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For students, few things are as important as the ability to take good notes A Quick & Dirty Guide to Perfect Digital Note-Taking A Quick & Dirty Guide to Perfect Digital Note-Taking Learn how to take notes the right way. Here are some of the most effective tips for becoming a digital note-taking pro. Read More . The last thing you want to do is sit through entire lectures again or re-read massive passages just to retread material you’ve already learned.

In fact, everyone should ask themselves one important question: How much time am I wasting with inefficient note-taking tools and techniques? Because bad notes affect more than grades. You will never recoup any of that lost time.

So get it right. As a student, there’s one program that you absolutely cannot overlook, and that program is Microsoft OneNote. There are a lot of unique ways to use OneNote 10 Unique Ways to Use Microsoft OneNote 10 Unique Ways to Use Microsoft OneNote OneNote is one of Microsoft's most underrated apps. It's available on almost every platform and can do many tricks you wouldn't expect from a note keeping app. Read More , but it’s undeniably perfect for notes on coursework.

Here’s how OneNote can benefit you the moment you start using it.

OneNote Is 100% Free

Microsoft has been surprising people left and right with their recent shifts in mentality. Not only did they offer Windows 10 for free Should You Upgrade to Windows 10? Should You Upgrade to Windows 10? Windows 10 is coming, but should you upgrade? Like almost every change it's mostly good, but also comes with drawbacks. We've summarized them for you, so you can make up your own mind. Read More , but they also open sourced the .NET Framework A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us Microsoft just released a significant part of its code under a permissive open source license. This move breaks with years of tradition. But why and what does it mean for you? Read More . But most relevantly, they made OneNote available completely for free OneNote Is Now Truly Free With More Features Than Before OneNote Is Now Truly Free With More Features Than Before Evernote no longer rules the roost of note taking apps. Microsoft recently announced OneNote would be more free than ever before. Let us show you what this means in terms of features and functionality. Read More .

And yes, it really is free. All restrictions and limitations have been lifted, so you can enjoy the full power of OneNote without ever paying a single cent. Can you say that about OneNote’s competitors? Not quite.

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onenote-for-students-evernote-prices

Evernote is a freemium app, so the Basic free accounts are useful, but severely hampered in terms of features. For example, offline mobile access to notes requires a Plus account for $25 per year while version histories for notes requires a Premium account for $50 per year.

The other big contender is Google Keep, which is more like a primitive to-do list and scrap notes corkboard than a robust notebook for serious coursework. Plus, Keep lacks a lot of the advanced convenience features that are present in OneNote.

At this time, no other note-taking app can match OneNote in either price or functionality. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a deeper look at what OneNote can do for you.

OneNote Makes You More Productive

The first major benefit of OneNote is that it takes the inconvenience out of staying organized.

Most note-taking apps have “notes” that are organized by “categories”, which is only one level of organization. Some note-taking apps allow for “tags”, which adds a second level of organization. But only OneNote provides three levels of organization.

First, you have notebooks. These are top-level categories on a broad level. Each notebook has multiple sections, and then each section consists of many different pages where each page is like a separate document. Lastly, notes can be tagged for even finer-grain organization.

OneNote also has support for templates. A template is a pre-made page with a particular kind of layout. These can save you a lot of time by eliminating the trivial grunt work involved in making all of your notes fit the same design.

onenote-for-students-templates

And the good news is that you can make or edit your own OneNote templates How to Use OneNote Templates to Be More Organized How to Use OneNote Templates to Be More Organized OneNote is a great way to keep your thoughts organized, and templates can make that process even easier. Learn how to use, edit and create your own templates with this guide. Read More with ease. This is one of the best features in OneNote for students who are picky about structuring their notes in a certain way.

Have you ever rifled through your notebook in search of a specific sheet of notes only to find that it was smudged, torn, or lost? The same thing can happen to digital notes (corrupted files, accidentally deleting paragraphs and saving, etc) and it’s a huge pain when it happens.

Fortunately, OneNote keeps track of changes made to notes. Not only is this useful for reverting accidents, but it’s also great if you need to see when a specific change was made or who made that change (in cases where multiple people are collaborating).

With regard to the actual process of taking notes, OneNote has a few bells and whistles that will make you wonder how you ever took notes with another program.

onenote-for-students-inking

Not long ago, Microsoft added support for digital ink support to versions of OneNote running on touchscreen devices. Using a stylus, you can write text, draw diagrams, and mark notes in a variety of colors and thicknesses and it’ll feel like you’re writing on paper.

But for those who prefer writing on actual paper, OneNote has excellent support for optical character recognition (OCR). With this feature, not only can you convert pictures into text, but when you search for text, OneNote will also search your images for instances in handwriting.

OneNote has so many other features worth exploring, but we’ll cover just one more here: the ability to embed media directly into your notes. It’s not a unique feature, but it’s so very useful that once you start using it, you’ll never stop.

