Kenneth A. Kiewra • University of Nebraska
Tiphaine Colliot • Rennes 2 University
Junrong Lu • University of Nebraska
Students are incomplete note takers who routinely record just one third of a lesson’s important
information in their notes. This is unfortunate, because the number of lesson points recorded in notes
is positively correlated with student achievement. Moreover, both the activity of recording notes and the
subsequent review of notes are advantageous. The authors offer instructors a menu of research-based
advice for bolstering student note taking: provide complete notes, provide partial notes, provide note-
taking cues, re-present the lesson, provide pauses and revision opportunities, control laptop usage,
control “cyber slacking,” use PowerPoint slides effectively, and teach note-taking skills. They also
suggest ways to help students transform their notes during the note-review process and SOAR (select,
organize, associate, and regulate) to success.
Keywords: Note taking, SOAR, strategy instruction
Kenneth Kiewra began his note-taking investigations
while a graduate student at Florida State University in
1979. This research interest was prompted by his
statistics professor, Harold Fletcher, who outlawed
student note taking during class. Fletcher told his
students that taking notes diverted their attention
from the lecture; it was better to listen and think
about the material than to mindlessly record what was
being said. Yet Fletcher realized that students needed
notes to review later, so he prepared written lesson
notes and offered them to students following each
Most students embraced the idea of kicking back
during lectures and getting comprehensive notes
afterward, but not Kiewra. He was a voracious note
taker who had been named Note Taker of the Year
Runner-Up twice in college. So, in Professor Fletcher’s
class, Kiewra became a closet note taker. He
retreated to the back of the room and sat behind a
former Seminole lineman, concealed by his bulk.
There he huddled over a small notepad and wrote
feverishly whenever Fletcher looked away. One day, as
Kiewra scribbled, he sensed a presence creeping up
on him from behind. He looked up to see Fletcher
peering down at the notepad. “Mr. Kiewra, are you
taking notes in my class?” Dr. Fletcher asked. Caught
pen-handed, Kiewra could do nothing but lie: “Ah, no,
I’m writing a letter to a friend back home.” Staring
down at the now exposed pad, Fletcher retorted,
“Well, how nice of you to tell your friend about
Prompted by this experience, Kiewra conducted six
note-taking studies under Fletcher’s supervision while
in graduate school and has continued investigating
note taking ever since, seeking optimal ways for
students to record notes and for instructors to aid
student note taking. Recently, Kiewra’s note-taking
expertise had its day in court when he was summoned
as an expert witness by a major energy company
under fire from the US Securities and Exchange
Commission for misleading investors. The evidence:
investors’ meeting notes with energy-company
Note This: How to Improve
Student Note Taking
IDEA Paper #73 • September 2018
executives. Kiewra examined the notes and described
note-taking research that might invalidate them
(2016). Case closed.
Now that you know a bit about the first author’s note-
taking background, you have some context for the rest
of our article on this practice. First we explain why
note taking is potentially effective and important for
student achievement. Next we describe problems
associated with students’ notes that reduce their
effectiveness. Last, we address several ways that
instructors can improve student note taking and thus
Why Note Taking Is Effective
Most students take notes (Bonner & Holliday, 2006;
Castello & Monereo, 2005), which is good because
note taking serves two functions: process and
product. The process of note taking (as Kiewra tried to
do in Professor Fletcher’s class) and the product, the
notes themselves (as Fletcher arranged), both boost
achievement. The process of taking notes is effective
(Bligh, 2000; Einstein, Morris, & Smith, 1985; Kiewra,
Mayer, Christensen, Kim, & Risch, 1991; Suritsky &
Hughes, 1991) because the activity focuses students’
attention on instruction (e.g., Katayama & Crooks,
2003; Kobayashi, 2006; Piolat, Olive, & Kellogg,
2005) and leads to better assimilation of lesson ideas
with prior knowledge than does simply listening
(Peper & Mayer, 1978, 1986; Shrager & Mayer,
1989). However, some studies do not show a process
advantage for note taking, meaning that simply
listening during a lesson is as effective as recording
notes during it (Fisher & Harris, 1973; Glover, Zimmer,
Ronning, & Petersen, 1980; Kiewra et al., 1991; Riley
& Dyer, 1979).
Note taking’s product function is effective (e.g.,
Armbruster, 2000; Fisher & Harris; Kiewra, 1985,
1989; Knight & McKelvie, 1986; Luo, Kiewra, &
Samuelson, 2016) because it allows more time for
meaningfully processing recorded ideas when notes
are reviewed following the lesson (e.g., Crooks, White,
& Barnard, 2007; Kiewra, 1985; Kiewra et al., 1991).
