Back To School: How To Ace Taking Notes

Back in the day, before the printing press made books a widely available commodity, students sat through class transcribing each and every word of a published work, as dictated by the teacher. We still take notes today, sure, but note-taking and lectures themselves have come a long way.

So as you tie your shoes, zip up your backpack, and head off to your first day of college (or second, third, or fourth first day of college), take these five methods into consideration for all your note-taking information-retaining needs.

Classic Moleskine

While I maintain that there are plenty of better ways to jot down information in class, some of us are still hooked on the smell of paper, the feel of a book, and the soft glide of a brand new ball-point pen across the page. If that sounds like you, might I recommend Moleskine’s line of Folio and Volant professional notebooks.

Particularly, the Folio Professional Large Notebook seems to be the way to go if you prefer hardcover notebooks. It comes in both blank, graph, and ruled, with project planning sections in the back.

There are also numbered pages, an index, and included sticky tabs for added organization. The notebook costs $21, which is clearly a bit pricey for one item of your school supplies, but I find that the Moleskine route is always worth the investment.

Another option, which is a bit cheaper, is the Volant Extra Large Ruled Notebook. For $18.95, you’ll get a set of two of these 96-page softback notebooks, and they add a bit more color to your class time as opposed to the Folio line.


Along with the pen-wielding, page-turning students of yesteryear, a whole lot of us have made the staggering realization that typing is, in fact, faster.

Evernote, then, is an excellent service to turn to. The note service comes in the form of an iOS app, desktop app, Android app, and a web app, meaning you can basically sync all of your notes across each one of your devices and never be without all your information.

Evernote lets you save links, photos, text, and scanned PDFs, all in the cloud. Chances are, as a student, you’ll need to go Premium to get the absolute most out of the service, but luckily that only costs $5/month or $45/year. Going premium will get you offline notes, a 50MB note capacity, and 1GB of monthly upload allowance (not storage, there’s a difference).

You’ll also tap into all kinds of fun features like notes history, group editing, and offline notes.


Livescribe is this clever company that has found a way to put a computer inside a ball-point pen. Granted, you have to buy special paper, but once you do, the pen will record your marks and the accompanying audio so you can search within your notes for various bits of a lecture, etc.

Livescribe also lets you share notes with others via social networks, Google Docs, Evernote or email, which will make it easy for you to collaborate with class-mates when it comes to mid-term/final time.

For those moments when life (read: class) gets really boring, many of the Livescribe smart pens have games, including one where you draw a piano and then tap the keys to play it. It may not be the best service for everyone, but intensive note-takers (and especially journalism students) could probably really use something this meticulous.

Right now you can save $20 on an 8GB Echo pen here.

Platinum Pen/Stylus

Raise your hand if you have an iPad.

If your hand is in the air, first put it down, and second check out this pen/stylus from Platinum Pen. It’s a slick aluminum ball-point pen with a relatively slim body and clean look. But at the top, right where you click to open up the pen, there lies the head of a capacitive stylus.

This means you can actually use this little utensil as both a pen and a tablet or smartphone stylus, letting you switch back and forth between drawing digital diagrams and taking physical notes (or whatever combination of old school and new school you prefer).

The pen costs only $8.50 from Jetpens.

Galaxy Note 10.1

For the Android fan who needs the very latest and greatest, picking up one of the brand new Galaxy Note 10.1 tablets Samsung just released before hitting up European History class isn’t a bad idea. See, the magic here lies in the fact that this is one of the first full-featured tablets to come out with a pressure-sensitive (almost Wacom-style) stylus.

Samsung calls it an S-Pen, and it will let you take notes, take screenshots, mark up pictures, and create drawings all onto the tablet directly. It also comes with up to 64GB of memory via an SD card so there really isn’t any need for Evernote, Livescribe, or any other paid cloud storage service.

Plus, you can download apps, surf the web, send email, etc. all from your GalNote 10.1. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend this to a student who’s solely looking for a good way to take notes. If, however, you’re looking for a tablet that might be useful for note-taking, I’d say the $499 Galaxy Note 10.1 is the way to go.