During my first year in college, I discovered – among many other things – an amazing app called Evernote.
It would only be slightly hyperbolic to say that Evernote is my second brain. Sure, it’s lacking in neurons and glia – but more than any other app or system, Evernote serves as an ultimate repository for information I want to remember.
Evernote is almost always open on my computer, and it’s a frequently visited app on my phone as well. I use it for everything – brainstorming and writing new articles, developing questions for podcast guests, keeping software licenses, tracking lists of Magic cards, etc.
In school, Evernote was just as indispensable as it is now – and today I’m going to show you six ways I used it to make my classes easier.
1. Take Fast, Organized Notes on Your Laptop
The paper vs. laptop debate has raged on for years, and will probably never stop as long as paper still exists…
…but when all paper notebooks are engulfed in flames someday, while my notes are in the cloud with triple-redundant backups on servers in Argentina, the moon, and 8721 AMOS (possibly my favorite asteroid, but I’m pretty fickle with my minor celestial body favoritism), I will have the last laugh.
In all seriousness, though, taking notes was the main use I had for Evernote while in school. Since I can type a lot faster than I can write, I was able to take detailed, high-quality notes on my laptop in the classes where I actually cared to take them.
Getting good at the keyboard shortcuts (here’s a giant list of them) means you can quickly created nested lists, bold or italicize key terms, and structure your notes easily on the fly. It also means that your notes stay nice and legible for the entire duration of your class. I don’t know about you, but when I hand-write my notes, they tend to degrade in quality over time.
Keeping your notes in Evernote will also help you keep them much more organized and searchable. If you just take notes in Word or another text editor, you end up with either one obnoxiously long note for your entire class, or a bunch of unwieldy files that have to be named and organized manually.
Aside: Since there are still lots of files you’ll have to organize outside of Evernote, take some time to learn how to organize them the right way.
On the other hand, keeping organized in Evernote is as easy as making a notebook for each course, and then creating a new note for each day in class inside that notebook.
2. Link To and Pull In Outside Data as You Take Notes
Sometimes your teacher will present a concept in class, but they won’t give you quite as much detail as you’d like during the actual lecture. I remember this happening a lot in my finance class, where I’d often need to go over concepts more slowly to fully understand them at first.
If you’re taking notes on paper, you can star these concepts or make side-notes like “Research more on this later”.
However, if you’re taking notes in Evernote, you can easily hop over to your browser, Google the concept, and then create a hyperlink to whatever you find right inside your notes.
My information systems notes are full of these kinds of links, and they definitely helped when I would get home and review the notes I’d taken in class.
3. Scan Your Paper Notes and Make Them Searchable
I know that some people are die-hards for the old-fashioned and will never let go of paper notes. I also realize that some classes don’t easily lend themselves to notes taken on a keyboard – math notes being a prime example.
When I took my statistics class, I actually took all my notes on paper. The speed boost of a keyboard is kind of trashed when you have to write down lots of complex symbols that don’t fit well on single lines. So really, I get you.
Also, Evernote has you covered as well. By simply taking a picture of your notes with your phone, you can gain all the organizational benefits Evernote offers for your paper notes as well. As someone who took paper notes in a few classes and laptop notes in others, I definitely appreciated being able to have them all in one organized place.
Of course, this lets you do all the basics with your paper notes – tag them, date them, link to research materials, etc.
But there’s one huge benefit that goes beyond those basic capabilities. Evernote actually makes your handwriting searchable.
This is mind-bogglingly helpful when you’ve got 60 pages of notes at the end of a semester and you’re trying to study for a cumulative final.
Need to find your notes about a specific vocab term? Just type it into that top bar. No more flipping though your notebooks looking for that one page with the Spider-man drawing and the formula for Bayes’ Theorem on it.
4. Create Brain-Dumps Before Writing Papers
I recently got an email from a student, who said his biggest challenge as a student is:
“Procrastination, especially when writing essays.“
He’s not the first to say it, and he won’t be the last. The truth is, writing papers can really suck. They’re especially awful when they’re assigned in class and have a page-count goal; however, even as a full-time writer, I often get stuck and procrastinate when trying to finish my own articles.
The big problem is that we self-censor when writing. If you’re not in the “flow state”, then writing can be a painful exercise that basically goes like this:
- Type a few words
- Decide they’re crap; delete them
- Repeat until you decide to go watch Adventure Time
When I sit down to a blank page and simply try to write an article from scratch, I often have this problem. It’s just hard to avoid self-censoring.
That’s why I do a brain-dump in Evernote for each article I write – before I actually write it.
Essentially, I’ll just create a new note with a tentative title for an article idea I have in my Blog Posts notebook. Then I’ll just dump all my thoughts about that topic into a huge bullet list.
I’ll also paste in any quotes I think would go well in the article, and link to other articles I might want to pull ideas from.
Only after I’ve done my brain-dump do I start actually writing with a final product in mind. At this point, I’ve got a solid list of ideas to run through, so all my brain has to do is think about how to word them all nicely.
Try this technique the next time you’re assigned a paper to write; you’ll probably find the writing process much less painful.
5. Study from Anywhere with Your Phone or Tablet
In addition to making it really easy in create and organize notes and other content, Evernote is great for studying those notes as well.
I’ll be completely honest here; I really didn’t study all that much in college. While I did take notes, do a good amount of my reading assignments, and always did my homework, I was pretty bad when it came to actually sitting down and reviewing material.
However, I was pretty amazing at test-day cramming. Since I had the Evernote app on my phone, I was able to review all my notes easily while on the bus and while waiting for the testing room to open. While cramming isn’t the best strategy for learning things, it actually did help me out a bit.
Evernote has mobile apps for pretty much every platform, so if you have a smartphone, you can do this too.
If you have an iPad, you can also use Evernote Peek to turn your notes into flashcards.
With Peek, you can create a notebook of notes you’d like to study. Each note’s title will be the question on the flashcard, and the note body is the answer.
Once you’ve created some notes and loaded them in, you can use the iPad’s smart cover to quiz yourself.
Honestly, I prefer Anki when it comes to learning via flashcards (Martin wrote a great review you should read), but this is another cool option you can check out.
6. Save Online Quiz Results for Later Study
Those frequent quizzes you have to take on Blackboard? Usually they’re prime study material.
However, sometimes you can’t access your results after you’ve viewed them the first time. Even when you can , it’s a pain to go through all those menus to find each one.
Instead, just copy your quiz results into a new note in Evernote. That way, they’re available for you to study whenever you like.
Caveat: I’m note responsible if you copy material that’s not supposed to be copied. If it’s actual exam results you’re viewing (rather than a casual, homework-style quiz), ask your professor if it’s cool to do this first. Or don’t. I’m not your dad.
Now you’re armed to the teeth with Evernote tactics that’ll help you dominate your classes – and probably the rest of your life as well.
Here are a few out-of-class use cases where Evernote has been extremely helpful for me:
- Noting details about on-campus jobs – employee office locations, development server addresses, and other hard-to-remember stuff all went into job-specific notebooks
- Saving biographies and other personal statements that are useful when applying for scholarships, writing bios, and trying to make yourself more hireable
- Collecting travel info – when I went to Japan the first time, my Travel notebook was indispensable for saving flight details, lists of hostels and places I wanted to visit, etc.
- Getting ideas out of your head – I have way too many ideas, so it’s helpful to sock them away in Evernote so they don’t take my focus away from current projects
What other tricks do you use to make Evernote better? Let me know in the comments, yo.