Using Evernote as a College or Medical Student

I am always writing about how to succeed on the MCAT or with medical school applications. I wanted to provide information about how to do well in every day classes. The following guest post is courtesy of Ryan Nguyen, a UC Santa Barbara graduate and soon-to-be medical student. Check out his resources for premeds over at WhiteCoatDO.

"Jeez, you are so organized"

I almost felt guilty. My friend sitting next to me in class had been looking at my computer screen while I was typing lecture notes with my new favorite app: Evernote. To her it seemed like a meticulously planned organization system, but to me it was it was the easiest and and most effective tool I'd ever used for school.

The ease of use of Evernote is what really makes it shine as a note-taking program. In that same class, our professor mentioned a bacterium he talked about a couple lectures back and I instantly searched for it while everyone around me was flipping through their notebooks. When it comes time to study for tests, I just print out all my notes and annotate them to death. It takes me 2 minutes to set up a hierarchy scheme for each class, and yet doing so saves me hours of time on administrative tasks (looking for a specific topic in my notes, sharing notes with classmates, aka the very low end of productivity). In short, I'm spending way less time doing the nonsense work of college and a lot more time actually learning. Crazy isn't it?

If you already a savvy college student who takes notes on a laptop during class, then seriously consider making the switch to Evernote. The only note-taking application I had used previously was Word, but I wouldn't even consider going back now that I use Evernote for pretty much all my classes and work. The best part? It's free! There is a premium version that comes out to $5/mo and features more storage space and other cool features, but at the moment I'm currently using the free version. Evernote now offers free one-year premium accounts to students with an .edu account!

What Exactly Do I Use Evernote For?

1) Make Awesome Study Guides With Little Effort.

2) Keep Up With My Light-Speed Pace Professors.

3) Compare Notes and Get Feedback from Peers.

4) Send Always Compatible Emails.

Taking Notes and Exam Prep

Quick note: Evernote organizes your "notes" into "notebooks" and several "notebooks" can be organized into a stack. For the picture below, "Pharmacology" is the notebook and "Chemotherapy Agents" is the name of the individual note:


Record Lecture Notes. The screen capture above shows how I organize my lecture notes and test preparation material for my pharmacology class. When I take notes during class I simply create a new note and title it with the name of the lecture (i.e. chemotherapy agents, herbal supplements, etc).

Making Lecture Notes Easy to Study. Now just recording lectures notes alone would be great if professors covered just one concept or idea per class but this is a rarer event than finding a premed who doesn't tell you how busy they are (must... impress... medical... schools...). To make things easier for studying, I breakdown my notes into specific topics or ideas and give those things their own note in a notebook titled "by subject." When it comes time to start preparing for a test I pull up notes from my "by subject" folders instead of the straight lecture notes. It's much easier to focus on one subject at a time then the two or three that may be in a single lecture.

Instantly Find What I'm Looking For. I have 3 "by subject" notebooks to even further divide the subjects into the respective midterm or final that they correspond to. Once again, something that takes me less than a minute to do but saves me from wasting time looking for what will be on one midterm but not the second (short-term memory for the win!).

Clipping Diagrams from PDF/powerpoint slides

One of the worst love affairs in academics is that between Professors and Powerpoint Slides. Professors get to cram as much information as they want into slides and then move at a inhumane pace in class, expecting everything from the slides to be fair game. I've had classes where a midterm was covering up to 200-300 slides while the final was at least over 500 slides. It's incredibly easy to get lost in the shuffle from slide to slide. A possible solution? Download the pdf slides before lecture and pull it up side by side to your notes during lecture. When tests cover over 200 slides worth of material, there is bound to be a lot of repetitiveness and extraneous information. Use lecture to figure out what is important in the slides and use Evernote's screen capture feature to "clip" that figure or diagram from the PDF into your notes. Boom. Lecture notes you can actually use to study instead of letting pile up somewhere in your room. My only gripe? I can't freely move around the clips, which makes my notes look awkward at times.

Be pro-active in your note-taking and get more out of class. Is printing out the slides and annotating them really working for you?

Comparing Notes With Classmates

If you ever need to compare notes with your classmates, Evernote gives you the ability to do this in tech-savvy way. One of my classes this semester has me reading papers every week and then discuss them in a journal club format. To make sure I'm not saying anything (too) dumb, I email my classmates with my notes on the paper throughout the week. The great thing about Evernote is that I can include screen-caps I took from wikipedia to explain unfamiliar concepts in addition to the notes I'm making on the paper. Not only do my classmates greatly appreciate this, they spot check any errors or misunderstanding I make. Want to do better in your classes? Compare your notes with classmates.

Emailing Peers and Co-workers

One of the most useful features of Evernote for sharing is the email function that allows you to send your notes via email straight from Evernote. I simply click the "email" button at the top of each note, put in the send to emails, and include a short message. To get an idea of what the emails look like check out a clip of a recent email I sent for my work: evernoteemail

Advantages over sending Word docs: easier email interference, no need to worry about compatibility because the note is in the email, it just looks cooler.

So dear readers, unless you enjoy doing mindless administrative work like frantically searching for your notes on the circulatory system, check out Evernote and give it a try. Do you already use Evernote? Do you have any other "hacks" for taking notes on a laptop?