We at the Law School Toolbox have talked about handwriting your lecture notes before. But in case you are pondering whether to type or handwrite this semester, here are some reasons I personally think the pen is mightier than keyboard.
You will activate your brain more.
Studies have shown that various regions of the brain are activated to a greater extent when we learn by writing words out by hand, rather than typing them. For example, experiments which have used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) tests to measure brain activity in adults during handwriting versus typed learning of an unfamiliar alphabet, indicate that Broca’s area (the part of the cerebral cortex associated with language) is much more activated in people who are learning via handwriting, as opposed to typing (where little or no activation was shown).
Why does this matter? Well, six weeks later, the cohort that learned by handwriting (and therefore experienced these higher levels of brain activity) also remembered the material they learned better than the typists.
You will retain more.
Research has shown that students who handwrite lecture notes retain concepts better than those who type them. In a study in which college students watched a recorded lecture and took notes, both the pen and laptop groups did well on recalling facts later on (e.g. “How many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?”).The hand-writers, however, scored much higher on remembering and applying concepts (e.g. “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?”).
You can probably guess whether factual regurgitation or conceptual application abilities would arguably be more important in the law school context! So, why did the pen and paper cohort perform better? Because they weren’t just mindlessly transcribing everything the lecturer said.
You will be synthesizing material!
Even the quickest hand-writers probably aren’t as fast as their typing counterparts. We probably all type a lot faster than we print. That may seem like a fantastic reason to type your law school lecture notes. However, the opposite is actually true. The study above also revealed that the students whose notes contained less “verbatim overlap” with the lecture itself (i.e. less mindless transcription) performed much worse on memory tests. Why is this? Since we aren’t as speedy at handwriting, we must actively engage with the material in the moment and force ourselves to choose what is important and what to leave out. This synthesis process forces us to become more efficient and discerning when deciding what material is useful.
Could you probably accomplish the same goal with a laptop by just typing more streamlined bullet points rather than mindlessly transcribing? Probably. But the impulse is a lot harder to fight when typing! In fact, the researchers in the above study tested just that and found that the urge to transcribe when typing is a very difficult one to fight.
You can avoid the dreaded copy + paste.
I always tell my students to avoid copying and pasting from one area of their work into another. For example, if you’re transferring information from notes on a case you read into your study outline or brief, don’t just scoop up the entire paragraph and plop it onto a new page. This process circumvents the synthesis that we discussed above. Instead, assess the information, decide what details are significant, and what extraneous material you can leave behind. Think of all of all of the cases, briefs, notes, supplements and lectures positioned at the top of an inverted funnel.
Over the course of the semester, it will be your to filter all that material down into a useable universe of rules and attack plans that you can apply on your final exams. Even small, intermittent opportunities for added levels of synthesis can go a long way toward that objective.
Check out the next post in this series to learn more reasons to handwrite law school class notes.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Is Handwriting Notes a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?
- 5 Things to Include in Your Law School Class Notes
- Evidence-Backed Law School Study Tips
- More Evidence-Backed Law School Study Tips
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