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Want Better Grades? Start Taking Notes By Hand

When it comes to lectures, your laptop is making you dumber.

Time to break out the quills and ink. One year ago, a professor at the University of Kansas banned laptops, mandating that students in her classes must write their notes by hand. For young millennials, this might seem like a cruel move meant to comfort the tech-averse antiquarians of prior generations, but it turns out your laptop could be holding you back from getting those grades your mom will boast about.

Carol E. Holstead, an associate professor of journalism, wrote in The Chronicle Of Higher Education that she took the draconian measure after realizing, "I could not compete with Facebook and YouTube, and I was tired of trying." A year after her ban, Holstead has reported the results, claiming test scores in her class have gone up.

And recent research supports this anecdotal case. A 2003 study indeed found that students who close their laptops in class retain more of the lecture. Last year, a paper published in Psychological Science compared students taking notes longhand and with a laptop, and it concluded that "students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand."

The reason, beyond the fact that laptops present distractions, is that "laptop note takers' tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning."

It makes sense — if you're forced to write things down, you have to be much more selective about what you're recording, which forces you to pay more attention to the lecture and sort of analyze it in realtime to determine the significant and relevant points.

The silver lining for tech-addicted students out there is that they can still take effective notes with a laptop. They just have to resist the urge to blindly type everything, and resist the urge to go on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, this here website, etc. Which might be harder than handwriting the notes, anyway.