If you think that taking notes during college classes and lectures has gone the way of the dinosaurs, think again. Laptops and mobile devices are wonderful learning aids, but in a classroom where concentration and fact retention is important, they can be a major distraction. Increasingly, university professors ban the use of laptops and mobile devices during class, leaving you with no choice but to take pen in hand.

The good news about note taking, however, is that it enhances comprehension and increases knowledge retention. What’s more, if you work on your note taking technique, the benefits increase even more. Have you tried any of the following tips to improve your note taking?

Where to begin

If it’s been awhile since you wrote anything longer than a signature, you have to learn how to write again. You use different muscles when you type on a keyboard or mobile device. If you suddenly start writing in long streams, your hand and arm will likely protest in a most painful way. But first, you have to find the right pen. Shop around. Try holding several different widths and types and find one that feels comfortable. Purchase several so you can quickly transition to a new pen when necessary.

Don’t power grip the pen when you take notes. Hold the pen loosely between your thumb and index finger, using your middle finger as a stop. During long note-taking sessions, put the pen down and stretch your hand, fingers, and arm whenever possible to avoid muscle cramping.

Write in cursive. Cursive is faster than printing and is less muscle intensive. As an added benefit, the College Board, administrators of the SAT college entrance exam, recently announced that students who write the essay portion of the test in cursive score slightly higher than those who use print.

Perfect your technique for better notes

Now that you have the basics, you can work on increasing your skills and getting more out of the notes you take. Research indicates that the act of taking notes passively increases knowledge retention, but you can get more than passive benefits. Try these tips to increase comprehension and retention:

  • Learn to listen. You’ll never be able to take down every single word a professor says. You don’t have to. Take note of major points and pay attention to signal words the instructor uses such as “important,” “first,” and “priority.” Jot down main ideas and supporting details.
  • Write legibly and use your own form of shorthand. Abbreviations work well as long as you remember what they mean. Add a key to your note pages to indicate abbreviations and their meanings if you need to.
  • Write in short sentences and use your own words without changing the meaning.
  • Develop a consistent way of taking notes. For example, use the same abbreviations and forms of punctuation to provide consistency and meaning.
  • Review your notes within 24 hours and write a summary of all major points. Clarify and add information when needed. Reviewing your notes and writing summaries increases knowledge retention by as much as 50 percent.