In many lectures I heard, I basically copied the lecture notes of the professor from the board into my notebook (I study mathematics). For me those lectures are comparable with going into the library, taking a textbook and making a handwritten copy from it.

The question I asked myself today: Is there a study investigating what is more effective? Going to lectures where I copy the professor's lecture notes from the board or making a handwritten copy from the lecture notes by myself?

(I assume here that the lecture notes are available, e.g. from the lecture's homepage)

On the one hand the professor might give additional comments in the lecture. On the other hand one can take the time he needs to understand a complicated paragraph when he works by himself and is not in the lecture. One also can skip easily understandable parts when he works by himself...


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    $\begingroup$ It really depends on how you personally absorb material. $\endgroup$ – rch Dec 14 '14 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ @rch This question asks for a reference to a study, which might say something like "In population X, N% of students learned better from a lecture while M% learned better from written materials." It's not asking about how the OP learns better. $\endgroup$ – ff524 Dec 14 '14 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ You need first to determine is how closely the lecture reflects the required reading. If it does, you can concentrate more on trying to make sense out of what the professor is doing rather than duplicate your reading. I am trained as an engineer and I can tell you that during a typical week, we would be required to read two chapters a wee for each course and each chapter would comprise 150-200 equations. The trick for us was to locate the two or so equations in each chapter that mattered, because all other equations were derived from them. If we understood how they were derived, we were done $\endgroup$ – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 14 '14 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that asking about the existence of such a study is going to help you if you are asking the question with the goal of being a better student. If you are asking about the existence of such a study because that's your assignment - well, that's a different animal. I could tell you that you take better notes and less notes if what's going on makes sense to you, but you probably already know that. $\endgroup$ – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 14 '14 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think this is off-topic here, so I'm not suggesting that you have to migrate this; but I think that this question might get better answers on Psychology & Neuroscience. If you want me to move it there, let me know (don't cross-post it, as that's against SE policy). $\endgroup$ – ff524 Dec 15 '14 at 1:15

The primary value of taking notes by hand is not the record that you create, but that the act of taking notes causes your brain to engage more deeply with the material. You might never look at your notes again, but taking them has a strong positive effect on your ability to understand and remember the material that you are taking the notes about.

As such, you could potentially get similar value not by copying but by summarizing a text by hand. Taking notes in lecture gives at least one additional benefit: it provides a focused block of time in which distractions are less available to you. With a good lecturer, you get a second benefit: a lecturer is often much better than a text at directing your attention to the most important concepts in material.

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    $\begingroup$ The question is looking for a study about note-taking during a lecture vs note-taking from a written text, which this doesn't seem to address. $\endgroup$ – ff524 Dec 14 '14 at 23:32

A related question is whether taking notes by hand or by typing is more effective. Mueller & Oppenheimer (2014) found that taking notes by hand is more effective, and claim that this is because taking notes on a laptop results in shallow processing of the material.

I suspect that the most effective strategy in this case is to print out the slides beforehand, and use the margins to summarize and re-phrase things in your own words. Copying the slides verbatim when they are already available online is probably not a good use of your time.


I have studied in the two universities (have two diplomas). In the first university I studied, lots of attention was given for the lecture material, basically assuming that only facts, formulas and diagrams communicated during the lecture should be asked during the exam. Lecture notes contained exactly the needed material to prepare for the exam. Attending lectures and taking notes was vital.

In my second university, however, the emphasis was placed on learning to find and understand the needed material self-dependently. In addition, the lecture slides used to be published in the university website. Taking notes looked largely useless and even the need of attending all lectures looked questionable.

Hence depends on the general culture and style of the university, and you are out of luck if you misinterpret. I am not sure which approach is better, both can teach high level. The first approach gives more exactly knowledge. The second approach gives less for the same amount of student effort, but adds skills of the self-dependent work. Best would be to know the style before applying for studies.


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