Some studies try to determine which of note taking’s
two functions is stronger. This line of investigation
generally confirms that the product function is
stronger than the process function (Kiewra et al.,
1991; Kobayashi, 2005; Rickards & Friedman, 1978).
We contend, however, that both functions are
important and improvable and that comparing their
relative merits is akin to asking, “Which is more
important, writing a letter or mailing it?”
What Is Wrong with Students’ Notes?
For notes to be optimally effective, they must be
complete. The more complete that students’ notes
are, the higher those students’ achievement (e.g.,
Kiewra, 1985; Nye, Crooks, Powley, & Tripp, 1984;
Peverly, Garner, & Vekaria, 2014). Unfortunately,
most students’ notes are woefully incomplete.
Students, on average, record just one third of
important lesson ideas (Austin, Lee, & Carr, 2004;
Kiewra, 2016; Titsworth, 2004). To understand how
problematic this is, imagine asking someone for their
phone number. They report their full 10-digit number,
but you record just 3 of those digits. Good luck placing
a call later! Similarly, examine Figure 1, which shows
what one-third note completeness looks like. Imagine
studying these spotty notes weeks later in preparation
for an exam.
Figure 1. What recording one third of lesson
information in notes looks like (shown in black).
Why are students such incomplete note takers? One
reason is probably what we might call technical
difficulties (Bassili & Joordens, 2008; Bui & Myerson,
2014; Peverly et al., 2013). Most lectures are
presented at a rate of approximately 120 to 180
words per minute (Wong, 2014). This rate is too fast
for most note-taking students, who on average can
keyboard at just 33 words per minute (Karat,
Halverson, Horn, & Karat, 1999) or write longhand at
just 22 words per minute (Brown, 1999). In other
cases, students are known to record fewer notes
when (a) visual aids are shown or questions are asked
by other students (Maddox & Hoole, 1975); (b) the
lesson topic is familiar (Trevors, Duffy, & Azevedo,
2014; Van Meter, Yokoi, & Pressley, 1994); (c) they
are feeling fatigued, especially in the latter portions of
lectures (Locke, 1977); or (d) they are pulled off-task
by digital distractions such as cell phones and laptops
(Kuznekoff & Titsworth, 2013).
Students’ notes are not only generally incomplete but
are also missing vital details, examples, and qualifiers
or are just plain inaccurate. Students actually do a
good job of recording a lesson’s superordinate main
ideas but fail to record its subordinate details (Kiewra
& Benton, 1988). In one note-taking study, Kiewra,
Benton, and Lewis (1987) counted the percentage of
ideas that students noted, at various levels of detail.
To get a sense of how this was done, consider the
following sentences from what might be a lesson on
note taking, and the corresponding levels of ideas
Note taking increases achievement (level 1)
through its process and product functions
(level 2). The process function involves the
activity of note taking (level 3) and is
measured by comparing the achievement of
note takers and listeners (level 4).
Students’ notes became progressively less complete
as lesson ideas grew in subordination levels and
detail. Students recorded 91% of the most
superordinate level 1 ideas, 60% of level 2 ideas, 35%
of level 3 ideas, and only 11% of the most
subordinate, level 4 ideas.
Students often omit examples from notes. In the study
conducted by Austin et al. (2004), students recorded
notes pertaining to only 13% of lesson examples,
even though examples are often crucial for
understanding lesson ideas. Consider how difficult it
is to understand the following rule regarding comma
usage without the accompanying example, which
demonstrates what is meant by “coordinate
conjunctions” and “main clauses.”
Use a comma if there is a coordinate
conjunction joining two main clauses.
Paradise was an exclusive country club (main
clause), but (coordinate conjunction) the gates
of hell were open (main clause).
Qualifiers are often absent from students’ notes, too
(Maddox & Hoole, 1975). Qualifiers are usually
adjectives that are added to nouns to qualify a noun’s
meaning. Suppose a lecturer says, “Monsoons are
likely in western coastal areas,” but a student writes
down, “Monsoons occur in coastal areas.” The student
has missed the important qualifier “western” and will
later review their recorded statement that erroneously
suggests that monsoons occur in all coastal areas. In
Kiewra’s court case (2016), mentioned earlier, an
energy-company executive stated, “If recent trends
hold true, the site can produce 100 million barrels of
oil,” but an investor missed the qualifier “if recent
trends hold true” and tersely wrote, “the site can
produce 100 million barrels of oil.”
Students also sometimes record information
inaccurately. In one study, Crawford (1925) found that
53% of noted information was fully correct, 45% was
vague, and 2% was inaccurate. Another study
(Maddox & Hoole, 1975) indicated that 61% of note
takers introduced one or more inaccuracies into their
notes and that most inaccuracies involved numerals.
