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For students, few things are as important as the ability to take good notes. 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, 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, but they also open sourced the .NET Framework. But most relevantly, they made OneNote available completely for free.
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.
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.
And the good news is that you can make or edit your own OneNote templates 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.
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.
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.
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 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 like Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. Pick the one you like best because it doesn’t really matter in the long run.
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!
Even after everything outlined above, there are still so many other OneNote benefits for students 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?
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!