Anyone who has seen my office and the piles of hand-written notes on legal pads, in the backs of books, on scraps of paper and napkins, and on various Post-it notes stuck to the wall would probably label me a bit kooky. So, I’m glad to hear that a recent study at the Princeton University psychology department has vindicated my crazy note-taking. The conceptual thinking and note-taking study was conducted by psychological scientist and author Pam Mueller and involved 65 college students. Some of them took notes from a TED talk in a laptop and some took notes in long-hand in a notebook with pen and paper.

Conceptual thinking


They were then quizzed on what they learned through both fact recall and conceptual thinking types of questions. They both performed well when it came to the fact of recall type of questions. But the ones that used good ole’ fashioned pen and paper outshined the laptop note-takers when it came to conceptual questions. It seems that the pen and paper note takers were more likely to remember the conceptual information. This was true even when questioned a week later.


Yippee! I can finally justify my system to non-believers.

Engage brain in problem solving

Conceptual questions test your understanding of the ideas. So you’re not able to just memorize answers, but really have to engage your brain in problem solving. I’m sure this has something to do with being an innovator and a creative type that I simply can’t stop scribbling ideas and solving problems.


I can’t prove this with a university study, but I would also bet that it has something to do with the fact that you have to write it out and your brain remembers the certain way it’s written. When you type on a laptop it all looks the same.


All I know is that pen and paper note taking does work. I’m able to remember much more when it’s hand-written. And pen and paper will never crash.