A third study (Johnstone & Su, 1994) also reported
that notes contain inaccuracies and that most occur
when copying diagrams and numerical information.
What Instructors Can Do to Aid Note Taking
There are several research-based techniques that
instructors can use to improve student note taking
and the resulting notes: provide complete notes,
provide partial notes, provide note-taking cues, re-
present the lesson, provide pauses and revision
opportunities, control laptop usage, control “cyber
slacking,” use PowerPoint slides effectively, teach
note-taking skills, and help students transform notes
and SOAR (select, organize, associate, and regulate)
to success. We discuss each technique, and the
research supporting it, in turn.
Provide Complete Notes
It appears that Professor Fletcher knew what he was
doing when he provided students with a complete set
of notes to review. Research confirms that students
who review provided notes achieve more than students
who record and review their own notes. In a study by
Kiewra and Benton (1987), college students watched a
20-minute video lesson on learning hierarchies, with
one group of students taking notes while another
group abstained. Note takers later reviewed their
notes; non–note takers reviewed a set of provided
notes that were complete. Following the 25-minute
review period, all students were tested on the lesson.
Those who reviewed the provided notes achieved 17%
higher scores than the students who reviewed their
own notes—not surprising, given that the provided
notes contained all 115 lesson ideas, whereas
students’ own notes contained, on average, just 38%
of lesson ideas.
One study (Kiewra, 1985) went so far as to show that
reviewing a complete set of provided notes can even
compensate for missing a lesson. Students attended
a 20-minute lesson on the purpose and construction
of learning hierarchies and either took notes or simply
listened. Another group of students did not attend the
lesson at all. Later, students reviewed either no notes,
their own notes, a complete set of provided notes, or
both their own notes and provided notes, resulting in
the seven groups shown on the left side of Table 1;
the right side shows the test results. Notice that the
top-performing groups all studied the complete notes,
the bottom-performing groups all had no notes to
study, and the middle-performing group took their own
notes and studied only those. Those self-recorded
notes, by the way, contained, on average, just 35% of
the important ideas included in the lesson and in the
provided notes. These findings confirm that note
taking’s primary value lies in its product function and
that it is important to have a complete set of notes to
review, regardless of what occurs at acquisition—
listening only, taking notes while listening, or being
absent. Moreover, the tried-and-true method of
recording and reviewing one’s own notes is relatively
Note-Taking Groups and Their Test Results Reveal the
Achievement Value of Provided Notes
Take notes/Review own + provided 71%
Not attend/Review provided 69%
Listen/Review provided 63%
Take notes/Review own 51%
Take notes/Review no notes 44%
Listen/Review no notes 43%
Not attend/Review no notes 33%
In a study involving text learning (Colliot & Jamet,
2018a), college students read a 1,500-word text on
memory at their own pace. Some of the students were
also provided with a complete set of notes in
hierarchical form, showing all 21 superordinate and
subordinate lesson ideas. Others were asked to
create hierarchical notes on their own, which they did
with 100% accuracy and completion. Unfortunately,
recording one’s own notes took a toll on achievement.
Those provided with complete notes outscored the
note takers by 16%, 12%, and 17% on tests
measuring main ideas, hierarchical relationships, and
problem solving, respectively. These results were
replicated when the hierarchical form was replaced
with an outline form (Colliot & Jamet, 2018a).
Perhaps instructors are not inclined to do students’
work for them or fear encouraging absenteeism by
providing a complete and ready-made set of notes to
review. Or perhaps instructors recognize note taking’s
process value and do not want to forgo that. Both of
these potential problems can be addressed by
providing students with partial notes.
Provide Partial Notes
A simpler note-providing alternative, which shares
note-taking responsibilities between instructors and
students and maintains note taking’s process benefit,
is partial notes. Partial notes provide only main ideas
and cue students to record additional notes in blank
spaces. In one study investigating partial notes
(Kiewra, Benton, Kim, Risch, & Christensen, 1995),
students attended a video lesson on the topic of
creativity and recorded notes either from scratch or
on distributed partial notes, such as those in Figure 2.
Those taking notes on their own recorded 38% of
important lesson ideas, whereas those using partial
notes recorded 56% of important lesson information.
Group achievement differences mirrored those for
Figure 2. Partial notes for a lesson on creativity.
Some studies have investigated the benefits of partial
notes when students learn from text presented via
computer. One key finding is that when partial notes
are provided and students are given the choice to
either type or copy and paste notes into text boxes,
approximately 80% of students choose to copy and
paste notes (Igo, Bruning, McCrudden, & Kauffman,
2003). Although copying and pasting often leads to
more complete notes than typing—40% versus 20%
(Bauer & Koedinger, 2007)—the former leads to lower
achievement. Such was the case when students who
typed notes onto partial outlines while reading
chapter-length texts achieved more on both
immediate and delayed application tests than those
who copied and pasted notes, with each test
administered following note review (Katayama,
Shambaugh, & Doctor, 2005).
