A note on notes. I have to remind myself of this periodically, partly because the practice of note-taking at speed and often in cramped conditions ruined my handwriting forever, but also because, in the context of sketch books, I found it hard to see the point. Also, I didn’t want to make a mess of something I liked and might use later as a print or postcard. But this article makes it clear (again) that taking/making notes is a way of organising information and this makes it more memorable.
I do think there’s a significant difference though, between taking live lecture (documentary or video) notes in order to preserve orally delivered information in written form and generating the words yourself as you would in a sketch book because that involves processing the ideas that underpin the words. Significantly, I’d say that also applies to digital composition as I’m doing now. I type straight into the post with no handwritten draft and it seems to me it involves the same kind of mental exercise as using a pen on paper. I still pause to find words, to consider what I’ve just written, to adjust and correct where an argument doesn’t hang together, to pull out meaning as I go along. It’s a considered process which, from my recall of lectures, live note-taking isn’t, and if I were typing into a laptop my guess is I’d be a little more focused on hitting the right keys than condensing the ideas – my attention would be divided and so my processing of the information would be less efficient. Since this research is conducted using digitally proficient participants, the argument that it’s to do with ‘what you’re used to’ doesn’t wash as easily as it has done in the past.
Caveat: this particular research used students at a US military academy; their ages are not given. Critically though, this isn’t the first study to draw the same conclusion.
Do students take notes in an optimal fashion, in line with what psychology research identifies as best practice? It’s an important question given that modern surveys suggest that most students’ preferred approach to exam preparation is to memorise their notes. To find out, a team led by Kayla Morehead at Kent State University has quizzed hundreds of university students about their note-taking methods and preferences, and they’ve reported their findings in the journal Memory.
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