How I Take Notes For Lectures and Tutorials

[This is #7 of Back To School Series: How I take notes for class]

If you have followed me on my Tumblr blog, you would probably know that I love finding ways to take notes. Taking notes is indeed a great way to prepare for exams. Prior to having Students Toolbox, I have been posting some pictures and tutorials on how I take notes, and while I still use many of those methods, I have also developed some new ways and note-taking routines since then. If you are interested in how I take notes or some ways to take notes effectively, you may click the following links to my previous posts, and read this article which I will talk about the updated version of how I take notes for classes, lectures, and tutorials.

Some of my previous posts on how I take notes:


Before: How I Take Notes on OneNote

I have been using OneNote for such a long time, and it is still my favourite tool for note-taking. And here is how I have always used OneNote.

  • I have been loving to use the Outline method and Cornell Method for note-taking one OneNote (as shown in the image below).
  • I also like highlighting my notes according to my own color-coding system.
  • When I am in lecture or tutorial, I record my notes using OneNote as well. The recorded audio also syncs with the notes you typed, so when you are not sure about a certain part, you can click on the play button next to that particular bullet point and the OneNote will play the audio from the moment when you type that certain point.
  • If I was given lecture slides before the class, I would copy and paste the outline of the PowerPoint to OneNote. In that case, I can add notes to the outline on OneNote.

The Problem of Taking Notes from OneNote

However, as this academic year starts, I realized that some changes have to be made. While OneNote is an amazing tool to take notes, it does have its downsides:

  • Printing notes from OneNote will mess up its format unless you print them by accessing to your notes on OneDrive. If you are a person who needs to study from physical notes, OneNote may not be the best for you.
  • Copying and pasting the outline from PowerPoint to OneNote may be a hassle and take up quite a lot of time, considering time may be needed for formatting, changing the fonts and things like that.


Now: How I Take Notes on Preview/PDF documents

While I still use OneNote for organizing my study tasks and recording lectures, I now mostly use Preview to take my class notes whenever I am giving a lecture handout or slides. On top of preview, I have also used the following apps:

  • Google Drive
  • Document (+ PDF Expert 5)

First of all, I save all of my documents, notes, and slides on Google Drive. This allows me to easily access to everything wherever I am. This is incredibly helpful especially when you have left your laptop at home (so you can use your school’s computer and have access to the documents), or when you have multiple devices.

Now, as I use Preview, I mainly use textboxes, arrows and highlighting for annotating my notes. Sometimes there will be questions on the outline, and I would prepare for the lecture beforehand. To note down the answer I have in mind before class, I would use the memo function to add things. This would allow me to differentiate between notes taken in class and notes taken during preparation. Here is a sample of my notes on Preview.

how to take notes on Preview
Notes I have taken for my land law lecture.
As seen, the lecture outline was given by my lecturer, and I use blue as the color for all the notes I have taken during class. Notes taken before class is in the memo box.

how to take notes on preview for powerpoint slides
I do the same for PowerPoint slides given beforehand.

Syncing notes and annotations between iPad and your laptop

One good thing about using Google Drive and preview is that, once you have saved the annotation on Preview, it directly syncs on Google Drive, and you can see the changes on other devices immediately. I usually like having my iPad beside me during lecture. Just in case if I have to draw certain charts or diagrams (that won’t be easy to do on a laptop), I would quickly get my stylus and iPad, and annotate my notes on Document on iPad.

One great function that Document has is the Synced folders function. In other words, once I have connected my Google Drive and set certain folders to be in sync, everything in the folder will sync directly. Thus, it will update every amendment made on a laptop, and on Documents on iPad immediately. So once I have drawn something on my notes, and I click close, the drawings will appear on my notes on the laptop. This makes the note-taking process during class much easier.

Another great thing about having an iPad and the synced folder is that you can easily review and preview your most updated notes on-the-go, or even annotating them while you have a bit of free time but you don’t want to take out your notebook. This can also be done in the mornings while you are having breakfast!


How I Take Notes By Hand

If, however, I have the physical handout during class, I would take notes on the handouts directly instead (provided that there should not be a lot of content to take notes). I use similar methods as shown in the previous paragraphs regarding how I use Preview for note-taking.

On top of that, I also have a notebook for general note-taking. While there are five sections on the notebook, one of them is specifically for note-taking in class. This is for classes that do not have lecture slides or handouts given before hand. If this is the case, I just use the outline method and the highlighting system I have.

I prefer using notebook over OneNote just because:

  • Writing makes it easier for me to concentrate
  • It gives me greater flexibility.
  • It forces me to analyze everything I have written down rather than just typing exactly what the lecturer says.
handwritten notes for political philosophy class
My handwritten notes for a political philosophy class

Want To Read More?

Here are some more posts on note-taking you will love!

This is my updated version of How I Take Notes during class!

You could even host your website and log all your own notes. This helps keep them safe and sound in the future. No more losing your notebook or being totally unable to understand what you scribbled down in class.


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