Commuter Corner: Notes Hack


Is it better to take notes in a notebook or on a computer? (Yagen Kiely/Flickr Creative Commons)

Is it better to take notes in a notebook or on a computer? (Yagen Kiely/Flickr Creative Commons)

I overheard a conversation recently about which was better, notebooks or computers. I’ve been told by professors that whichever helps you take notes better is the one to go with, but we commuters have a few other considerations to keep in mind.  Having tried a laptop, an iPad with a keyboard and just regular notebooks, I feel like I can add something to this discussion. In case anyone’s wondering, these are my recommendations, from one commuter to another.

My first semester I was dead-set on taking notes on a laptop. I bought a brand new one, and thought it would be much easier than keeping track of several notebooks. One of the main benefits is that the notes are always legible. There are times that I write so fast that I can’t read it, so having everything neatly typed and on the page is amazing. You can also go back and edit your notes if the professor begins speaking about something related to a separate bullet point.  

Laptop notes are also easy to print out and highlight when it comes to studying for exams. If you use an online flashcard system you can just copy and paste the definitions in. You always have access to all your notes if you use Google Drive, so if you forget your laptop you can still type on your phone. And for those of you who don’t like taking notes the conventional way, many people just add comments to the professor’s slides. However, there are some drawbacks.

If the laptop isn’t ultra thin, odds are a bunch of notebooks will be much lighter. Plus, you’d need a large enough backpack to hold it, and a charger would be necessary for longer days. One of the biggest problems I faced was with actually taking in the material I was learning. I would type almost mindlessly, writing down all the professor’s words, but not absorbing it. The same issue occurred with the iPad and keyboard: Though the setup took up a lot less space and was so much lighter than my actual laptop, what went into the keyboard did not make a lasting impression in my brain.

My third semester I tried handwriting my notes, and my grades seriously improved. I still tried the flashcards, which became infinitely more difficult when I had to read through my rushed handwriting and type out all the terms, but they had a better effect.  I had to handwrite only the most important parts of the slides, because I couldn’t keep up with how fast the professors went.  You would think that missing information would be to my detriment, but like I said, I’ve never done better in school than when I was writing.  

When diagrams came up, I would have to draw them out on my own, which was a pain, but it got the notes in my head in a more visual way. Everything was written down originally, then again when I had to read my handwriting and type out the flashcards, and I got a third exposure to the material when I actually studied the flashcards. It’s a lot more work, but it’s worth it to pass the classes.

Commuters have to worry about the weight of things more than regular students. We’re stuck with whatever’s in our packs for the rest of the day, so we have to choose what we take to school carefully. I wouldn’t recommend a laptop unless it’s light enough. But if you find yourself disconnecting from the class, notebooks really aren’t that much heavier than an iPad. They take up more space, but you can work around that.  Do whatever gets the best results; for me, that’s handwriting everything, even if it’s not the most convenient for my lifestyle.

Hannah Desrosiers is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at

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