How Different Types of Note-Taking Affect Memory

By Nathan Robinson

For many, it can be somewhat fatiguing to listen to a lecture while constantly jotting down important information. Note-taking itself can seem like an unnecessary chore because the instructor can virtually share material and/or notes on the topic. There are also other methods that can be used to substitute note-taking, such as recording a lecture, taking pictures of the presentation, etc. With all of this new technology, note-taking seems obsolete, but technology and our minds evolve at very different rates. That is to say, techniques for note-taking that may fit better for ourselves while technological advancements may not make as much sense for our memories.

When note-taking in any form is not present, generally information is not fully grasped. There are many new techniques for recording information such as receiving hand-outs, recording the lecture, etc. These new methods revolutionize the spread of information, but most of the information is not properly processed. Perhaps there are exceptions with auditory engagement as many people find learning information aurally is easier, but aural note-taking is more commonly a passive process. The student may understand the information better than if they took no notes at all, but the main problem is remembering it when the information needs to be put to use. The more modern way of note-taking is even more of a passive process due to its simplicity. Obviously, simplicity is not a bad thing, given that learning is a complex system. The difference with traditional note-taking is that the brain must interpret the lecture and materialize it on a page. This process takes time, which is essential for learning. A common saying is “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” In the context of note-taking, the quote can be interpreted as 'it is not about the endnotes, but the process of note-taking.' The process of note-taking is also an extremely essential portion of studying. When taking notes, the student needs to discern important information from the fluff in between. The note-taking itself also helps recollection of the information, but much is forgotten within periods as short as 15-20 minutes. Note-taking may help, but proper recollection must include repetition using important information from the notes.

Immediate note-taking after lectures is also extremely beneficial in recalling the material. Perhaps it is more difficult to achieve after a long lecture while having to attend another in a short period of time, but it may be worth it to attempt. It may be beneficial to test the extent of how much the students remember in order to assess how much information is grasped. It may not help the student determine what topics need the most studying due to memory loss later on, but it can still benefit them. Writing down a few key points on the lecture after class can help the learner retain information as well as understand it later on. These short notes can be taken anywhere, such as a post-it note, a worksheet, or a notebook!

An obstacle to note-taking lies in new technological forms of it. Currently, the Earth is filled with an abundance of computers, mobile phones, and tablets. The problem is that these devices can cause many distractions. Emails popping up, text messages, and other notifications can often distract the learner. In a normal school setting, this is less of a problem because there is often peer pressure and pressure from the teacher to stay focused in class. However, since online learning is the temporary norm, that pressure has decreased significantly. An example of the changed learning environment includes friends chatting on Discord or Google Meets while playing games, like Genshin Impact. Technology provides more distractions and can negatively affect productivity and recollection of information.

In addition to note-taking, metacognition, defined as being aware of one’s own thinking process, is essential for learning. Failure and misconceptions often happen in the world. Even now, mind-boggling misconceptions about the shape of the Earth and the effectiveness of vaccines are present. It can now be understood that these people have failed in the practice of metacognition. They lack analysis of their potential errors and think non-critically about their argument. Reflection about the topic is extremely useful. Whenever there is a mistake made, usually it is worked on until it is no longer there. Metacognition has the same principle. Awareness about ideas and its flaws and strengths are incredibly useful for improvement. Metacognition is primarily employed in the prefrontal cortex, which explains its importance in memory. Perhaps upon entering class, if the agenda is present, write down a few things that you think you know about the topic beforehand. If they are addressed in the lecture, then a student could discover if their previous thoughts were right or wrong, or a bit of both. If they are correct, then there is not much of an impact because the information is already correct, but if it is incorrect, then most likely the student will rethink their previous beliefs to get the information corrected in their mind. The act of testing knowledge before learning new material may very well improve the understanding of topics. Many musical performers play a new piece before learning it in order to get a feel for it and to discover where the tricky sections are. This concept is analogous to metacognition. Learning new material can be tricky, especially with technological advancements granting students more options to taking notes than ever before, but there are methods to improve memory and help you be the best student you can be!

What Did You Learn?


1. Should teachers provide handouts?

Yes, it is still beneficial to the student if the teacher provides handouts or access to a PowerPoint. The reason is because students can reflect on what they wrote and what the teacher taught, similar to an answer key for homework. PowerPoints also may have pictures that assist in learning. This may cause some students to not take notes however, so be cautious of this!

2. How should I take notes?

There are plenty of ways to take notes and it is all up to what works best for the learner. The most common methods are the Cornell method, the outlining method, the mapping method, the charting method, and the sentence method. The last source goes into these in more detail below.


Marty Lobdell's Lecture on Studying

Image Credit:

  1. Public domain,

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