It’s been said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but is the pen mightier than the smartphone? In your parents’ days at college, notes were taken by hand. A pen and paper with hands furiously scooting back and forth across a smudged note surface – that’s how students passed or failed their college courses.


Now in the digital age, note taking is something that can be a lot more tech-savvy. If you’re a fan of the old pen and paper method, so be it…but have you considered that digital notes may be of more help to you?


The problem with pen and paper notetaking was that you had to have a quick hand and the summary skills of a true champion to absorb and utilize notes during a professor’s lecture. Now with the speed of typing and digital note-taking methods, absorbing and recording an entire lecture can be as easy as turning your phone’s record function on.


Still, there is finesse to taking digital notes. If you’re typing out your notes or using a program to do so, you still have the responsibility to take notes that are worthwhile to you. Your computer or smartphone might be helping you take down the information, but you’re the one putting it there.


First, Find a Great Method

In the olden days, you either took notes by simply listening, writing them down, or (if you were really fancy and wealthy) recording them. Now you have these options available to you, as well as an arsenal of digital ones. From typing applications to note-taking programs, the world is truly at your fingertips.


Some students prefer the good ol’ Word method – opening a .DOC and letting their fingers fly. Some writing alternatives include OpenOffice (for budgeting students) and ZenWriter (a writing program that allows for total focus and peaceful music).


If you’re looking for an app, there’s no need to list many – simply open your app store and type in “notes” or “studying.” You’ll find hundreds of free and paid for applications that you can use to start getting your note-taking game where it needs to be.


Tried and True Note-Taking Skills

Next, it’s time to revisit the basics. You’ll find that most old-fashioned note-taking skills will still help you out when it comes to taking digital notes with only minor adjustments.


  • First, be considerate of others when typing your notes. Sometimes the loud keysmashes can disturb those around you. If you’re going to type out your notes, sit in the back of the classroom so you’re unlikely to disturb others.
  • Learn to summarize, and learn to summarize well. Note-taking is about striking a balance between the important facts you need to memorize and the general idea that helps you recall the more important details. If possible, make two note taking columns. In one, put free form ideas about what you’re discussing (9/11, The Patriot Act, American Safety and Reaction) and in the other put more concrete dates and figures that you’re likely to need to recall again (September 11, 2001.)
  • Get familiar with your note-taking program before your first day of school, if possible. This way you’re not using an unhelpful method of taking notes for half a semester before giving up, effectively wasting your time and hindering your education.
  • Find a note-taking method that lets you highlight super important pieces of information. While all the info you write down should be valuable, consider that your notes have a hierarchy – extremely important information, important information and general ideas.
  • Don’t be scared to ask to look at a friend’s notes, even if you took your own. Sometimes they pick up on something you miss out on that could be vital to making the best grade possible.