Study Tool and Tech Review

By Shawn Lee, Hollie Chappell and Vanessa Ku.

COVID-19 made me do it – because classes and groupwork went online, my notes and studying methods turned digital too. In this day and age, there are plenty of note-taking applications and technology that can speed up the note-taking process and transform your productivity. 

Hello everyone! I’m Shawn, a final year student in English Language and Media. I’m currently an intern helping out with the Applied Linguistics blog and social media channels. As an avid digital notetaker and typical university student who watches too many YouTube reviews of study tech and tools, I have invited my classmates, Hollie and Vanessa to join me in writing this collaborative blog to introduce our respective study tools and tech. Three of us have tried and tested varied techniques and softwares in the past three years of undergraduate life. It should be safe to say that we have now found one (or a few) that suits us best.  

I will break up this article into two segments: 

  1. How do we take our notes?
  2. How do we structure our lecture & reading notes?

How do we take our notes?

Hollie: Hello everyone, my name is Hollie and I am a third-year English Language and TESOL student. With regards to my main note-taking medium, I recently invested in a Supernote e-notebook. The Supernote is an electronic notebook that I write with using a pen with a ceramic nib. The reason why I invested in this tool stemmed from the desire for the cognitive advantages of hand-writing my notes compared to typing them up. I had previously been typing them up and I felt that I needed a change.

With the Supernote, I have the cognitive advantage of hand-writing my notes without the fuss and clutter of paper notebooks. Additionally, the Supernote only has to be charged once a week and does not rely on WIFI to work. Therefore, the investment of money was worth it for this device as I could see myself using it for years, including after my degree. I recognise that not everyone has the means to invest in such a product and I am in a privileged position to have one. I have spent the last two and a half years of my degree just using a laptop so this is by no means an essential product to buy! 

Shawn: My current favourite note-taking method is using the old-school method, the pen and paper.  

My trustworthy notebooks.

In the last two years, I’ve tried most of the recommended note-taking apps: Evernote, OneNote, Notion, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Apple Notes. The app I liked most before switching back to paper was Notion

On Notion, I could easily organize my notes by arranging them according to the week, days, subjects, importance and many more. Notion made it easy for your notes to look aesthetically pleasing as well – which is of course important for me to maintain my motivation to study. 

I loved it so much that I made my own tutorial for using Notion. 

I gradually stopped using Notion because I realized that I often did a ‘verbatim transcription’ of my lectures – converting the entire lecture to text. This was not helpful because my brain would just shut down and I wouldn’t remember a single thing I typed or learned. 

Ever since switching back to manual note-taking, I’ve been forced to listen attentively and be intentional in writing my notes. There was no convenience of erasing or creating a new page whenever I wanted so this encourages me to be very focused in class, if I want to produce neat and meaningful notes of the lecture. 

Van: During lectures, I usually use OneNote to take notes on my laptop. I prefer typing over handwriting during lectures because it allows me to take notes faster and taking in as much as possible while my lecturer speaks. I would then rearrange my notes while referring to the lecture slides when I get home to revise later, which also allows me to revisit the lectures again. I also find OneNote a good place to categorize and store my notes from different modules in one place altogether. 

Vanessa’s notes on OneNote

How do we structure our lecture & reading notes?

Hollie: When writing my lecture notes, I have a notebook for each of my modules on my Supernote where all my notes live. Each week, I use a title function to divide the notebook. Then I write up my notes and the preparation work I have done for the module that week (this includes video notes, activities, reading notes, and general thoughts). Within the lecture, I use sub-headings to divide my notes, with the use of one sub-heading per topic. The Supernote also has a keyword function which I use to input keywords that are important for each topic. This allows me to navigate each notebook quickly and easily because I can search for the keyword I need anywhere in my notebook. 

I also use my Supernote for reading the chapters and textbooks that my lecturers set me. I can sync PDFs to my Supernote where I digitally highlight and annotate them. I am a big highlighter and enjoy making little summaries for myself in the margins of the reading. This allows me to use the information and write it in my own words so I understand it better. Once I have completed the reading, I will make a note in the module notebook on my Supernote of the main ideas of the reading so I can easily access it in lectures. 

Shawn: I only do handwritten notes for lectures. I have a notebook for each module. So, that’s 3 physical notebooks for 3 modules. This is how I do my weekly readings: (1) read once & highlight/ annotate using iPad (2) read again and take notes on OneNote. 

I enjoy reading using the iPad because I can highlight and annotate digitally – easing the process of writing and erasing whenever I want. This helps to speed up the first round of reading. After reading it once, I will AirDrop it to my MacBook and try to summarize them. It is in my second or third reading where I’ll understand the text better – so it’s important that I do read it a few times. 

My reading notes are currently typed out in OneNote. With OneNote’s function of having a ‘page without borders’, I put down all my notes in one page and highlight the keywords so I see the similar themes in differing chapters. This is my strategy which will come handy later during the assignment writing process. 

Shawn: I also made a YouTube video that touched on my first year notes in OneNote! You can skip right to 1:18 where I start talking about my digital notebooks! 

Van: On other times when I do self-studying or readings, I prefer using Notablility on my iPad. I would download my readings onto my iPad so that I could annotate and take notes on it. I usually highlight and annotate my readings first, then write a summarized note on it with Notability. I find annotating and taking notes on my iPad convenient and fun as I get to use different colours on my notes, undo whenever I want, and even drawing or pasting figures for better understanding. With a summarized notes on what I have read, it is easier for me to follow along during lectures and I also find them useful when I do my assignments. 

If you’ve been looking into some of the methods that we’ve mentioned, I hope this collaborative blog has been somewhat helpful! Big thanks to Vanessa and Hollie who have taken the time to share their perspectives and study techniques. It’s always encouraging to hear that different people will enjoy the applications very differently, so I hope you’ll be able to find the best productivity tool for yourself!