Study: Is taking notes on your laptop better than writing them?

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

For many students, stress related to academics can be a major factor impacting their mental health. Getting better at study skills might help students feel better.  Many students take notes during class; and often on their laptop (1).  But is this more effective than writing notes by hand?   Researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer try to answer this question (2).

Special thanks to my colleague, Dr Barbara Urbanczyk , for suggesting this study(2).

What was the study?

The study authors (2) conducted 3 different studies.

  • Study 1: 67 college students who watched 5 TED talks projected onto a screen, and took notes on a laptop vs. their usual note taking style; and were quizzed 30 minutes later.
  • Study 2: 151 college students who were asked to view a lecture on an individual monitor while wearing headphones and write notes or type notes. Those who chose to type notes were instructed to take notes in their own words, and not type the lecture word for word. Participants were tested afterwards.
  • Study 3: 109 college students were asked to view 4 short lectures lasting a total of 28 minutes in a classroom setting with an individual monitor and headphones. They were tested 1 week later.

What were the results?

  • The authors found that participants using laptops were more inclined to take notes word for word than participants who wrote notes.
  • 1 week after the presentation (study 3), even when students could review their notes, those who had taken notes with laptops performed worse on tests of both factual content and conceptual understanding, than those who had written notes.
  • For conceptual items, those taking notes on laptop, (which the authors found to be verbatim notes) performed better than written notes.

What does this mean?

It may be worth considering adjusting note taking based on the type of information:

When taking notes of factual information, it may be worthwhile to synthesize and summarize notes, and to write in your own words instead of transcribing notes.

More retention might make studying more efficient, which could decrease your stress; and improve mental health.

When taking notes of conceptual information, transcribing notes may be better.

Ultimately, for best results, it may be worth trying different styles and methods of note taking based on different types of content (factual, conceptual, mixture, etc.).

Have you figured out what is the most productive note taking style for you?

Are there any resources to improve study skills?

Check out OSU’s Walter E. Dennis Learning Center for academic coaching, workshops, courses and other resources to improve study skills.

You may also want to consider various books, and other sources to improve study skills.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.


  1. Fried C. B. (2008). In-class laptop use and its effects on student learning. Computers & Education, 50, 906914.
  2. Mueller PA, Oppenheimer DM.The pen is mightier than the keyboard: advantages of longhand over laptop note taking.  Psychol Sci. 2014 Jun;25(6):1159-68. doi: 10.1177/0956797614524581. Epub 2014 Apr 23.