Paper Hacks

Getting It Write

Why studying with pen and paper is better for you

7 1


Tell any teenager studying for exams to put his or her phone or laptop away, and youll no doubt be faced with valid resistance. For one, being constantly connected is extremely handy for looking things up at a moments notice; secondly, young students are now typing faster than they can write.

Its no surprise really, that laptops and tablets have taken over as the de facto note-taking medium of choice in the classroom. With the advent of the Internet, it has increasingly become easy to dismiss paper as something that does not belong in the classrooms of the technological age. Question is, should students cast aside their notebooks and pens in favor of their digital counterparts?

The answer is plain and simple: They could, but they shouldnt. Multiple studies have shown that the benefits of taking notes on paper go beyond enjoying the feeling of a ballpoint pen gliding across the page. William Klemm suggests that as we learn how to write, the brain receives feedback from this specific action and engage parts of it to control each stroke and their relation to other letters, focus on size and letterforms of each letter, and remember and categorise each letter and word[3] 


7 2


The movement of writing by hand also helps as it leaves an impression on the sensorimotor part of the brain something that the repetitive act of typing cannot do.

While we have covered how writing affects brain activity, another important question still remains: How does that translate into the classroom experience? The answer lies in a study conducted by Paula Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer from Princeton University[6], where they pitted university students who took longhand notes against those who typed theirs out on a computer.

They found out those who had written notes during the lectures almost always outperformed their note-typing peers, be it immediately after the class or the week after. These results suggested that there might be some form of enhanced encoding that happened when the former jotted down notes by hand, allowing them to perform better than those who didnt. With that said, handwritten notes also allow students more flexibility and control to include diagrams, mind maps and visual aids that would otherwise be too troublesome to accomplish on the rigidity of a word processor.

Its not just all about writing either. Norwegian scholars have also found that participants who read off a printed page retained the information better[2]. They compared two groups of students, one who read text on paper, the other on a screen. Both were then tasked to answer a series of multiple-choice questions based on the passage they had read. Unsurprisingly, the ones who read it off paper scored significantly higher[5]. The researchers theorised that scrolling on a device could hold back ones reading capabilities as it constantly interrupts the readers mental process, in a way that just doesnt happen in print. Not only that, reading from printed content also gives the reader visual and tactile cues that can help them recall certain things at a later date.

So while laptops might be more convenient, dont rule out the good ol fashioned pen and paper!



1. Borreli, Lizette. "Using Pen And Paper, Not Laptops, Boosts Your Memory." Medical Daily. IBT Media Inc., 06 Feb. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

2. Jabr, Ferris. "The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens." Scientific American. Scientific American, Inc., 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

3. Klemm, William R., Ph.D. "Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter."

Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 14 Mar. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

4. Klosowski, Thorin. "Three Ways I've Simplified My Life Using Pen and Paper Instead of Technology." Lifehacker. Kinja, 29 Oct. 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

5. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic Health Letter March 2015. Rochester: Mayo Clinic, 2015. Print.

6. Mueller, Pam, and Daniel Oppenheimer. "The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking." Psychological Science (2014): 2-8. SAGE Publications. Association for Psychological Science, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

7. Wade, Patricia A., PhD. "Do Students Learn Better by Typing on a Keyboard or Writing with a Pen?" Office of Medical Student Affairs. Indiana University, 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.