Research Minute: Laptop vs. Longhand Note-taking Still Open to Debate

A recent replication study once again revived the debate over whether taking notes longhand or on a laptop leads to better test performance. Some may have thought this was settled following Mueller and Oppenheimer’s (2004) high-profile investigation, which concluded that writing is superior to typing notes. This research was highly publicized and led to one professor banning laptops in her classroom and sharing her story in a New York Times op-ed. Psychology researchers Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson (2019) set out to replicate and extend Mueller and Oppenheimer’s (2004) work with the goal of providing evidence of how different note-taking methods affect student learning and exam preparation—what they found contradicts the original 2004 results.

Undergraduate students at a large Midwestern university served as participants in the study for course credit. Morehead and colleagues used the same lectures and test questions as in the 2004 study to assess both factual and conceptual understanding. They extended this work by including groups that took notes using eWriters (devices that allow users to write by hand with a stylus on a screen) as well as having participants complete a 2-day delayed test to look at how test performance can differ between immediate and delayed tests. Participants were randomly assigned to a note-taking group (i.e., longhand, laptop, eWriter) and testing group (i.e., immediate and delayed testing, delayed testing only).

In their 2004 study, Mueller and Oppenheimer found that participants who took notes longhand performed significantly better on conceptual questions than those taking notes on a laptop. No differences were found between the longhand and laptop note-taking groups on factual questions. Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson (2019) essentially found the opposite: participants in the longhand note-taking group performed significantly better on factual questions, whereas there was no difference between the groups on conceptual questions.

Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson acknowledge that there are many other factors at play, such as lecture content, distractions, and classroom versus laboratory research. They believe that future research should look at “the degree to which a particular note-taking method increases the likelihood that students include the most important and to-be-tested content in their notes.” So which method is mightier? Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson can’t definitively say.

More Resources


Morehead, K., Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. A. (2019). How much mightier is the pen than the keyboard for note-taking? A replication and extension of Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014). Educational Psychology Review, 31(3), 753–780.

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25, 1159–1168.

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