The problem with copying and pasting is that students
tend to copy and paste too much information into
their notes. They sometimes copy and paste entire
paragraphs or sentences and do so without much
cognitive engagement or thought (Igo & Kiewra, 2007;
Igo, Kiewra, & Bruning, 2008). According to Stacy and
Cain (2015), “An application that allows students to
copy and paste prewritten notes without including
their own definitions and elaborations is much less
effective than one that encourages personally written
language. While verbatim notes may be more
accurate, the benefit of ‘process’ is absent, and
therefore, lessens the effect of the learning
experience” (p. 3). Perhaps a middle ground is
restricting the amount of notes that students copy
and paste. When researchers (Igo, Bruning, &
McCrudden, 2005) restricted copy-and-paste note
taking in partial notes to a maximum of only seven
words per note-taking cell, those recording restricted
notes achieved more than those whose copy-and-
paste note taking was unrestricted: 12% higher at
recalling text ideas, 20% higher at identifying new
examples, and 28% higher at comparing text ideas.
Restricting the amount of notes forced copy-and-paste
note takers to read information carefully and be more
selective about what they recorded.
Regarding whether it is better for instructors to
provide complete or partial notes, findings are mixed.
In a study favoring partial notes (Katayama &
Robinson, 2000), college students studied a chapter-
length text on sleep disorders and received either
complete notes on this topic or a series of partial
organizers to complete in either outline or matrix
form. Students with partial notes achieved more on an
application test than those with complete notes by an
In a study favoring complete notes (Stull & Mayer,
2007, Experiment 3), college students studied a text
about reproductive barriers between species and
received either complete notes or partial organizers
that needed to be completed while reading. Those
who received complete notes achieved 50% more on
a problem-solving test than those who received partial
Finally, provided complete notes and partial notes
proved comparable in another learning-from-text
study (Colliot & Jamet, 2018c). College students read
a 1,500-word text on memory, presented on the
computer. One group received a completed organizer
showing the lesson’s 21 superordinate and
subordinate ideas in hierarchical form. Another group
recorded notes on a hierarchy framework (partial
notes) that contained space to record superordinate
and subordinate ideas. Following the lesson, the two
groups performed comparably on tests measuring
main ideas, hierarchical relationships, and problem
solving. Both groups, though, outperformed a third
group of students, who had to create their own
hierarchy without assistance, by 20% to 30%,
indicating once again the value of provided notes
(whether complete or partial) over students’ self-
In conclusion, partial notes seem to be a good
compromise for aiding note taking and learning. First,
rather than instructors doing all the note-taking work,
that task is shared by instructor and students.
Second, partial notes engage students in the note-
taking process. They make students attentive and
active learners during lecture and text lessons while
relieving students of some of the burden of trying to
record a complete set of notes on their own. In
addition, providing partial notes raises note taking
beyond what students typically record on their own,
thereby resulting in a relatively complete and effective
set of notes for review.
Provide Note-Taking Cues
Instructors can easily deploy two types of lesson cues
to boost note taking: importance cues and
organizational cues. Cues signaling importance can
be written, presented orally, or delivered nonverbally.
In one study, students recorded 86% of information
written on the blackboard (Locke, 1977). Providing
written questions is another way to signal what is
most important in a lesson. Rickards and McCormick
(1988) had college students listen to an 800-word
lecture, divided into 16 sections, about the fictitious
country of Mala. Some students received a pre-
question before each segment to focus their attention
on that material. Pre-questions raised both note
taking and achievement: Those who received pre-
questions recorded 20% of the lesson’s critical
information, versus the only 2% recorded by those
who did not receive them. Regarding achievement,
those who received pre-questions recalled
approximately 25% more material than those who did
Oral lesson cues might include an instructor saying,
“This point is noteworthy/imperative/absolutely
critical/likely to be on the test.” Sometimes it is not
just what instructors say but how they say it that
signals importance. Variance in voice pitch, cadence,
volume, or rate can let students know that
information is noteworthy. So too can repeating
Nonverbal cues also signal importance. One college
instructor whom we know emphasizes important
points nonverbally by cradling his chin in his hand,
thrusting out his bottom lip, arching his eyebrows, and
nodding his head vehemently. His students know to
write feverishly when this cue medley erupts. In a
reported study (Moore, 1968), a lecturer held up
cards that signaled whether note taking was
warranted—green for yes and red for no—in one class
but not in another, for 12 lectures over a six-week
period. The class that received cues outperformed the
class that did not on an achievement test covering the
lecture material. Other nonverbal cues might include
pointing, clapping, finger snapping, hand waving, a
piercing glance, or a rap on the table. Saying nothing
can also serve as a cue. When instructors pause after
delivering a lesson point, most students probably
know to fill the silence with note taking.
