January 18, 2018

Study Smarter, Not Harder! Note-taking Apps for Students

Study Smarter Not Harder - photo copyright 2012 Rick Sherrell

It is painfully obvious to me that most students today have no idea how to take useful class notes. Whenever students struggle in my course, I ask them to make an appointment with me and bring their notebooks, because their note-taking style can usually tell me at least part of the problem. Sometimes this means I see neat, tightly organized notebooks with well-marked tabs and highlights. But that’s rare: Usually I see notebooks that are bursting at the seams with lose papers or covered with random food and beverage stains (at least, I hope that’s what they are!)

But no matter the condition or presentation, student class notes usually exhibit some typical problems. Some students write down everything the professor says, creating an excessive number of pages of endless lists. There’s no way you can see the forest for the trees if you use this note-taking style. In contrast, other students jot down a few random bits of information on largely blank pages with no context or explanation. These students are stuck in an academic desert with no resources when they really need them. Neither style is useful in practice: when you turn to your notes to study, you won’t get anything from them.

Thankfully, new tools are available to help students compose better notes and get more out of their courses. Computer and Smartphone applications are the newest technologies used by students, and there are a variety of formats and options, no matter what the topic.

Here are three of the most popular note-taking applications:

Evernote is a free app that is available on desk or laptop computers as well as Smartphones and tablets, and allows students to take notes and then bring together multiple sources to augment those notes. You can use your own custom designed organization system to store screen shots, photos, web pages, and textbook notes and clip them together to create a single package. Evernote products also include EverStudent and Skitch, with which you can create sketches that might be useful for lab work, art courses, or study methods that incorporate drawings or maps. All products encrypt your content, maintaining the security of your data.

Simplenote is a little more basic, but sometimes that’s all you need. Simplenote allows you to share notes, lists, and other written text with anyone. The example the company uses is a grocery list: You can have a family grocery list that anyone can update. However, I can see this working very well for group projects in which students can collaborate on completing assignments and updating each other on their progress. Simplenote also contains a useful search function that will scan all your content to find the material you need when you type a key term into the search engine.

SpringPad is another free app that offers services similar to Evernote, but also provides a very cool alternative organization structure for your content called The Board, on which you can arrange photos, notes, lists, etc. Springpad also allows you to share information, receive alerts when content similar to your own is available on your networks, and download information from a barcode, an increasingly useful tool as more products and information incorporates bar codes.

There are many more applications available to help you improve your schoolwork, and new ones are developed every day. So don’t panic when you get back your latest paper or exam and see a grade you don’t like. Get out there on the internet and find the right tool for you!

Jill Rooney, Ph.D. is an Education Writer for OnlineColleges.net.  She earned a Ph.D. in History from the University of New Hampshire and has taught History, Political Science, and Film Theory for over twenty years. Dr. Rooney’s work has been published by the Smithsonian Institution, Oxford University Press, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her teaching experience has taught her that all students really just want one thing: To learn. And that isn’t always easy, so she’s here to help! @JillRooney2jill@onlinecolleges.net.


  1. I used Flashcard Stash once but I didn’t like the way they organize their database, the website UI isn’t user friendly too. My favorite site is Superflashcard. I can study their database or create my own flashcards with text and images, then study them later on my phone, it’s very convenient!

    • Thank Sel. I used some flashcard sites and tried your site Superflashcard. It seems approachable and systematic. I created some flashcards on this site and learned. I will definitely install it for my phone.

  2. Great list of resources! Another really useful online app is Flashcard Stash (http://flashcardstash.com). It’s really the best flashcard based study tool I’ve seen.

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  1. […] a digital note taking solution in lieu of the traditional paper and pen technique. In our previous CampusTalkBlog article, we’ve recommended the Evernote application that can be used for scribbling notes, adding screen […]

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