TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, March 19, 2018

Law Students Who Handwrite Their Notes Outperform Laptop Users

Colleen P. Murphy (Roger Williams), CJ Ryan (Vanderbilt) & Yajni Warnapala (Roger Williams), Note-Taking Mode and Academic Performance in Two Law School Courses:

The use of laptops in law school classrooms has become fairly commonplace, especially in the last decade. Yet, studies in other higher education settings have found an association between note-taking mode and academic performance; specifically, using a laptop to take notes in the classroom is associated with negative academic performance outcomes.

This study endeavors to assess the relationship between note-taking mode and academic performance in the law school setting. We compare the academic performance of handwriters to laptop users in two required, doctrinal courses as well as the effect of a randomly assigned treatment, exposing roughly half of the students in our analysis to a memorandum explaining the possible pitfalls of using a laptop to take class notes. We find that handwriting class notes has a strong positive association with academic performance in these two law school courses, supporting findings of the benefits of handwriting class notes in other academic settings.

Table 4B

Our findings that second-year law students who handwrote their notes outperformed laptop users is consistent with the results of studies in other higher education settings. This study meaningfully contributes to the ongoing discussion about whether computer usage in the higher education classroom might be hindering academic performance, and in particular, performance on essay exams requiring conceptual applications. Future studies on note-taking mode and academic performance in the law school setting, with larger sample sizes covering multiple semesters, would be illuminating, not only to test the generalizability of our results but to challenge the trend of laptop use in the law school context.

Legal Education | Permalink


They failed to control for one of the most obvious problems which makes their research much less useful. They forgot to control for distraction in class. Note takers are not able to surf the internet or play games and are left to mostly doodling as a distraction from class. It would be interesting to see if these differences disappeared if laptop users and note takers were both prevented from engaging in distracted behavior. Without such a control, we cannot tell if laptops are the problem or laptops just facilitate distractions.

Posted by: acauthorn | Mar 19, 2018 9:05:32 AM

Because can't surf net with a pad and pencil.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Mar 19, 2018 1:22:50 PM

The UCLA Princeton study did control for distraction based on blocking internet access.

Posted by: Tracey Roberts | Mar 20, 2018 3:23:27 AM