The Most Amazing Study Hack Ever Invented

Photo by  Gerry Cherry  on  Unsplash

When classes begin every semester, half of my students pull out laptops to take notes. I can understand why. In fact, I used a laptop to take notes during my entire first year of law school. Taking notes on a laptop has many benefits:

  • Notetaking on a laptop is efficient. Because most people can type much faster than they can handwrite, a student can capture everything the professor is saying, making sure an important detail that may become relevant on an exam or assignment, isn’t missed.

  • Laptops are portable. This makes it easy to take notes in different classes.

  • Digital notes are a flexible medium that allow you to seamlessly add images and graphs that a professor references during lecture.

  • Most importantly, a laptop allows your notes to be searchable - a huge benefit when the time comes to review your notes.

Despite these numerous benefits, I always give a speech in every class that asks students to handwrite their notes if possible. Why? Because handwriting is absolutely phenomenal in helping you remember information. In fact, the mere act of handwriting information and reviewing it once or twice later is likely all you ever need in order to do well on an exam. When I switched to handwriting during my second and third year of law school, I spent far less time reviewing my notes later … and my grades shot up dramatically.

Writing notes by hand is a multi-dimensional learning method. It taps your brain’s capacity to learn in different ways. We refer to these ways as learning styles. There are three primary styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic (learning through movement). A learning environment like a classroom or business meeting involves being exposed to information through each of these senses and then reviewing this information later.

As you listen to a professor in class or your colleague at a meeting, you learn through the auditory method. This is your first exposure to the information. When you see what you type or handwrite, you learn through the visual method. This is your second exposure to the information. Later on you may review the information in preparation for an exam. This is your third exposure to the information (keep track of the number of exposures).

Some of the world’s most ancient religious traditions focus on complicated handwriting and calligraphy as a way to learn and pass on information. Photo by  Ashkan Forouzani  on  Unsplash

Some of the world’s most ancient religious traditions focus on complicated handwriting and calligraphy as a way to learn and pass on information. Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Handwriting is more powerful because it involves all three learning styles, including kinesthetic, whereas typing does not. Think about it: each letter you handwrite involves a different movement which your brain recognizes, whereas typing involves identical keystrokes without any kind of differentiating feedback - one keystroke feels similar to any other. Thus, because handwriting allows for kinesthetic learning (sensory feedback received from hand movements) it provides yet another exposure to information (number four if you are keeping track).

Interestingly, handwriting’s inherent limitations - you can’t write down everything the professor says fast enough - actually provide for a fifth exposure to information. Because you can’t handwrite fast enough, your brain is forced to assess the information you hear, summarize it, and then write it down on your notepad in a succinct fashion. This process of hearing, summarizing, and then repeating is yet another exposure to information. In fact, it is difficult to summarize what you hear if you don’t understand it, so forcing yourself to undergo this process either forces you to understand the information or highlights information that is incomprehensible (hopefully encouraging you to ask the professor to explain further). Typing, meanwhile, is a passive process where none of this cognitive processing and information exposure is taking place.

Oh and one more thing, handwriting doesn’t preclude you from digitizing notes later - you can always type them out. And typing them out means you are exposed to information yet again, making this the sixth exposure to information (compared to just three for typing). When you sit down to review handwritten notes for an exam, you’ll find the information to be familiar and comprehensible. Handwriting exposes you to information twice as much as typing and forces you to wrestle with the information and understand it, making studying almost unnecessary!

So in summary:

  1. Hear the information (auditory) (1st exposure)

  2. Summarize the information (cognitive) (2nd exposure)

  3. Handwrite the information (kinesthetic) (3rd exposure)

  4. Read the information as you write (visual) (4th exposure)

  5. Digitize the information if needed (visual) (5th exposure)

  6. Review the information before an exam etc (visual) (6th exposure)

So … the moral of the story? Handwrite. Buy yourself a high quality notebook and a solid, hefty pen and enjoy the experience. See you in class.