Organizational cues alert students to the lesson’s
structure, and they raise both note taking and
achievement. In a study investigating organizational
lesson cues (Titsworth & Kiewra, 2004), students
listened to one of two forms of a lesson: cued or
uncued. Both forms were well organized and identical,
with one exception: The cued lesson signaled the
lesson’s organization by emphasizing the four lesson
topics (the names of four communication theories)
and the five lesson categories common to each topic
(e.g., definition, example, application). For example,
one lesson cue inserted in the lesson was “Next, we
examine the application of general systems theory.”
Another was “Here is the definition of mass media
theory.” Each lesson cue set the stage for introducing
an important lesson detail. There were 20
organizational cues spaced throughout the lesson.
After the lesson, a brief period for note review was
followed by two tests, one assessing lesson
organization and one assessing lesson details. Notes
were also analyzed for organizational points and
details. Organizational cues positively impacted note
taking and achievement. The cued group recorded
approximately 40% more organizational points and
45% more details in notes than the uncued group.
Higher rates of note taking led to higher achievement.
The cued group achieved nearly seven times more on
organizational points and nearly twice as much on
details compared to the uncued group.
Re-present the Lesson
It might seem far-fetched for instructors to re-present
a lesson to students, but instructors working in the
digital world can easily do so when they make a
recorded lesson available to students online so that it
can be viewed more than once. But is there an
advantage to multiple lesson viewings? Kiewra et al.
(1991) discovered that there is. Students in their
study watched a brief video lesson either one, two, or
three times. Students in a fourth, free-viewing, group
watched individually and controlled how the video was
played: They could pause, rewind, fast forward, or
replay any portion. In terms of note taking, all groups
were equally effective, recording approximately 80%
of the lesson’s main ideas whether they viewed it
three times or only once.
However, the groups varied in their recording of
lesson details. Students who viewed the lesson two
times recorded more details than those who viewed it
only once (53% vs. 38%); the same was true of those
who viewed it three times (60%) or on their own
(65%). Achievement results mirrored note-taking
results, because those who recorded more notes
tended to achieve more. It is interesting to note how
the free-viewing students viewed the lesson. All of
them watched the lesson only once, never replaying it
in its entirety. Instead, they often paused the lesson to
jot notes, and they replayed brief sections that they
thought required additional viewing. Their total
viewing time approximated that of the three-viewings
Regarding whether students in authentic learning
settings actually view posted lessons multiple times or
slow down the viewing process as the free-viewing
students did in the Kiewra et al. study (1991) is, to
our knowledge, unknown. To determine students’
viewing behaviors, instructors can ask them how they
view posted lessons or perhaps track their viewing
behaviors through a course’s learning-management
system. In the meantime, we encourage instructors to
post lessons online whenever possible, prompt
students to replay or slow down posted presentations
when they view them and tell students the note-taking
and achievement benefits of doing so.
Provide Pauses and Revision Opportunities
Many lessons, especially recorded lessons, are
presented too rapidly for students to keep pace and
record adequate notes. Instructors should heed the
simple advice to slow down. There is another way,
though, to help students record more notes: provide
lesson pauses and ask students to revise (i.e., add to
and embellish) their existing notes. Luo et al. (2016)
assessed the value of note revision in Experiment 1 of
a two-experiment study. They played a 14-minute
audiotaped lesson delivered at a rate of 136 words
per minute for students, who were directed to record
notes throughout the lesson. Following the lesson,
students were either instructed to revise their notes or
to merely recopy them, as students often do.
Naturally, only those who revised added more lesson
ideas to their notes. Revisers mildly outperformed
note copiers on a fact test (3%) and a relationship test
In Experiment 2, the researchers assessed how best
to carry out revisions. A new group of students heard
the same lesson as those in Experiment 1, but this
time students revised either for 15 minutes at the
lesson’s end or during three 5-minute pauses spaced
throughout the lesson. In addition, students revised
either alone or with a partner. Overall, revising during
pauses with a partner produced more complete notes
and higher fact and relationship scores than revising
at the end of the lesson by oneself.
The researchers (Luo et al., 2016) contend that
revision works because students can use their
existing notes to retrieve other lesson ideas that they
had not previously recorded. Having recorded the
main idea that short-term memory is limited might
help a reviser later retrieve the detail that short-term
memory holds approximately seven bits of information
and the example of a phone number conforming to
short-term memory’s limitation. The researchers
contend that pauses work because students can
retrieve their potential revisions from memory with
less delay than if revision is saved until the end of the
lesson. Lesson pauses probably also offset fatigue.
