Longhand notetaking is worth using

A recent ‘Best Evidence in Brief’ reported on a study comparing listening with longhand note-taking, with photo-taking, and without note-taking. This is what they say:

With the usage of smart phones becoming increasingly pervasive, taking photos to record information in class allows students to store more information with less effort. Many studies have demonstrated that longhand note-taking facilitates deeper encoding of information and reduces mind-wandering, but little research has investigated the learning outcomes of the photo-taking strategy, so a recent study was conducted to compare their effectiveness.

The sample of this study included 100 college students between the ages of 18-32 who were divided into three subgroups to listen to two lectures in three different conditions: listening with longhand note-taking, with photo-taking, and without note-taking. After they completed both lectures, participants reviewed their hand-written notes, photos they took, and plain printouts respectively to prepare for a recall test. The results revealed that students who took longhand notes outperformed the other two groups. A repetitive experiment was also done to probe participants’ mind-wandering behavior by asking participants to report their mind-wandering behavior. The outcomes demonstrated that longhand note-takers mind-wandered less than the other groups. The authors concluded that significant benefits of longhand note-taking should be acknowledged, and educators have the obligation to impart knowledge on how best to learn — taking longhand notes.


In two experiments (N = 200), we compared the effects of longhand note-taking, photographing lecture materials with a smartphone camera, and not taking any notes on video-recorded lecture learning. Experiment 1 revealed a longhand-superiority effect: Longhand note-takers outperformed photo-takers and control learners on a recall test, notwithstanding an equal opportunity to review their learning material right before being tested, and even when photo-takers and control participants reviewed an exact transcript of the lecture slides via their photos or printouts, whereas longhand note-takers accessed only a fraction of the content as captured in their handwritten notes. Photo-takers performed comparably to learners who had not taken any notes at all. Experiment 2 further showed that mind-wandering mediates the mnemonic benefits of longhand note-taking: Relative to learners who took photos or did not take any notes, longhand note-takers mind-wandered less and, in turn, demonstrated superior retention of the lecture content. Yet, across both experiments, learners were not cognizant of the advantages of longhand note-taking, but misjudged all three techniques to be equally effective. These findings point to key attentional differences between longhand note-taking and photo-taking that impact learning—knowledge that is easily and conveniently acquired in a snap may not be better remembered.

Impact Statement

Using one’s smartphone to take photos enables students to conveniently capture more information, but may not enhance learning. Despite reviewing their photos of a video-recorded lecture right before being tested, photo-takers performed worse than learners who wrote and reviewed longhand notes, while faring no better than learners who did not take notes but simply reviewed lecture printouts. The longhand advantage occurred because it encouraged less mind-wandering than photo-taking or no-note-taking.

Wong, S. S. H., & Lim, S. W. H. (2023). Take notes, not photos: Mind-wandering mediates the impact of note-taking strategies on video-recorded lecture learning performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 29(1), 124–135. https://doi.org/10.1037/xap0000375