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My experience with online note-taking

I went from paper to paperless notes, and here’s what I learned

After almost a full semester of using my new iPad and Apple Pencil to take notes, I am happy to say that the purchase was worth it.
After almost a full semester of using my new iPad and Apple Pencil to take notes, I am happy to say that the purchase was worth it.

I have always been the type of person to hand write my notes. Not only am I a fan of these handwritten notes, but I go the extra mile with color coordination, calligraphy and washi tape. Thus, online school proved particularly tricky for me. I found myself gradually typing them alongside lectures on my laptop instead of moving back and forth between my laptop and notebook. Since everything was online, I felt like my notes also had to be online in order to keep everything uniform — it also just felt a lot easier to do so. 

I quickly realized that I was not a fan of online notes. One of the main reasons I had always avoided taking notes online was the lack of personalization — that, and my struggles with technology. What do people title their notes with if not a bullet journal inspired banner?  Despite trying out different online formats to take notes on — Google Docs, Microsoft Word, OneNote and Simplenote — I was unsatisfied with my experience. 

As I was struggling with my note-taking in the virtual setting, I found myself trying to find alternate options on YouTube and Pinterest. There seemed to be an overwhelming amount of videos by college students who discuss how they take notes using an iPad and Apple Pencil. I had seen a few of my peers earlier in the year use this approach to take notes — one of them even annotated their microscope slides from lab using her Apple Pencil! The more videos I watched, the more intrigued I got. 

I ended up getting myself an iPad and Apple Pencil for my online note-taking. This was a decision that I came to after months of research and contemplation — it was no easy decision even after all that time given the hefty price of the items. I saved myself some money by purchasing the standard iPad model instead of splurging on one of the more advanced models such as an iPad Pro. Alongside my iPad and Apple Pencil, I ordered a screen protector that would mimic the feel of paper so I could truly mimic the feel of using pencil and paper. I also bought a cover for the Apple Pencil that had a grip to make the writing experience more authentic to that of a pencil or pen. 

After almost a full semester of using my new devices to take notes, I am happy to say that the purchase was worth it, and I am sure my bank account feels the same. Even in my first few days of using the device, I had my doubts. I did not think I could ever get the feel of pencil and paper — even with the screen protector I purchased. Along with this, I don’t think my handwriting has ever looked as bad as it did on my first few attempts of using the Apple Pencil. Luckily, that is no longer the case. I feel like sometimes my digital handwriting is nicer than my actual handwriting! 

Furthermore, it was all a little overwhelming at first. One of the biggest struggles I had was deciding which app to use to take notes. There were two main ones I kept hearing about when I was researching — GoodNotes and Notability. On a whim, I decided to download GoodNotes. Let me tell you, that app has been an absolute lifesaver. Besides taking notes on it, you can also upload documents, slideshows and images to write over. As I am listening to a lecture, I often take notes by writing on the professor’s uploaded PowerPoint. I have also used this feature to complete homework assignments and then upload them onto Collab. 

As a nursing student, this has been extremely helpful. As aforementioned, the annotation feature on photos is truly a godsend. For different models and diagrams, I am able to manipulate the images in a way that I would not be able to do so on paper. Furthermore, it is much easier to have the information alongside or even on the images I need to reference so frequently throughout my studies. 

Alongside using the iPad and Apple Pencil for school, I have utilized the two devices to express some creativity. I downloaded various coloring book apps in an attempt to destress from the taxing semester. I have also purchased the app Procreate in which I can create digital drawings and animations. A few of my friends have received printed out versions of the drawings I have done, and they are just as impressed as I am with my ability to draw using the Apple Pencil. 

A few months ago, I would have laughed off the notion of taking notes online. Now, I am happily embracing the creative freedom and ease of doing so. It is truly remarkable to see just how much you can do with one simple feature — whether that be the lasso tool or various annotation features. If you are on the fence about trying to take notes online, I highly encourage you to give it a try — there are a multitude of devices and programs available that can cater to your preferences. Despite my earlier mindset, I can now say without doubt that online note-taking is a magical experience. 

Zoya Zahid is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at