And, the researchers contend, revising with partners
is effective because partners can share notes and
collaborate on revisions. Two heads are better than
Control Laptop Usage
Students’ use of laptop computers to record notes is
on the rise (Fried, 2008; Lauricella & Kay, 2010):
Approximately one third of college students take class
notes using laptops (Aguilar-Roca, Williams, &
O’Dowd, 2012). Although most students can type
more quickly than they can write (Brown, 1999; Karat
et al., 1999), is laptop note taking a superior
alternative to recording notes in longhand? As
described in the next section, students are often
distracted by their laptops and other digital devices
during class, because they check text messages and
surf Web sites unrelated to class topics.
Those problems aside, recent research (Luo, Kiewra,
Flanigan, & Peteranetz, in press; Mueller &
Oppenheimer, 2014) casts doubts on the viability of
laptop note taking. The study by Luo and colleagues
(2018) investigated the relative benefits of laptop
note taking versus longhand, when notes are
recorded and not reviewed (the process function of
note taking) and when notes are both recorded and
reviewed (the product function of note taking).
Students watched a 23-minute, narrated PowerPoint
lesson about educational measurement containing 23
slides with text and images. Achievement tests
assessed text-based and image-based learning. To
assess note taking’s process effect, half the laptop
and longhand note takers took achievement tests
right after the lesson, without the opportunity to
review. To assess note taking’s product effect,
remaining laptop and longhand note takers reviewed
notes for 15 minutes before taking the achievement
tests. Regarding note taking’s process function,
laptop and longhand note takers performed
comparably on the image-based test, but the laptop
group outscored the longhand group on the text-
based test. Regarding note taking’s product function,
the longhand group outscored the laptop group on
both the image-based and text-based tests.
Notes were analyzed as well and explained
achievement differences (Luo et al., in press). Laptop
and longhand note takers recorded equal amounts of
lesson ideas—about one third of lesson points—but
laptop notes were wordier than longhand notes and
contained more verbatim strings. This is a measure of
the degree to which students record lesson ideas
verbatim rather than paraphrase them. Verbatim note
taking is considered more superficial and less
meaningful than paraphrased note taking, and some
even call it mindless (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).
Longhand note takers, meanwhile, recorded images
such as graphs and tables, but laptop note takers
recorded none of these things, perhaps because of
the difficulty of capturing such images on a laptop.
The researchers (Luo et al., in press) concluded that
longhand note takers recorded higher quality notes
than laptop note takers: Notes were more efficient
and contained more paraphrasing and more images.
Recording notes of this quality had both a cost and a
benefit. The cost was the additional cognitive strain
during the lesson that somewhat hindered text-based
learning if notes were not reviewed (the process
function of note taking). The benefit was a superior
set of notes for review (the product function of note
taking) that, in turn, led to higher text-based and
image-based achievement than did the review of
laptop notes. And because the primary purpose of
note taking is to create a complete and effective set
of notes for review, the benefit was worth the price.
Instructors, by the way, might believe that they can
simply warn laptop note takers not to record verbatim
notes because of their ineffectiveness. Researchers
actually posed such warnings, but laptop note takers
recorded verbatim notes nonetheless (Mueller &
Oppenheimer, 2014). Instructors should make
students aware of the potential disadvantages of
laptop note taking as well as the following attention
Control “Cyber Slacking”
Cyber slacking is the unwarranted use of mobile
technology in the classroom for purposes other than
learning. Laptops and other mobile devices are
ubiquitous in college classrooms and prove
detrimental because they pull students off-task
(Flanigan, 2018), limit note taking (Kuznekoff &
Titsworth, 2013), and reduce achievement (McCoy,
2013, 2016; Dietz & Henrich, 2014). When Fried
(2008) asked students how they used their laptops
during class, 81% reported checking email, 43%
reported surfing the Web, 25% reported playing
games, and 35% reported other activities unrelated to
learning. More recent studies confirm that (a) 70% of
students send text messages via their phones during
class (Emanuel, 2013; Kornhauser, Paul, & Siedlecki,
2016); (b) students send or receive approximately 20
text messages per class period (Dietz & Henrich;
Pettijohn, Frazier, Rieser, Vaughn, & Hupp-Wildsde,
2015); (c) students spend more than half a typical
class period using laptops for nonclass purposes
(Ragan, Jennings, Massey, & Doolittle, 2014); and (d)
students do all this even though they are aware that
cyber slacking negatively impacts learning (Froese et
al., 2012; McCoy, 2016).
