experiential learningI have written about this before, but I think it is important enough to revisit. Walk into many classrooms today and you'll see students working with computers rather than paper and pencil. Computers are quite convenient. I can't imagine, for example, returning to a typewriter rather than use a word-processor. I can't even think about how easy it is to put together a list of works cited with the storage capacity of Microsoft Word. For things like writing a paper, computers are an important work saver. For other things, however, they seem to be more harmful than good. Taking notes is one example where computers cannot replace paper and pencil.

Effective Study Techniques: Why Paper Works

What current research is revealing is actually quite startling. Here we are, at the beginning of the 21st century with technology surrounding us. Owning a computer or tablet or both is nearly indispensable in today's academic world. Yet, when it comes to taking class notes, computers seem not up for the task.
There appear to be several reasons for this contra-intuitive stance. First, there are suggestions that writing notes using a laptop in class focuses too much on the keyboarding aspect and not enough on the listening needed for later recall. Secondly, and far more important is the idea that studying computer notes seems to be less effective than studying notes on paper. It doesn't help to print out notes from your computer. Students who did this did no better than students studying from the screen itself. Students who hand wrote notes, on the other hand, did much better than students who used computers.

The Benefit of Paper and Pencil

Taking notes using paper and pencil (or pen) seems to reinforce the hand-brain connection made by writing. As one writes, the motions associated with moving the pencil have the effect of branding ideas. Your brain seems to be better able to recognize them later, say at test time. This same connection is not made as one keyboards. While both are tactile exercises, one is dependent on shapes, the other on tapping on the correct position. The former makes a brain pattern while the latter appears to fail to make the lasting impression.

Effective Study Technique: Hand Written Notes Format

Because paper is preferable to computers for taking notes, one must be able to point to a reason. The second part of this effective study technique is the format for taking notes. I am a huge fan of the Cornell Notes approach. I generally recommend the Cornell Notes format for taking notes. I do so for two reasons. First, the system is adaptable to any learning style. Secondly, the systematic review made possible by the system is second to none.

How it Works

Cornell Note FormThe Cornell Notes system dedicates the larges part of the notes page to your notes. The column on the left leaves space for you to make connections or record memory cues (or both.) The bottom of the page is a two to three sentence summary of what is on the page. Your review, then, begins with the summary, moves to cues or connections, and, finally, the body of notes. At each step, you finish when you express a clear understanding of what is on the page.
To the left, I include a commercially available form (I bought it at Staples.) You'll get a clear idea of what the form looks like through this image.
I suggest you try Cornell Notes for a month. If you don't think it is working for you then give it up. I'm pretty sure, however, that you'll notice a huge difference in your retention of new ideas.

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