College & Career Planning
Cultivating College Notetaking Skills When Digital Won’t Work

Cultivating College Notetaking Skills When Digital Won’t Work

Digital note-taking has benefits, but there are situations where pen and paper are better

When it comes to college notetaking, there are benefits to both digital and analog methods. Sometimes, digital note-taking is the best option – it’s fast, efficient, and can be easily shared with others. However, there are also situations where pen and paper are better.

For example, when you need to process information more slowly or deeply, writing by hand can help you engage more with the material. Additionally, research has shown that taking notes by hand can lead to better retention and understanding of the material than typing on a laptop.

The Challenges Long-Hand Notetaking in a College Setting

However, notetaking during a live class does not afford much time to write down every word.

Many college professors continue to expect scholars to take written notes during class. They may not allow digital recorders due to institutional copyright agreements.

So how does a tech-savvy generation take notes? Let’s explore this essential skill.

The Difference Between Digital and Non-Digital College Notetaking

Digital notes have many advantages over traditional pen and paper notes. They can be easily organized, searched, and shared with others. However, there are also some situations where digital notes are not the best option.

Let’s consider the circumstance of notetaking during class lectures or study hall meetings. It can be difficult to type or take pictures of handwritten notes on a device. Furthermore, the retrieval is fragmented. With notes on the tablet, on the phone, and on paper… continuity can get complicated.

In these situations, a student is often better off sticking with traditional college notetaking methods.

Another time when non-digital notes may be preferable is when you need to process information more deeply. Studies have shown that writing by hand helps people to remember and understand information better than typing. So if you are trying to learn something new or complicated, it may be worth taking the time to write your notes out by hand.

Why Pen and Paper?: Focus, Engagement, and Connection to the Material

There are plenty of reasons to ditch pen and paper in favor of digital notetaking tools. However, there are also some very good reasons to stick with tried-and-true pen and paper.

Cultivating College NotetakingFor one thing, studies have shown that college notetaking by hand is better for retention and comprehension than typing them out on a laptop. That is because the act of physically writing out notes helps engage different parts of the brain, which leads to a deeper level of understanding and connection to the material.

In addition, when you’re taking notes by hand, you’re more likely to pay attention and stay focused on the lecture or conversation.


Typing out notes can be a distracting process, as your mind starts wandering off to compose an email or check Facebook notifications. With pen and paper, you can’t get sidetracked so easily.

The Benefits of Taking Hand: Processing Information and Long-Term Retention

Another benefit of taking notes by hand is that it can help students to develop their own personal learning styles. Some students find that they learn best when they take notes by hand, while others prefer to use a digital device. Experimenting with different note-taking methods can help students find the method that works best for them.

Finally, taking notes by hand can also be a more social activity than using a digital device. When students take notes together in class, they can discuss and compare their notes afterward.

Tips for Taking Better Non-Digital Notes

How to Take Effective Notes by Hand: Be Concise, Use Symbols, and Review Often

There is something about the physicality of pen and paper that cannot be replicated by a computer. When it comes to college notetaking, some students find they learn best when they take notes by hand. If you’re one of those students, here are a few tips to make sure your handwritten notes are effective:

Be Concise with Written Notes

It can be tempting to write down everything the professor says, but in reality, you don’t need every single word. Instead, focus on writing down key phrases and ideas. This will help you review more effectively later on.

Write Notes Quickly Using Symbols

A quick way to make your notes more concise is to use symbols. For example, you could use an asterisk (*) to denote an important point or a question mark (?) if something is unclear.

Use Colorful Tab Markers or Pencils

Use Color Color-coding is a great way to add some visual appeal to your college notes. You can use different colors to highlight important points or organize your notes into categories.

Highlighters are Helpful Notetaking Tools

Use a Highlighter If you don’t want to use color coding, you can make your notes more organized by highlighting the important points in your notes. This is especially helpful if you tend to write down everything the professor says.

Types of Shorthand  College Notetaking Methods

There are a few different types of shorthand notetaking methods.

The Gregg Notetaking System

The most popular is the Gregg system, developed in 1888 by John Robert Gregg. This system uses a series of symbols and abbreviations to represent common words and phrases. It is a very efficient way to take notes but can be difficult to learn at first.

The Pitman Notetaking Method

Another popular shorthand method is the Pitman system, developed in 1837 by Sir Isaac Pitman. This systemCollege Notetaking in a Classroom uses a series of strokes and hooks to represent sounds, rather than whole words. This can make it faster than other systems, but can also be more difficult to read back later on.

The Teeline Notetaking Process

Finally, there is the Teeline system, which was developed in 1968 specifically for journalists. This system uses a series of straight lines and curves to represent words, making it quick and easy to write down information on the fly.

There are many other shorthand systems out there, but these three are the most popular.

Digital Note-Taking has its Place, but Cultivate Written Notetaking Skills to be “College Ready”

Digital note-taking has its place, but cultivating college-ready note-taking skills means embracing the analog. Despite the ubiquity of laptops in lecture halls and the ever-expanding list of apps designed to streamline the note-taking process, research suggests that taking notes by hand is still the best way to remember and process information.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. If you have a learning disability or attention disorder that makes it difficult to take notes by hand, then using a laptop or tablet may be necessary. But for the vast majority of students, taking notes by hand is still the best way to go.

There are several reasons why writing out your notes by hand is superior to typing them on a digital device. The key is to master your preferred method for a superior college experience.