One study cleverly examined the effect of students’
mobile phone usage on note taking and achievement
(Kuznekoff & Titsworth, 2013). College students
assigned to one of three groups watched a 12-minute
video lecture about communication theories with
either no phone distractions (control group); low
distraction, where students received a text message
every 60 seconds; or high distraction, where students
received a text message every 30 seconds. Students
in the two distraction groups had to respond to the
texts when they occurred, and all students recorded
notes during the lecture and were tested following the
lecture. Results showed that text distractions lowered
note-taking quantity. Those in the control group
recorded 33% of lesson ideas, compared to 27% for
the low-distraction group and 20% for the high-
distraction group. Text distractions also lowered
achievement. The control group outscored the low-
distraction group by 7% and the high-distraction group
by 13% on a multiple-choice test and recalled
approximately 50% and 100% more lesson ideas than
those groups, respectively.
It is evident that students cyber slack in class and that
doing so diminishes attention, note taking, and
achievement. Some instructors, after observing
students using digital technology to send emails and
surf the Internet during class, have simply outlawed
digital devices in class and insisted on longhand note
taking (Fink, 2010). Flanigan and Kiewra (2018),
meanwhile, offer instructors a menu of classroom
strategies to minimize student cyber slacking, such as
incorporating active learning experiences in the
classroom, adopting and enforcing technology
policies, making students aware of cyber-slacking
temptations and consequences, incentivizing
students to relinquish mobile phones in the
classroom, and incorporating mobile technology in the
classroom as a teaching tool.
Use PowerPoint Slides Effectively
Lessons taught using PowerPoint slides can aid
student attention, note taking, and achievement. Frey
and Birnbaum (2002) examined student perceptions
of PowerPoint presentations and found that 69% of
students believed that such presentations held their
attention and 80% believed that printed PowerPoint
handouts helped them take notes. Positive note-
taking findings were confirmed in another study
(Susskind, 2005), where half the lectures were taught
in a traditional format and half were accompanied by
PowerPoint slides. Students who experienced both
formats reported that note taking was easier, more
extensive, and more organized for PowerPoint
lectures than for traditional lectures.
Instructors can raise student achievement by posting
PowerPoint slides in advance of class. Chen and Lin
(2008) tracked students’ behavior of downloading
PowerPoint slides before classes over one semester
and their performances on three examinations during
that semester. Downloading PowerPoint slides before
classes had a large and positive effect on exam
performance—even more than students’ class
attendance. Speaking of class attendance, be warned
that providing PowerPoint slides might decrease
students’ class attendance. Among surveyed
students, 75% agreed or strongly agreed that they
were less motivated to attend class when PowerPoint
slides were available (Gurrie & Fair, 2010).
When instructors provide students with PowerPoint
slides, they should provide space for note taking.
Students report that they learn better when they can
simultaneously view the PowerPoint lesson and take
notes (Gurrie & Fair, 2010). When providing note-
taking space, instructors should follow two guidelines.
First, the space should be ample; the more space that
is provided, the more notes students will record (Boye,
2012). Second, instructors should place the note-
taking space in close proximity to the related
information. According to Mayer’s spatial-contiguity
principle (2007), people learn more from a
multimedia lesson when corresponding printed words
and graphics are presented near, rather than far from,
each other on the page or screen. Spatial contiguity
helps students build associations between notes and
the corresponding information on slides.
Teach Note-Taking Skills
According to Kiewra (2009), a Grade-A teacher
presents information so effectively that students
cannot help but learn. To aid student note taking,
Teacher A might slow the lecture, provide pauses to
facilitate revision, insert lesson cues, provide partial
notes, and outlaw unnecessary mobile technology.
Although such teaching is certainly effective, it does
not necessarily teach students how to learn on their
own when they attend other classes. For that, Teacher
A+ is needed (Kiewra, 2009). Teacher A+ does all the
effective, nearly-guaranteed-student-learning things
that Teacher A does, but also something more.
Teacher A+ teaches students how to learn by
embedding strategy instruction into content
instruction. That is, as Teacher A+ teaches math or
science or history or art, he or she also teaches
lifelong strategies, such as those for note taking.
Kiewra believes that all instructors have the
opportunity if not the obligation to embed strategy
training in content instruction and teach students how
to learn. Let us see how Teacher A+ might embed
strategy training related to note taking.
Class, I noticed that many of you recorded
incomplete notes when I spoke last week
about creativity. Here is a set of complete
notes that I created for that lesson to model
good note taking. I numbered each lesson
point so that you can compare my notes with
yours to see how many lesson points you
omitted from your notes.
