Copy Transform learning with research, resources, & tips.

We know note-taking is ineffective.

There's a lot of discussion and research about students' study habits outside the classroom, including re-reading, taking notes, and highlighting. Students tend to use these strategies inside the classroom, too. In either setting, are students retaining what they're trying to learn?

Probably not. Read more for our spin on note-taking, which we call retrieve-taking.

Quick tip: As we near the end of the year, ask your students, "If you could choose only one thing from this class you want to remember in 10 years, what would it be and why?" This is fantastic question for reflection and retrieval from students, and feedback and inspiration for us. Enjoy!

Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D.

Forget note-taking. Try retrieve-taking!

The research is pretty clear: Note-taking is ineffective. Student write down notes and re-read them because it works in the short-term, but it's a waste of time over the long-term. It's a strategy that never seems to go away, either. The majority of K-12, college, and medical school students report taking notes during class or while studying after class.

Of course, we know that the more students retrieve, the less they have to study. But why is it so hard to change their study habits? We feel that comfort zone plays a huge role.

To encourage students to dip their toes into studying with retrieval, encourage them to forget note-taking and try retrieve-taking instead:
  1. Read your book, watch a video, listen to a lecture without taking notes
  2. Close the book, YouTube playlist, or pause a lecture so students can write down what they remember (two things, everything, anything!)
  3. Open the book, watch a video, and continue with the lesson for feedback

See the tiny change? Instead of taking notes with a book open, simply take notes (while retrieving) with the book closed.

A few "notes" to keep in mind:
  • The information students wrote down during retrieve-taking? They becomes notes! They can use those to study (and stay within their comfort zone), but at least they retrieved the notes in the first place.
  • Because students' retrieval may contain some inaccuracies (which is good for learning), Step 3 is critical for feedback. Yes, this may take a little extra time in and out of class. Keep in mind, however, that time spent retrieving is much more beneficial in the long-term than strategies like note-taking. Students won't have to continue re-reading and taking notes if they retrieve and retain in the first place.
  • Students may feel their retrieve-taking is disorganized, as opposed to organizing note-taking and outlines along the way (even though retrieval improves our organization of information). Try having students retrieve-take on index cards or on a computer. In both cases, feedback can be incorporated and key concepts can be moved around without needing to organize from scratch.
  • This strategy, while a small tweak, may feel uncomfortable for students. We recommend modeling this in your classroom before students try it at home. Check out more tips on reducing student anxiety from our archive, too!
Read More Strategies From Our Archive

Want more resources for students?

The Learning Scientists, a group of cognitive psychologists with expertise in the science of learning, have a wealth of resources geared specifically toward students – downloadable materials, blogs, videos, podcasts, and more.

As collaborators and colleagues for nearly a decade (via Washington University in St. Louis), The Learning Scientists also share research-based strategies for learning, as well as student topics ranging from study tips to managing finances. Visit their website and share it with your students!
Visit the Learning Scientists
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