How Should School Notes Be Taken?

It has long been tradition to write notes with pen and paper. But in 2023, technology has been added into the mix.


There is much debate over whether the digitalization of note taking is more beneficial or harmful for student’s learning, especially with the recent shift of bringing devices to school in order to take notes. (Photo Credit: Scott Graham / Unsplash at left and Walling / Unsplash at right).

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous changes made to society. The greatest of these changes are everyday tasks being converted from offline to online, such as business meetings, job interviews, and webinars. Most notable of them in education is student note taking. Nowadays, it is just as common to see a student taking notes on a tablet or laptop as it is to see them writing with pen and paper. Online notes can be done in various forms, either with laptops or tablets.  On laptops, students type their notes onto a digital document. With tablets, students can choose to type out notes or write them using a smart pencil in a note-taking app. But is the traditional way, laptop, or tablet more effective?

Typing notes requires far less concentration than actually writing down notes, which in turn causes students to retain less of the information they transcribe. According to a 2014 study published by Sage Journals, “In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.” 

Laptops have the arguable downside of requiring less attention as compared to writing on paper or a tablet. (Photo Credit: Christin Hume / Unsplash)

A person’s typing speed is typically faster than their writing speed. This means that students can put in less effort and pay less attention in typing, resulting in students not thinking deeply about their notes. According to Dr. Imed Bouchrika of, “On the contrary, typing on a laptop can make the note-taker too focused on typing, making sure they transcribe every word right. This results in a shallower, superficial understanding. In other words, typing can be likened to simply recording but not completely understanding lectures.” This is mostly due to the fact that when typing, the whole process of writing and deleting is quicker because all you have to do is press one key to type, space, and delete. Comparatively, in physical writing, more effort goes into writing each letter and erasing each letter. This act of writing and erasing requires more focus on the task because you are catching your mistakes and planning out how you should be writing down notes. 

There is the ease of carrying a single device that contains everything you will need throughout the day when using a tablet. It also allows you to take notes as you would on paper. (Photo Credit: Dose Media / Unsplash)

However, taking notes on tablets is very similar to writing on paper. On tablets, people typically download a note taking app which allows them to write their notes by hand except online. In recent years, this has become an exceptionally popular method for students. 

The main reason a lot of students choose this method is because of the convenience of online notes. Instead of carrying a binder or notebook for each subject in your backpack, you have the notes for all subjects in one compact device. This saves you the hassle of carrying a heavy and large backpack all day which can be a physical burden. Also, there is a lower likelihood of forgetting class notes; if you pack one device, you’re set for the whole day. Amika Sono ’23 said, “In the past, I would constantly have to ask other people for information from previous classes when I forgot my notebook for that subject. But now, I have everything all on my iPad so there is a much lower chance of me forgetting my notes and having to bother people around me for past notes.”

There is also the ease of adding in pictures or figures while taking notes digitally that paper notes can not offer. Amy Zhao ’23 said, “In classes that require a lot of figures like science or math, my iPad has made it enormously easier to take notes. On paper, I struggle to draw the figures or straight lines which causes me to miss what the teacher says or not be able to copy down the new information because I’m still trying to fix the notes from the previous slide. But with the digital tools, I do not have any of those problems anymore.” This helps with organization when taking notes and saves you the trouble of using a ruler or switching out writing tools when writing on paper. 

Kirsten Moy ’23 said, “Using a tablet for notes has been extremely helpful in me organizing my notes. With the digital folders, I can access notes for a certain subject immediately and taking notes has become a lot easier too. When there is something I feel the need of an illustration to help my understanding, I just switch apps to Google and add a picture next to my written notes in a few seconds.” Thanks to the tools of online apps, taking notes can become much easier and organized which eventually helps when studying for exams.

By shifting from paper to online methods of note taking, there could be considerable benefits for our environment due to less deforestation, transportation emissions, and manufacturing emissions. (Photo Credit: Taylor Flowe / Unsplash)

Environmental reasons are also part of the reason why there has been a shift to online note taking. Due to the role deforestation plays in the global climate crisis, there has been a greater push to reduce paper consumption across the board.  As a result, many schools have switched to online textbooks, with teachers assigning work online instead of printing out paper handouts for each student. Online note taking can save millions of pages of paper from being used, which in turn shows businesses that demand for paper has decreased. Businesses would be discouraged from cutting down trees for the purpose of creating paper, having a monumental impact on the environment.  According to Insightful Accountant, “During paper production, a massive amount of 49.90kg of carbon dioxide is produced and released into the environment — which would take about two years to be absorbed by a single tree. Moreover, ‘the transportation of timber from the forest to sawmills, to manufacturing companies, and finally to end-users, consumes significant amounts of fossil fuel.’ Cutting down on paper use would also cut down all the waste generated by its supply chain.”

But of course there are downsides to online note taking as well: mainly the price. Pen and paper are easily accessible and can be borrowed from others. Even if you were to go buy them, a ream of 500 sheets of paper costs less than ten dollars and a sixty count pack of pens costs about seven dollars. An Apple iPad Pro, on the other hand, costs about eight hundred dollars, the Apple Pencil is about one hundred and thirty dollars, and the average laptop is about one thousand dollars. These expensive starting costs make it difficult for people to shift to online note taking whether or not they find it more convenient.

Not to mention, technological devices also come with the burden of constantly making sure they are charged. Tazkiah Salam ’23 said, “In school, I’m always having to look for a nearby outlet to charge my laptop to take my notes because I forget to charge it at home.” It is common for people to walk out of their houses forgetting to charge their technological devices despite the fact that they are very dependent on them. 

There is still a lot of debate whether students should take notes digitally or by hand. It does not simply end at which one is more conventional. Rather, it also involves how much you are willing to invest financially, whether you think it is practical for you, and how much will your choice benefit you compared to the other option.

“Using a tablet for notes has been extremely helpful in me organizing my notes. With the digital folders, I can access notes for a certain subject immediately and taking notes has become a lot easier too. When there is something I feel the need of an illustration to help my understanding, I just switch apps to Google and add a picture next to my written notes in a few seconds,” said Kirsten Moy ’23.