Just drag-and-drop any files into a OneNote page. It’s great for keeping external resources organized with your notes, thus keeping everything within their rightful contexts and supercharging your OneNote notes 5 Tips for Using OneNote as Your To-Do List 5 Tips for Using OneNote as Your To-Do List Is making a to-do list on your to-do list? Set it up in OneNote to make getting things done as straightforward as possible. Read More .

OneNote Is Easy to Learn

With OneNote being so powerful and flexible, it might seem like an overwhelming program to start using. But here’s the thing: Microsoft wants to make it as easy for you as possible. That’s why there are so many online resources for learning how to use OneNote.

For example, Microsoft recently launched an initiative called OneNote In Education, which is a resource that’s dedicated to teaching users in the education field — including teachers, students, and administrators — how to make the most of OneNote’s features.

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Under the Student section, the site provides video tips and tricks for things like taking more effective notes, finishing your homework faster, and working with your friends on the same notes.

You can also visit the Office.com section that’s dedicated to OneNote 2013. Here you’ll find Beginner and Intermediate level tutorials for getting the most out of OneNote.

But honestly, you don’t really need any of this. When you open OneNote for the first time, the interface is intuitive enough that you’ll be able to figure out the basics on your own without much issue.

OneNote Is Widely Cross-Platform

One huge advantage of OneNote over all competitors is the sheer number of platforms that it covers. As a Microsoft product, you’d think it was only available on Windows, right? That’s quite far from the truth.

Here’s every supported platform:

The only system that’s missing from the list is Linux, but I think we can give Microsoft a pass for that considering how many other systems are supported. Maybe in the future we’ll see a Linux version, but at the moment there aren’t any plans for it.

While cross-platform availability is awesome on its own, the real benefit shines when you realize that OneNote makes it easy to keep your notes synchronized across all of those devices.

OneNote Syncs to the Cloud

Out of the box, OneNote has tight integration with OneDrive, which is Microsoft’s cloud storage service SkyDrive For Windows 8: The Cloud Storage And Modern File Explorer App SkyDrive For Windows 8: The Cloud Storage And Modern File Explorer App Got Windows 8? Then you have SkyDrive and in combination with a Microsoft account, you get 7GB of free storage. SkyDrive is a cloud storage solution and also doubles as a modern file explorer. Read More that provides 15 GB of space to free accounts. That should be more than enough for any student, even across four years of school.

But because of the way OneNote works, it’s easy to synchronize using another cloud storage service The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The cloud storage scene has heated up recently, with a long-awaited entry by Google and a revamped SkyDrive from Microsoft. Dropbox has gone unchallenged by the major players for a long time, but that’s changed... Read More like Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. Pick the one you like best because it doesn’t really matter in the long run.

onenote-for-students-cross-platform

When you create a new notebook in OneNote, you can choose where to store that notebook. A OneNote notebook is not an individual file; rather, it’s a folder that contains all of the different sections and pages for that notebook. As long as the notebook folder is on the cloud, it will sync.

And as long as the particular cloud service you’re using is available on the platforms that you want to use OneNote on, then OneNote should be able to access the notebooks just fine.

Keeping your notebooks on the cloud is great for several other reasons in addition to ease of access: the cloud acts as a natural backup and you can share note files with others. Both are critical for students!

OneNote Is the Answer

Even after everything outlined above, there are still so many other OneNote benefits for students How to Use OneNote at School: 10 Tips for Students & Teachers How to Use OneNote at School: 10 Tips for Students & Teachers OneNote can transform the modern classroom. The note-taking app from Microsoft is designed for both students and teachers. Go ahead and organize, collaborate, and share with these tips for better note-taking. Read More that you can explore. Instant screenshots, easy math equations, audio notes, and more!

Ultimately, the point is this: no other tool is better for taking notes as a student than OneNote. Hands down, OneNote is the clearest winner. So what are you waiting for?

Once you’re a little more comfortable with the app, check out these ways to take better advantage of OneNote 5 Ways to Take Advantage of Microsoft OneNote 5 Ways to Take Advantage of Microsoft OneNote Read More and these tricks for even more OneNote productivity 5 Ways to Get Productive With Microsoft OneNote 5 Ways to Get Productive With Microsoft OneNote Do you feel the need for an offline organization tool that also exists on the web? Surprisingly, Microsoft has come up with the perfect solution - OneNote. Read More .

What do you use for taking notes? How does it compare to OneNote? Are there any contenders that are worth mentioning? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Digital Ink in OneNote via Office.com, Mobile Smartphone by RoSonic via Shutterstock

  1. Marcel
    April 19, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    3 levels or 4 levels to organize??
    Organizing in such a way makes me think of the pre-computer time

    A computer is good or should be good at searching

    I use 1 level to organize my google drive
    And with the ultimate search/find capabilities of GoogleI find the things I need in a second
    even though it have some 10,000 files.

