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Writing Things Down Is Better for Your Memory

If you are of a certain age, you remember when computers were huge mainframes in the computer science lab, you took a typewriter to college, and you wrote notes by hand in class. Technology has presented us with many modern opportunities to take notes – laptops, tablets, phones, watches.  While we have many options at our disposal, science is proving that the best way to take notes for retaining knowledge is a good, old-fashioned paper and pen.

Studies of memory retention using a variety of different tools for note taking show that note-taking by hand improves retention in almost all circumstances. There are actually two solid reasons for taking notes by hand, particularly in the workplace or at school.

We can’t write as fast as someone else speaks. It takes longer to write, and that turns out to be a benefit. Because we can’t write as fast as speakers talk, we have to process what the information means and summarize.  Typing can be as fast as speaking, so the notes are transcribed almost perfectly, but no processing occurs.

Devices are inherently distracting. Just having your device with you is a distraction. Studies suggests that just having a turned off cell phone in the room with you can significantly reduce your score on intelligence tests. Humans are not typically good at multi-tasking. Several studies comparing students who texted during a lecture versus those who did not showed that those who texted frequently took lower quality notes, retained less information, and performed poorly on tests.

Writing can make our mind sharp and our days focused and less stressed, and the act of handwriting seems to have cognitive benefits. Did you know that writing letters activates more regions of the brain than typing letters?

From my own personal experience, writing down lists, such as my grocery list, helps me to remember better what I need. When I tried keeping my shopping list on the phone, I found I more frequently forgot to purchase items.  With a hand written list, I forget to purchase far fewer items and, in fact, sometimes the process of writing the list helps me remember other items that need to be on the list.

I’m not proposing that we abandon technology. There are many great advantages to technology as it relates to learning. I’m only suggesting that we skip the technology when we are trying to learn for retention.  The science suggests that going old school in the classroom is an A+ strategy.


Andrea Groth Wellbeing Detective

Andrea wants to live in a world where the neighborhoods are walkable, bike lanes are plentiful, and the food is fresh, delicious and readily available.

A 20-year veteran of the health and wellness industry, she started her career in the fitness industry while earning a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and then on to the burgeoning field of worksite wellness. Andrea has competed in collegiate level soccer, worked as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, wellness coach, and master trainer, climbed 14ers, and completed cycling centuries and metric centuries. All of these experiences give her the opportunity to view well-being from many different perspectives.
When she’s not helping others to be their healthiest self, you can find her at a farm to table restaurant, down dogging at the yoga studio, or experiencing the Colorado landscape on a bicycle, snowshoes, cross country skis or on foot.