Taking Notes, Not Pictures, Leads to Lasting Knowledge

By Aamna Arshad ‘18  and Stephanie Vazquez ‘18

Taking pictures in class seems to be what most students want to do because of time constraints and convenience.

“I take pictures of the notes and homework assignments almost every single day. They help me when I need clarity on things we did in class,” said Rafaella Bruzal ‘18

When you take pictures of the notes your teachers put up in class, what’s going through most people’s mind is, “Oh, I have the notes already. Why would I write them down?” When you don’t write the notes yourself, you will have a harder time remembering the content.

According to a study done by Pam A. Mueller from Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer from the University of California, the reason students who actually write the notes down do better than students who don’t is when you are writing the notes you go through a mental process in your brain that blocks out all the less important information. This way you write down only what is important and not every single little detail. This helps develop your learning skills, and you are able to achieve better grades because you already processed what is important and what is not.

“According to a recent study in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, using pen and paper, not laptops, to take notes boosts memory and the ability to retain and understand concepts,” said Lizette Borreli in her article “Why Using Pen And Paper, Not Laptops, Boosts Memory: Writing Notes Helps Recall Concepts, Ability To Understand” of medicaldaily.com.

Remember these are your notes, so abbreviate them however you like as long as you understand them. Don’t worry about being neat with your notes as long as it is legible so you can rewrite your class notes when you get home. Rewriting your notes not only makes them more legible and organized, but it also allows you to further study your notes while bringing up questions on something you may not fully understand.

Many students agree that you should take pictures of notes, but in moderation and only when it’s absolutely necessary. The pictures shouldn’t replace your notes, instead they should be a way to enhance your knowledge and understanding of a topic.

“I don’t really think that pictures help because after I go home, I won’t actually look at them anymore,” said Dan Hong Chen ‘18.

What many students do without realizing is they take pictures of these notes and then forget they have them. When they do this, they are creating a recipe for disaster. If they have a test and don’t study all the material, they aren’t going to get the high grades they want, whereas if you had the physical paper in front of you in your notebook, you wouldn’t forget about it.

On the other hand, taking pictures can be beneficial in some situations. Pictures can be helpful when the class is about to end and you haven’t finished copying the notes or when you want to make sure that you have all the notes written down correctly.

“Taking pictures of notes can be helpful when there isn’t enough time to copy them down. However, some students take advantage of the technology and get lazy,” said Sarah Cen ‘18.

In a study that was done on university students, Mueller and Oppenheimer showed two groups of students, one that took notes with their laptops and another that took notes by hand and then asked them questions afterwards.

The researchers found that both groups were able to answer questions on facts and key dates, but the students who wrot their notes by hand were able to answer the conceptual questions significantly better than the other students.

The teachers’ views on taking notes are similar to the views of the students. Many believe students should write down information instead of taking pictures because it helps with understanding and remembering the information.

“I think it’s not beneficial for students to take pictures of notes,” said Mr. Eugene Resnick, an A.P. U.S. History teacher. “I think the act of writing notes down with your own hand helps you remember it, you’re invested in it. It’s something that came from you, whereas taking a picture is something separate from you.”

Some teachers believe you should take pictures along with taking notes. They believe that by doing both you’re creating a more reliable platform for your studying habits.

“You should do both, take pictures and take notes,” said Mr. John Caldwell, the A.P. Statistics teacher. “You write it so you have that physical component, then you take pictures so that your notes are reliable and accurate. This way you’ll have access to your notes even if you lose the papers.”

In addition to your notes, Caldwell added that you should do practice questions and active recall because then you will be able to see that you have mastered the material. Having the notes doesn’t benefit you, you also need to do your part and make sure that you don’t have an illusion of mastery.

The illusion of mastery is when you have looked at material believing that you studied, but when the time comes to take the test, you don’t do well because you didn’t really know the material, you just thought you did.

Another reason why you should write your notes instead of taking pictures of them is when you are referring back to them in your phone, many people are just inclined to get distracted and end up not doing studying or doing your schoolwork.  

So the next time you’re about to take a picture, instead of writing down the notes, you might want to think about the pros and cons of doing so and the effect it may have on your grades.

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