Digital vs. Handwritten Notes: Which Works Best?

As a medical student, you’re more than likely aware of the importance of taking notes during lectures and as you read your course texts. Deciding whether to take digital notes or handwritten ones is personal, and each can be equally effective depending on your individual needs. Below, you can learn more about the pros and cons of digital versus handwritten notes so that you can use the system that best helps you succeed.

Handwritten Notes

Writing out notes by hand is still the most popular system among students. It requires only a pen or pencil and paper, which are easily obtainable – even at a corner convenience store. In some cases, you may choose to annotate your textbooks, which is a secondary means of writing notes. It involves listening to the lecturer speak or reading a paragraph in your text, then making a note of the most important concepts that you will need to know for your clinicals or your exams.

The downfalls associated with handwritten notes are very few. For some students, though, these downfalls make handwritten notes impractical. They include:

  • The need to store piles and piles of notebooks. When you’re studying for your licensing or placement exam, you will need every single note you take to serve as a study tool. If you’re taking good notes, then they are also thorough and cover a variety of topics and information. Unfortunately, in order to continue to study these notes, you’ll need to keep them – and that means piles of notebooks in your dorm, apartment, or room.
  • Inability to write fast enough. Many students who take handwritten notes attest that learning basic shorthand is essential, especially in medical school since there are so many facts and figures to remember. Those who don’t know shorthand often struggle to write fast enough to keep up with lecturers.
  • Illegibility or disorganization. If your handwriting isn’t the greatest, then there’s always the concern that you’ll pull one of your notebooks out of the pile only to discover that you can’t make out what you wrote. Along those same lines, if you failed to organize your notes in a cohesive way, you might have to spend hours digging through pages and pages of terms to find the topic you need to study.

Digital Notes

Digital notetaking makes up for many of the downfalls associated with writing them by hand. You can save all your data in the cloud, which means all you really need is a tablet or laptop – or maybe even your phone. Most people can type much faster than they can write, too, which means any device with a keyboard will allow you to get your thoughts down quickly. Finally, you can arrange your notes into folders by date, topic, or any other criteria, and you can search every single document for specific terms, too.

For most medical students, as long as they have the laptop or tablet that allows for digital notetaking, there are no real pitfalls – especially if they back up their notes to the cloud regularly. However, studies have found that students who handwrite their notes tend to recall more information than students who type them, so keep this in mind. A way to circumvent this involves using one of numerous handwriting apps on your iPad or convertible laptop so that you can get the best of both worlds.

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