi connectivity, keeping you always connected. 

Hence, it is undeniable that digital note-taking is so useful and convenient now. You can screenshot/ extract images from the internet and annotate them using your laptop or iPad easily and seamlessly. 

Not to mention the other advantages of making digital notes – 

1 – You can record your lecture classes (if allowed) and review them again to ensure you did not miss out on anything during class.

2 – You will never run out of space. 

3 – You can access all your notes when you sync your account across your laptop, tablet and phone. 

Q6 – Do you write legibly during a fast lecture? 

A – No

B – Yes 

Physical note-taking, yes, has been proven to be effective for helping with building muscle memory around the content. However, if you do not understand your own notes, and simply scribble with no thoughts of reviewing ever again, then it is recommended that you type with your laptop or tablet. 

Physical note-taking is not just writing down what you hear, it is more than that. It is being able to capture the key points, knowing where to annotate your notes, how you arrange your notes, all the way down to the type of pen you use. All these factors are important for handwriting and note-taking. 

Hence, if you find yourself 

1 – hardly ever reviewing your own notes 

2 – have trouble recalling what you wrote because you cannot make out of what you wrote 

3 – having messy scribbles all over your textbooks 

You can consider switching to typing out your notes since word documents or even Google docs helps with their customisable fonts, formats and offers everybody organisation tools like bullet points and sections. 

Start building an organised note-taking system, you will thank yourself in the future! 

Q7 – Are you fine with carrying heavy textbooks and notes to class or lectures? 

A – No

B – Yes

This point is taken into consideration because not everybody has the luxury of 

1 – staying on campus 

2 – staying near campus 

Especially for students who have to commute for long hours, are you okay with the heavy textbooks in your bag? Bear in mind that you only need to carry your laptop with a charger or your tablet to school if you go paperless! 

Now that you have reached the end of our article, did you manage to catch how many As and Bs you have answered? 

If you answered the majority of the questions with A – it is recommended that you try out digital note-taking instead. Whereas if you chose mostly B – physical/ handwritten notes might just be your thing! This article can only serve you so much, it is still best that you can try out both note-taking methods for you to understand which note-taking method is best for you!


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