Is Taking Notes Multitasking?

At a presentation I recently gave in Atlanta to professionals who help students adjust to college, I was asked about taking notes during lecture. Some people recommend taking notes because it focuses your attention on extracting the main points.  Other people argue against it, saying that writing down notes interferes with listening to what the lecturer says next.  Both viewpoints are valid.  A good lecturer will pause or repeat or rephrase often enough for people to both listen and jot down the critical points.  Professors should be encouraged to keep this in mind when evaluating their lecture styles.

However, many professors won’t do this, so what’s the solution?  One approach is to take very sketchy notes so attention can be maintained to what the lecturer is saying—and to go back as soon as possible and fill in the blanks.

It’s not multitasking because you are focused on one goal.  But it is distracting because each activity—listening and writing—can interfere with the other. What’s right for a particular student depends on the professor, the topic, and the student’s ability to write quickly.  Keep these things in mind when deciding which works for you or for a particular student.

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