  2. Haroldas
    April 18, 2016 at 12:53 am

    OneNote is lacking one big crucial feature. You cannot share notes with others from mobile app, at least from Android it's not possible.

    • Joel Lee
      April 18, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      Yeah, the non-Windows apps for OneNote still need some work done. Maybe in another year or so? Hopefully sooner!

  3. Suzi Love
    September 28, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    I've tried the others but I totally agree with you. One Note is the best.

    It does more than the others and the OCR is the best I've found and I use it often.

    I also use One Note to post straight to WordPress.

    • Joel Lee
      October 7, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Wow, using OneNote to post straight to WordPress is a new one. Never heard of anyone doing that before. Thanks for the tip, Suzi. That's great. :)

  4. Peter Buyze
    September 18, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    I agree with most remarks, and also use 1N, am very happy with it. I would liek to make 2 corrections/amendments to your comments:
    * 1N being totally free is almost true - this applies to the web app, which does not allow you to store notes locally on your computer. For that you need to buy the desktop version.
    * 1N does not have 3 but 4 levels of organisation - there is the subpage (i.e. child page) possibility.

    • Kelsey Tidwell
      September 22, 2015 at 2:24 am

      Let's throw in one more level of organization in OneNote...Section Groups within Section Groups, which have their own pages and subpages. A special point is the the subpages can go as deep as you like. Level after level after level....... :)

      • Peter Buyze
        September 22, 2015 at 9:46 am

        As far as I know there is page, subpage & subsubpage. You can't go any deeper than that with pages. If I am wrong, I stand to be corrected but would then like to know how to get to deeper levels. Over to you now.

        • Kelsey Tidwell
          September 22, 2015 at 1:59 pm

          I've only used this feature on the desktop, so I don't know about the web or phone apps...

          1) Move to the Section of choice.
          2) In the tab strip across the top, right-click on any of the tabs and in the menu you will see a selection for "New Section Group" (shortcut G). Select that.
          3) A new Section Group will be added, which can be named as a whole. Clicking into it allows the standard addition of tabs, pages and subpages, just as in the parent Group.
          4) At the left end of the tabs is a return arrow to take you "up" to the parent Section Group.

          This is a one level extension. You can't (or, I haven't figured out how to) add a sub-Section Group to this Section Group.

        • Kelsey Tidwell
          September 22, 2015 at 2:01 pm

          And now I see that you were referring to the subpages instead of the groups...I'm sorry. You are correct on that...I was mistaken.

    • Joel Lee
      September 24, 2015 at 6:04 pm

      Good point, Peter! Didn't occur to me to mention that the web app doesn't allow local storage, though I suppose it makes sense (I suspect there might be some security vulnerabilities if browsers could do that).

    • joshsiddoway
      September 25, 2015 at 3:04 pm

      I've never purchased anything for OneNote and i use the webapp and desktop app.

      • Peter Buyze
        September 25, 2015 at 5:21 pm

        I don't see the relevance of purchasing for this subject.

  5. David Andrade
    September 18, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    I use Evernote and Google Drive.
    Evernote, while it isn't 100% free as you noted, is a true multi-platform, automatically syncing service. No need for another service at all. The web clipper is the best around, you can organize notes by notebook and tags and the search function is amazing. You can view attached files and even annotate PDF files in it. It is also a lighter app. It has OCR functions and I scan all paperwork into Evernote (with it being automatically sorted using the Evernote scanner)
    http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com/p/evernote-for-education.html

    I also use Google Docs and Drive - I can put all of my files in there, synced to my desktop and available on any device. I can use hyper links in a doc to link to other docs or files or sites. I've even organized an entire high school course using it. And, anything here is easily shareable.
    http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com/2015/03/using-google-drive-as-course-organizer.html

    I also use Google Keep for quick voice dictated notes and checklists and shopping lists. Again, available on any device and automatically synced.
    http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com/2015/03/google-keep-note-taking-app-gets-labels.html

    I've tried OneNote but wasn't a fan. The nice thing is, there are note taking options for people with different needs or tastes.

    Here are some great note taking and organizing apps for students:http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com/2012/02/10-great-free-apps-for-students-for.html

    Interestingly, research seems to show that taking notes on paper is better for students:
    http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com/2015/04/paper-vs-digital-notetaking-for-students.html

    They can always scan the paper notes later for easy access.

    • Peter Buyze
      September 18, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      I agree with your comment about EN's web clipper. 1N's web clipper v2 (the latest) is still Stone Age compared with EN's.
      But EN's OCR only works on synched notes, not on local ones, and it can take several hours before EN's servers have OCR'ed your document. Crappy.

    • Joel Lee
      September 24, 2015 at 6:03 pm

      Thanks for sharing, David! Your points are good and relevant. I believe Evernote is definitely the more popular one compared to Onenote, but at this point they're both good enough that it really comes down to personal preference. No worries if you prefer Evernote! The real win here is that both exist and we get to choose. :)

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