With the start of the fall semester, it’s just about time to say goodbye to the days of gluing your eyes to your TV screen, and say hello to the mornings, afternoons, and evenings of gluing your eyes to your laptop screen to take notes in a panicked frenzy. I’m going to be straight with you right off the bat: You MUST take notes if you want to do well in class—no matter what class it is (yes, even the super easy ones). Ugh, I know, the truth isn’t pretty. And you may not always feel at your best when you’re sitting in class after not having slept the night before, or not having eaten breakfast or lunch. Fortunately, note-taking is no longer as gut-wrenching as watching your hand fall off from trying to scribble everything on paper as quickly as you can before the professor moves on to the next slide.
Over the years, I’ve toyed with so many different ways of taking notes in a variety of classes (math, economics, chemistry, bio, journalism, English—you name it). One of my earliest blog posts on my Tips For Good Note-taking did really well, and I recently received a request for this post, so I’m insanely excited to deliver on my promise and bring you the best ways for using Microsoft Office 365 Student (more specifically, OneNote) to up your note-taking game. My school gives us a free subscription to the software (thank you, thank you, thank you!), and I know most other colleges give students free access to different programs, so before you drop any money on new software, check with your school’s IT department. This post focuses mostly on how to get the most out of OneNote, since I found OneNote to have the most useful features for students in the Office 365 program, and I’m pretty sure OneNote has practically become the supreme ruler of college note-taking in recent years. So if you have Microsoft Office 365 Student or just OneNote, let’s get into the tips for using it to your note-taking advantage, shall we?
1. Record audio from the lecture using OneNote.
If you’re the type of person who prefers to listen to a lecture over and over again, this is insanely helpful for you. You can easily record audio for lecture using OneNote, so you’ll always have pieces of info you might’ve missed if you couldn’t type fast enough or if your mind just wasn’t in class at the time. For me, I had a class that was insanely long, and it was always at the end of a hectic day, so whenever I just felt drained I’d start recording audio (at the time it was on my phone) and I typed whatever notes I managed to catch, so I’d go back to the lecture recording when I felt better and I’d fill in all the blanks. It was super helpful and helped me avoid being social in class and trying to buddy up with someone to help me fill in the notes (we all have those moments, right?). Here’s how to access the audio recording tool:
Open up OneNote > Insert > Record Audio
2. Record a video of parts of the lecture that you can watch over and over.
Okay, I know the whole ‘can you video tape a lecture?’ thing is debatable, but I think there are some instances where recording a video during class is more beneficial than actually writing notes, and it can have a positive impact on your understanding of the material. If you’re sitting in a math class and you don’t understand how the professor solves a particular problem, taking a video of them actually going through the problem from start to finish can be a huge help, because you’ll be able to catch small things that you might not have caught if you were focused on copying from the board. You can access the record video feature the same way you access the record audio tool.
Word of caution: if you aren’t sure if you’re allowed to video tape anything in the class, ask your professor! Explain that you would use it solely for supplemental purposes, that way you won’t get in any possible trouble. It’s always super important to know your professor’s class policy, and simply checking your syllabus can give you info on that (By the way, I have a post on Everything You Should Do During Syllabus Week For A Better Semester).
3. Use OneNote to create “notebooks” for each of your classes.
This is more of an organization tip, but I believe that being properly organized is one really good step towards taking better notes in class. OneNote helps you create virtual notebooks where you can take notes and all that good stuff. It’s a cute idea because it helps you feel like you’re actually writing notes in one of those good, old composition notebooks. It’s way better than just opening up a new document and saving it at any random location on your computer—your desktop? Your documents? A recent folder you visited?—and then not being able to find it later when you need it.
4. Draw graphs and charts to supplement your notes.
Okay, one major disadvantage to using a laptop if you’re a visual learner (like me!) is that you can’t really draw out charts and doodles that the professor comes up with to help you learn the material. Thus, you have to either scramble for a piece of scrap paper in your backpack to catch the doodle, or snap a blurry photo on your phone, which you’ll probably forget about. You can actually DRAW things really quickly and easily using OneNote, so you’ll have your illustrations paired perfectly with your typed notes.
As you can see, I just quickly scrawled something relevant to my journalism classes to show you an example of how advantageous this tool is, but I know your drawings are going to be so much better than mine. 😉 This is super helpful if you like using your laptop for taking notes in, say, your chemistry class, but the charts always have you returning to pen and paper. Here’s how you can access the drawing tool:
Open up OneNote > Draw > Pen
(this is also where you can find the highlighter and eraser tools to color code portions of your drawing)
5. Instead of hyperlinking supplemental web pages, save them directly to OneNote.
This is actually a cool feature I recently learned about (even though it’s actually been out for a while) and HOLY WOW it is insanely useful! Hyperlinking websites the professor shows you during lecture is super useful because you’ll probably forget the site name if you don’t jot it down. But this tool does you one better…it basically clips the web page and places it right into your notes. So when you go over the lecture, instead of clicking on a link, you have the web page clip right there in front of you. Think of it as scrapbooking but for class notes. This one is a bit trickier to get right, so bear with me here:
Open up a web page you want to clip > File > Print > Send to OneNote
After you do this, it will send the web page to an “unfiled” or unlabeled section of OneNote, but to get around this, you can type in the name of a specific notebook or section for the page to be sent to.
6. Use Yammer to collaborate on notes.
Yammer is an app in Office 365 that allows you to join and create groups with other students where you can collaborate, ask questions, and share answers. It’s basically like Facebook but for Microsoft Office. Or, it’s like GroupMe but not on your phone. Use Yammer between your classmates as a way to share notes if someone misses something. Collaborating is an often-overlooked way to strengthen your notes, so don’t be shy!
I hope you found this post useful! I’ve definitely discovered more and more about OneNote over the years that have been helpful for taking notes in class. And, as always, if you want to see a specific post on Macarons & Mascara, hit me up! I love hearing from y’all and I want to make my posts as useful as possible. Email me at email@example.com, message me on Facebook, Instagram, or Tweet to me.
What are your insider tips for taking good notes in class?