I haven’t done an updated blog post about my note-taking and the supplies I use in well over a year. Throughout each stage of my education – GCSE’s, A-Levels, University – I’ve tried something different! I think I’ve finally found what works well for me.
Note-Taking in Lectures
I’ve tried basically every way of note-taking in lectures. I’ve printed out the PowerPoint slides to annotate, but these just end up getting crumpled up and lost in my bag. I’ve tried just making rough notes in a notebook, but they don’t seem to make sense when reading back over them. I even spent the entire of my first year making digital notes on OneNote, which okay was amazing because I had extensive amounts of detail for each topic in one place, but.. it meant that I wasn’t really giving lectures my 100%, and didn’t really understand the content.
Before I started my second year at University, I decided it was a great idea to invest in an iPad. My friend used hers throughout the entire of first year, and was getting on really well with it. At first I wasn’t too keen on it as tbh I’m not the best with technology? So I had no idea what I was doing.
Using my iPad has been great though, it’s freed up so much space in my backpack and means I’m not lugging around loads of books or my laptop too. Each night I’ll download the lecture PowerPoints for the following day, and import them into the GoodNotes app (basically the best note-taking app) on my iPad so I’m ready to go. When typing my notes in first year I found that I was trying to type word-for-word what the lecturer was saying instead of focussing. Now I give the lecturer my 100% attention, and just jot down any extra notes next to the slide they’re referring to. This has meant that I’m actually understanding the concept in the lecture, instead of having to go home and watch the entire lecture all over again.
Oh, the great thing about GoodNotes is that you can create ‘notebooks’ so it’s kind of similar to OneNote in that aspect.
I’ll have a notebook for each module I take, and that means that I can easily retrieve any PowerPoints and extra annotations, and it means that they’re constantly being backed up and I can access them from anywhere! No more paper to be lost.
Note-Taking at Home
Some people might find it a waste of time that I take notes in the lectures, and then go home and.. rewrite my notes? I’m just doing what works for me!
This isn’t something I do every single day, but it’s something I try to stick to as much as possible to make my life a little easier and whilst the concept is fresh in my head. When I get home, I’ll read over the lectures that I’ve had for the day and see if there’s any extra reading to do. If there isn’t, I’ll simply find the concept in a textbook I have, or read a paper online so that I can really fit the pieces together and understand as much as possible.
For each topic I study, I aim to do one sheet of notes. For example, if we’re studying neurological disease I’ll do one sheet of notes for Alzheimer’s, one for Huntington’s, etc. I very rarely do more than one sheet because I aim to condense the information as much as possible so that when it comes to revision, it’s easy to understand.
I start off by picking a colour theme for that sheet of notes, and then drawing my title. When I did a news article with the BBC the most common ‘hate’ comment was that doing all of these things were such a waste of time, and that if I spent less time making my notes look ‘good’ I’d be more successful? I really don’t think that this is true though. If you flick through your binder of notes and they’re all just black and white (ok that works for a lot of people so I’m not coming at you here), you’re going to be less inclined to pick them out and look at them in oppose to if they were bright and colourful. Well, that’s what I think anyway.
I don’t do anything extravagant with my notes, just a nice heading, subheadings, and some colour! I always aim to use a different shade of colour to emphasise any keywords, and then highlight any key phrases or processes. It’s important to try and define any concepts which are key.
Supplies and Essentials
I’ve had my firm favourites I’ve used for note-taking since A-Level, and to be honest they haven’t really changed. You can find an extensive list of all the supplies I love to use by clicking here, it’s my Amazon storefront and is the easiest way to find the exact product that I use.
My go-to notebooks will forever be the Whitelines Notebooks.
The quality of them is amazing, there’s so many pages in a notebook and the lines are white. This means there’s no strain on your eyes, and no distractions! Perfect for note-taking. I switch between the A4 grid and A4 lined depending on how long a sheet of notes is going to be.
I’ve tried so many different pens, but I always come back to the same ones for how they make my notes look, the Staedtler fineliners. They’re affordable, easy to get your hands on and last a long time! I still have some from when I was studying A-Levels and they’re still going strong.
They come in so many different colours and just have consistent results when you use them, they don’t smudge and they highlight really well!
I think everyone knows this by now, but I’ve been loving playing around with brush lettering lately. I started out by trying the Tombow Brush Pens but I couldn’t get the hang of them as I found they were just a bit too long and uncomfortable to hold. I then discovered that my favourite highlighters, the Zebra Mildliners, actually come in a brush pen version.
They’re honestly the best thing ever, and everyone I’ve recommended them to has loved them. They’re so easy to use, the nib is flexible, they’re comfortable and the colours are the exact same as the highlighter version so they’re great to incorporate into your notes. These will also last you soo long, the highlighters are such a great investment and will last years. They’re my go to and I can’t imagine using any other!
These are pretty much all the resources I use for note-taking, apart from random sticky notes, pencils, rulers, etc. but they’re just the basics you can get anywhere.
It’s important not to be scared to try a new method when you’re progressing throughout your education. I was so hesitant about moving away from writing notes in lectures with just pen and paper as I have done throughout most of my education, and going back to writing my handwritten notes from being completely digital, but it works for me!