What Do We Know About The Benefits?
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication
on note-taking has generated debates since C. C. Crawford began his studies in
the 1920s. Initially the debates centered on whether note-taking resulted in improved
student performance on tests. Over the years, researchers have tried to verify
that note-taking helps students "encode" the information involved and
that notes are valuable as materials for review (Ladas, 1980).
research findings on whether note-taking promotes encoding have been mixed. Hult
et al. (1984), for example, found that note-taking does involve semantic encoding;
but Henk and Stahl (1985) found that the process of taking notes in itself does
little to enhance recall. They found, however, that reviewing notes clearly results
in superior recall. Their conclusions were dramatically different from those of
Barnett et al. (1981), who found "strong support" for the encoding function
of note-taking but not for the value of using notes to review material.
Note-Taking Promote Encoding?
1925, Crawford published a study which sought to verify his observation that there
is a positive correlation between analyses of college students' lecture notes
and their grades on subsequent quizzes. He concluded that taking notes was better
than not taking notes, that reviewing notes was a key to their impact, and that
organizing notes effectively contributes to improved performance on tests.
a lull in note-taking research, Ash and Carlton (1953) worked with instructional
films and concluded that films lacking necessary pauses and repetitions led to
note-taking attempts which actually interfered with listening comprehension and
learning. McClendon (1958) used taped lectures and concluded that note-taking
doesn't interfere with listening, that no particular note-taking method is best,
and that students might as well record as much as possible during note-taking.
1970, Howe concluded that students were seven times more likely to recall information
one week after it was presented if the information had been recorded in their
notes. Howe argued that "the activity of note writing per se makes a contribution
to later retention..." (p. 63).
Vesta and Gray (1972) observed that "note taking* and rehearsal function
as learning aids which facilitate learning" (p. 134), while Fisher and Harris
(1974) found that students perform better when they are allowed "to encode
in the way that they prefer" (p. 386)--using notes or other strategies.
is growing evidence that note-taking combined with critical thinking facilitates
retention and applications of the information. Bretzing and Kulhary (1979) compared
note-taking that indicated in-process semantic processing (encoding) with verbatim
note-taking and found that subjects who took verbatim notes scored lower on comprehension
tests than those who processed information at a higher level while they took notes.
Einstein et al. (1985) found that successful college students engaged in greater
integrative processing during note-taking, and that note-taking itself "enhances
organizational processing of lecture information." (p. 522)
and Armbruster (1986) concluded that there is a benefit to students when the lecture
environment permits deep processing while taking notes. Denner (1986) describes
a method of using "episodic organizers"--a kind of semantic web or map--to
produce a positive encoding effect when seventh-grade subjects were reading complex
Reviewing Notes An Effective Learning Strategy?
importance of reviewing notes was mentioned briefly by Crawford in 1925. In 1973,
Fisher and Harris concluded that "note taking serves both an encoding function
and an external memory function reviewing, with the latter being the more important."
(p. 324) Kiewra (1983) found that reorganizing notes while reviewing led to higher
test achievement. The Cornell system of note-taking encourages this practice (King
et al., 1984).
a report on their study which allowed students to review their notes immediately
before a test, Carter and Van Matre (1975) argued that the benefit of note-taking
appeared to be derived from the review rather than from the act of note-taking
itself. They even went so far as to suggest that reviewing notes may actually
cue the student to reconstruct parts of the lecture not initially recorded in
the notes. An interesting study by Kiewra (1985) also endorsed the value of review--but
not of student notes. He suggested that "Teachers should be aware of students'
relatively incomplete note-taking behaviours, and therefore, encouraged to provide
learners with adequate notes for review." (p. 77; emphasis added)
Does The Research Suggest To The Teacher?
increasing number of sources try to synthesize the implications of research on
note-taking to benefit and advise educators (e.g., Kiewra, 1987). Much of the
synthesis relates directly to teacher/instructor presentation of material. Earlier
researchers had offered such suggestions: Ash and Carlton (1953) recommended that
students be supplied with prepared notes for pre-film and post-film study. Based
on his study of college students' notes, Locke (1977) suggested stressing the
importance of material that is not written on the board, announcing explicitly
the precise role that lectures play in the course, and combating student fatigue
by providing a rest break. (p. 98).
his underlining and note-taking research synthesis for students and teachers,
McAndrew (1983) suggested that instructors use a spaced lecture format, insert
verbal and nonverbal cues into lectures to highlight structure, write important
material on the blackboard, avoid information overload when using transparencies
or slides, tell students what type of test to expect, and use handouts that give
students room to add notes. Carrier and Titus (1981) asked teachers to devote
some class time exclusively to a review period before an exam--an emphasis like
that placed on reviewing by Carter and Van Matre (1975), who had also stressed
highly organized lectures.
Are The Current Research Interests?
research, along with educational research in general, has begun to concentrate
on the cognitive processes of individual learners (Kiewra and Frank, 1985). The
relevance of schema theory (Shaughnessy and Evans, 1986) and of metacognition
(Tomlinson, 1985) has been studied in recent years.
and Benton (1988) have been studying "the relationship between lecture note-taking
behaviors and academic ability by using more global measures of ability, such
as GPA and predictive achievement test scores. In addition, they have considered
a) scores on an information-processing ability test, b) analyses of notes taken
during a designated lecture, c) scores on a test based on a lecture, and d) scores
on a course exam covering several lectures. They concluded that the "amount
of note-taking is related to academic achievement" and the "ability
to hold and manipulate propositional knowledge in working memory is related to
the number of words, complex propositions, and main ideas recorded in notes."
while most note-taking research continues to measure the impact of note-taking
on recall as measured by tests, there is increasing emphasis on cognitive analyses
that may have more explicit instructional implications in the near future.
the years the term "note-taking" has been spelled several ways. Webster's
Third New International (1986) lists it only with a hyphen, but "notetaker"
as one word.
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publication was prepared (Digest #37, EDO-CS-88-12, December 1988) with funding
from the U.S. Department of Education under contract number RI88062001, and published
by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication.
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or
policies of Learn2study, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products,
or organizations imply endorsement by Learn2study.