Back to School: How a college student gets the most out of OneNote

How organized are your class notes? Chances are you have notes spread across multiple paper notebooks, folders, and files on your computer. OneNote is a Microsoft Office 365 program that can put all of your notes in one place. Best of all: It’s free for students. I’ve been using OneNote for all of my college classes for four years now, and it is a lifesaver! These are my top 10 reasons why I love OneNote, along with some examples of how I make it work for me:


1. OneNote on Windows and iOS are free


Students can get access to OneNote (plus lots of other Office 365 Education products) totally free with their school emails. I also love that there is an iOS app that I can download on my iPhone that syncs with my Windows computer, so I can see and edit all my notes straight from my phone when I’m on the go. Imagine all of your notes from all of your classes, always right at your fingertips.


2. Notebooks, sections, and pages


The hierarchy of organization in OneNote is seriously so helpful. The way it works is pretty intuitive – there are notebooks (the highest level) that can have sections in them. In each section, you can have pages. I like to make a new notebook at the beginning of every semester and make a section for each class within that semester. Then, depending on the professor and how they organize their class, I either make a new page for every class session as the semester goes on, or I make a page for every topic we cover.

Here’s an example of what my OneNote looks like. You can see the hierarchy of notebooks, sections, and pages on the bottom left. The right side is where you put all your notes for the current page you’re on.


3. Send to OneNote


Taking notes in class can be very stressful if your professor is going through PowerPoint slides very quickly. Not only do you have to write down what’s on the slides, but you also have to write down anything else the professor says. OneNote solves that issue! You can copy and paste PowerPoint slides right into OneNote and start taking notes right on top.

What if your professor posts a PDF or Word document online, or emails you something important? Anything that you can print to a printer, you can also “Print to OneNote”! It’s one of my favorite features. Just print something how you normally would, but instead of choosing a printer choose the option, “Send to OneNote.” OneNote will open and ask you where you want to send your printout – super helpful!

You can also use the “Send to OneNote” Tool icon in your toolbar. If you don’t already have it, you can download it. I use it to take screenshots of websites and notes and send them directly to my clipboard. That way, I can select any part of my screen, and then paste wherever I want!


4. Page Personalization


One of the super nice things about OneNote is that your pages don’t have a size limit. Sometimes I need to draw out a long diagram that just wouldn’t fit on a normal piece of paper. OneNote can stretch as little or as much as you need it to – horizontally and vertically. It’s a blank canvas that you can use however you’d like, but if you’re the type of person who needs a bit more structure you can also add “Rule Lines,” or even grid lines to your pages and make them look more like real notebooks. You can find the options under the “View” tab.


5. Digital Ink


If you have a Surface Book or Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga (like I do), OneNote can do even more amazing things for you. I love to flip my laptop into tablet mode and write handwritten notes on top of slides, or other materials my professor has provided in advance. My notes end up looking something like this: I copy and paste slides onto a page, and I’m able to write and highlight not only on top of the slides, but also to the sides.


6. Color Coding


While I love making my notes look nice, I also do it to make information easier to find when I’m studying or reviewing for a quiz or exam. As I’m taking notes in class, I like to use the different pen options in OneNote for different types of notes. I use the same colors in all of my notes, so everything is always easily identifiable.

Green highlight: important terms or key words.

Yellow highlight: definitions or important sentences.

Pink highlight: anything that I need to follow up on, review, or ask the professor about.

Blue highlight: when the professor says this will be on an exam or homework assignment.

Blue pen: for circling equations or other important main ideas.

7. Ink to Math


This feature is a hidden lifesaver – I wish I had known about it earlier! If you’ve ever had to write out long equations in a typed-up report, you’ll know how time consuming it is to find all the right symbols. Ink to Math in OneNote uses handwriting recognition technology and solves that problem.

All you have to do is draw your equation, select it, then press the “Math” button in the “Draw” section. You can then copy and paste the text or even solve and graph your equation.


8. Immersive Reader


The Immersive Reader is a super cool feature that you can get in multiple products, not just OneNote. It basically takes any text you have on a page and “immerses” you in it, full screen. You can change lots of viewing settings like color, font, and size. My favorite is the “Read Aloud” feature that will read you your text. I use it to proofread essays, because you always catch awkward phrases when you hear it out loud.

I have also used Immersive Reader in my German class because of its awesome language features. It can break words into syllables, parts of speech, has a picture dictionary, and more!


9. Search


Because I take literally all my notes in OneNote, being able to search through my notes is essential. You can search in a specific page, section, and even notebook for any words, even if they’re handwritten. I can search right from my phone through years of notes in an instant. This is one of the best parts of having digital notes, and definitely something you can’t get with old-school paper and pen.


10. Sharing Notes


Last but not least, the ability to share my notes with my classmates is undeniably awesome. Whether my friend misses a class and wants the notes to catch up, or I’m sending a study guide to a group of people, OneNote makes it so easy to share notes. You just right-click on any page, section, or notebook, and select “Copy Link to Page.” It’s as easy as that!

I hope you found some of these tips useful! I love OneNote and how easy it is to keep everything organized. If you’re feeling inspired, let me know how you plan to use OneNote this school year.

Twitter: @tessalynn_n


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