I’m not surprised that most of you recorded
about one third of the information compared
to the notes that I provided. Research shows
that most students record only one third of
important lesson ideas. That’s too bad,
because research also shows that the more
notes that students record, the higher their
Let me teach you a strategy that I call note
revision, which will make your notes more
complete. Soon after a lesson, reread your
notes and try to recall and record lesson
information missing from them. For example,
you noted that “adaptive creativity is the
ability to use past knowledge to solve
everyday problems”; that note might remind
you of related information not contained in
your notes, such as that adaptive creativity
takes 3 to 5 years to master, or the adaptive
creativity example of a homemaker preparing
dinner for uninvited guests. Record such
information in your revised notes to make
them as complete as possible. Here’s
another tip: When you revise notes, try to do
so with a partner, because that way you can
share recorded ideas and make revisions
together. Two heads are better than one.
Help Students Transform Notes and SOAR to Success
Recording a complete set of notes is not the ultimate
goal. As mentioned earlier, the primary value of note
taking lies in reviewing recorded notes. Unfortunately,
students often review their notes in shallow and
ineffective ways—studying one idea at a time in a
piecemeal fashion and employing redundant
strategies such as recopying and rehearsing notes
(Gubbels, 1999; Jairam & Kiewra, 2010; Van Meter et
al., 1994). It has long been known that these shallow
review activities do little to boost achievement
Just as instructors can facilitate the note-taking
process, they can facilitate note review by helping
students transform their notes in ways that help them
SOAR to success (see Kiewra, 2009). SOAR is an
acronym for the four critical aspects of learning:
select, organize, associate, and regulate. When
students record complete notes, they fulfill the select
aspect of SOAR: They select and record all the
important lesson information for further study.
Having a complete set of notes is advantageous, but
the form of most notes is not. Most notes are in linear
form—a series of sentences and lists that obscure
associations among lesson ideas. Whenever possible,
instructors should help students fulfill the organize
aspect of SOAR by providing them with or helping
them create graphic organizers, such as matrices,
that readily reveal lesson associations (Kiewra, 2012).
Figure 3 shows a set of matrix notes about the
psychology topic of reinforcement schedules.
Figure 3. Matrix notes for a lesson on reinforcement schedules.
Notice how easy this matrix makes it to identify
associations, SOAR’s third aspect; for example, (a)
Ratio schedules are based on numbers, whereas
interval schedules are based on time; (b) Ratio
schedules produce rapid responding, whereas interval
schedules produce slow responding; and (c) Fixed
schedules are easy to extinguish, whereas variable
schedules are difficult to extinguish.
SOAR’s fourth aspect, regulation, involves students
evaluating their own learning in advance of the actual
test (or other assessment). Instructors can aid
regulation by giving students retrieval practice
(Karpicke, 2012), such as the following questions for
reinforcement schedules: (a) Which schedule is
associated with slow and steady responding?;
(b) What is the result of extinction for a response
learned on a variable schedule?; and (c) Every time a
factory worker makes 5 widgets, she is paid $30.
What schedule is this?
SOAR strategies work. Students studying SOAR
materials that they helped create for a lesson on
wildcats learned 29% more facts and 63% more
associations than students using their own preferred
study methods (Jairam & Kiewra, 2010). Students
who created their own SOAR study materials for a
lesson on apes, following just 30 minutes of SOAR
training, learned 8% more facts and 31% more
associations than students who used their preferred
study methods (Daher & Kiewra, 2016).
Most students record notes, which is good, because
note taking serves both a process and product
function. The bad news is that most students record
only approximately one third of important lesson
ideas, leaving them with woefully incomplete notes for
review. Fortunately, there are several things
instructors can do to boost note taking. Instructional
strategies aimed at boosting note taking include
providing complete notes, partial notes, or note-taking
cues; re-presenting the lesson; providing pauses and
revision opportunities; controlling laptop usage and
cyber slacking; using PowerPoint slides effectively;
and teaching note-taking skills. In addition, the SOAR
strategy can help students transform their notes into
optimal review materials and SOAR to success. With
all these options available, instructors should be able
to vastly improve student note taking and review.
Kenneth A. Kiewra is professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He earned his PhD
in educational psychology and instructional design from Florida State University and was also on the faculty at
Kansas State University and Utah State University. Kiewra’s research pertains to teaching and learning. He has
investigated the SOAR teaching-and-study method, which he established, and world-class talent development. He is
the former director of the University of Nebraska’s Academic Success Center and the former editor of Educational
Psychology Review. His work and contact information are available on his Web site: https://cehs.unl.edu/kiewra/.
Tiphaine Colliot is a doctoral student of educational and cognitive psychology at Rennes 2 University in France. Her
research interests include learning strategies, graphic organizers, multimedia learning, and generation effects. She
holds a master’s degree in psychology from Rennes 2 University, France.
Junrong Lu is a doctoral student of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Her research
interests include learning strategies, creativity and talent development, and professional development in early
childhood education and STEM education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Beijing Normal
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