How We Studied In The 1980s

by Erin Blakeley
Originally Published: 
A white "Trapper Keeper" logo on a blue surface from the 1980s

Finals season is underway, and across the country, our overworked adolescents are hitting the Google Chromebooks, spending their last few hours in pursuit of the perfect grade. But according to a new study, all the technology that kids use today might actually be impeding their learning—students who use pen and paper to take notes in class retain significantly more information than those who use a laptop. Which means when it comes to studying, we had it way better in the ’80s. We didn’t have Wi-Fi, Wikipedia or WhatsApp, but here’s what we did have:

We Kept Our Loose-Leaf Papers in a Trapper Keeper

It wasn’t just a notebook, it was your calling card. Everyone knew whose Trapper Keeper was whose. They came in bold primary colors, or in designs that could only have been conceived by the creators of Miami Vice—hot rod cars, neon hearts, palm trees. Perfection.

We Had Marathon Study Sessions—On the Phone

There was no GroupMe. But there was the one kid in your class who had a party line, which enabled three people to be on the call at once—and if you were smart, at least one of the people on the call knew something about quadratic equations.

We Took Over the Town Library

After we’d applied a double layer of Revlon’s Silver City Pink lipstick in the library bathroom, and rolled our eyes at the boys who were searching for naked pictures in back issues of National Geographic, we used our mad card-catalogue skills to find a research topic. Occasionally, someone got caught making out in the stacks. Either way, it was much more fun than Google.

We Passed Notes That Occasionally Contained Test Questions—and Answers

Was there any moment in your adolescence more triumphant than the successful delivery of a mid-class note? The path it took across the classroom, the trust involved as it moved from hand to hand … sure, most of the time, the notes only held the answers to burning questions like, “Do you think he likes me?” But occasionally they also contained answers to questions about the Thirty Years’ War, which was even better.

We Used Wite-Out by the Gallon

If it weren’t for Wite-Out, I would still be in ninth grade today, trying to write a clean copy of an essay about A Separate Peace because my teacher insisted we use a black felt-tip pen and would take off points for misspelled words.

We Studied Our Vocab Words While Watching Dirty Dancing

Or Santa Barbara. Or the MTV US Top 20 Video Countdown. Or reruns of What’s Happening!! We weren’t picky about what we watched, and no one cared about our screen time.

We Took Notes in Our Own Personal Style of Cursive

Once you got past your tyrant of a third-grade teacher who made you form each letter according to the wall chart above the blackboard, you were free to develop your own hybrid cursive style, which, if you’re anything like me, included dotting your i’s with hearts. It made jotting down notes on the Krebs Cycle somewhat more satisfying, even if your hand was cramping.

We Had an Overabundance of Specialized School Supplies

Index cards in two separate sizes. Highlighters. Dividers. Reinforcements. Erasable ink pens. Protractors. Staple removers. We singlehandedly kept CVS in business.

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