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Five Ways to Make the Most of Your Laptop as a Student

A growing body of evidence indicates that using devices, including laptops, tablets, and phones, during class may lead to everything from bad note-taking to poor test performance -- not just for you, but for the other people around you. Read on for a roundup of tips aimed at helping you maximize productivity with your laptop.

Oct 2, 2023
  • Education
  • Student Tips
Five Ways to Make the Most of Your Laptop as a Student

1. Learn how to take notes effectively

Much of the criticism of laptops in the classroom pertains to note-taking. While most people assume that laptops are better because they are faster, this is not necessarily the case.

Psychology PhD Pam A. Mueller told NPR of the findings of a study comparing note-taking by hand versus note-taking by computer, "When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can. The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can't write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them."

While returning to taking notes by hand may be the simplest fix, people and their devices are inextricably intertwined in society today. This does not mean you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of inferior notes. Rather, there are some things you can do to raise your electronic note-taking game, including engaging with your notes by “chunking", transcribing key concepts into your own words, adding questions to prompt recap, and summarizing the notes in your own words.

2. Avoid installing distracting programs

Multitasking is another major problem associated with laptop use in the classroom. While we often think of the ability to multitask as a good quality, the reality is that multitasking actually inhibits productivity.

Removing obviously distracting programs like games and music is just the start. Also turn off all push notifications so you are not being distracted by emails, tweets, direction messages, Facebook likes, and so on. Doing so will allow you to focus on the task at hand, and will also help you avoid annoying or distracting your classmates.

3. Use it to communicate with your teachers and classmates

Before the digital age, the only line of communication between college students and professors was face to face. However, this was not always practical or possible. Whether you’re asking for clarification on an assignment or requesting a meeting to discuss a concern, laptops and other devices make communicating with professors easier than ever.

Additionally, many college classes now use Google Hangouts and other online communication platforms. Using these can help you engage with your professors and classmates, as well.

4. Clean up and organize your desktop

We all know that organization is essential to college success. And yet many students overlook an important factor: Keeping their laptops cleaned and organized. While a messy desktop can confuse you and slow you down, a clean desktop can boost both speed and access. This is also a good opportunity to download any helpful apps, such as leading note-taking app Evernote.

5. Consider keeping your laptop out of the classroom

Not all students use laptops the same way. Learning how to use yours to your advantage is important. Despite your best efforts, however, you might still determine that your laptop is doing more harm than good. In that case, returning to good old-fashioned pen and paper in the classroom may be your best bet. (And, of course, you can still continue to take advantage of all of the benefits of your laptop outside of the classroom.) While you may feel like a luddite for going this route, know that this decision is actually backed by the latest scientific research.

Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.