College x
iPad next to notebook and open textbook in article about taking digital notes.

Which is more effective? Apple pencil and iPad or good old pen and paper?

It was freshman year and I was sitting in my SOC 100 class grabbing my designated notebook along with three pens for a nice color scheme. All of a sudden another student pulls out this massive iPad with an Apple Pencil and sat it on her desk. Her iPad was the same size as the screen on my MacBook Pro, and I grew curious. That was the day I considered going paperless.

After telling my mom about the girl, along with a thorough bullet point list on why I needed the iPad, she told me that she’d consider it. On Christmas morning, I received an iPad with the Apple Pencil, and with the help of my extensive YouTube research, I bought GoodNotes within the same hour.

At first, I struggled taking notes on my iPad only because I wanted the aesthetic Pinterest notes, but digitally. I considered giving up, but I didn’t want my mom to feel like she wasted her money. I went back to those videos and studied their techniques and the small things I wasn’t noticing before.

When you search digital notetaking on YouTube, there are a number of videos where people show you their preferred way of taking digital notes. You can either type them on your computer using OneNote or with the iPad and Apple Pencil; most students use Notability and/or GoodNotes.

On the other hand, there is the classic staple: handwritten notes. Personally, I still hand write my notes because I have a slight (nothing serious) obsession with gel pens.

After being in college for three years, I’d like to think that I have my note taking process down pat, but I’d be lying. What I will say is within that time the battle between digital notes and paper notes has come to an end. Here are some of the things I noticed while taking digital notes on my iPad and laptop versus taking notes on paper.

Digital Notes

Pros

Everything stays in one place

In GoodNotes, you can create folders and choose different covers for each notebook. For example, I have a folder named “Spring 2020” for the spring semester of this year and within that folder are more folders for each course I am currently taking.

You can import PowerPoint lectures and articles

A lot of my professors teach using PowerPoints, so I can import them into GoodNotes and write directly on the slides. For sociology classes, there’s a lot of articles to read and by importing them into GoodNotes I can annotate the article right then and there instead of printing it out.

They’re easier to carry

I tend to have three to four classes a day and having to carry all the notebooks, folders, pens, books, planner, etc. puts a lot of weight on my back. With the iPad, that’s all I carry. The iPad and Apple Pencil replaced the notebooks, folders and pens so that all that will be in my backpack is my planner and tablet.

Say goodbye to messy notes

I have at least two professors who speed through lectures, and on paper my notes look horrific with the crossed lines, scribbled words and corrections in the margins. With my iPad I can quickly erase something and write the correct version without getting lost.

It’s easier to share notes.

Let’s be honest — waking up at 9 a.m. can be hard. When I accidentally sleep through class, or if a friend needs the notes from lecture, I can send or receive a PDF copy of the digital notes and be done. Having the iPad eliminates the need to take pictures and send them.

Cons

All devices have a battery life

There have been times in class where my laptop and/or iPad would die and I’d have to resort to paper notes again. Once class is over I’d have to charge the device and immediately transfer my notes or else I’d forget and half my notes would be somewhere else.

iPads are far from cheap

Listen, college broke is a different type of broke. I asked my mom for the iPad because I had one dollar in my bank account. I wanted the iPad, the Apple Pencil and I downloaded GoodNotes.

iPad: $329 (The base price is $329, but if you want more storage along with Wi-Fi and cellular you end up paying $559.)

1st generation Apple Pencil: $100

GoodNotes: $7.99

Not everyone is e-friendly

I had a couple of teachers who didn’t allow electronics of any sort in class and because of that I’d end up taking paper notes.

It takes a second to catch on

I stated earlier that it took a minute to adjust because it wasn’t paper. With the iPad you’re writing on a smooth surface and the tip of the Apple Pencil is just as smooth. With paper, your pen doesn’t slide the same.

There is a significantly different feeling when it comes to taking notes on paper. With my slight obsession (again, nothing serious) with gel pens, I can get good use out of them and they won’t collect dust.

Paper Notes

Pros

You retain the information better

I’ve purposefully written notes on my iPad for one section of class and took notes by hand for the next section. I noticed that I remembered a lot more information with paper notes. Even though both notes are manually written down, paper notes helped me get a 95 on an exam.

There are no distractions

With the iPad and even my laptop, there were so many distractions from notifications. Once I got bored, I’d go on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, but when taking paper notes, there are no distractions. All my focus went toward the lecture and taking thorough notes.

The possibilities are endless

When typing notes there is only so much you could do to make the notes your own. There are a few restrictions on a laptop and the iPad, but with paper you can do just about anything. You could use any pen or pencil of any size.

Cons

Organization is key

You can’t retain information if it doesn’t make sense. It takes time to get your own process of note taking, but without it your notes would be all over the place.

They can be slightly time consuming

While you’re trying to keep your notes neat and organized, you could be missing out on key information.

Good pens can get expensive

I don’t know about you, but I’m not spending over $10 on a pack of pens. I don’t care if they write what you say, I’m not doing it. In some of the videos on YouTube, they write with pens that I have never heard of and the price is the reason why.

I have had my fair share of experience with digital notes, both laptop and iPad, as well with hand written notes and the truth is — I prefer both. Some teachers don’t allow electronics in class and because of that, my slight obsession with gel pens gets put to good use. I will write or type my notes during lecture and to make sure I retain the information, I rewrite my notes on paper. Going over the information twice ensures I understand everything I’m reading and writing.

I’m not saying rewriting your notes is something you should do, but it’s what works for me.

If you choose to go the electronic route I recommend apps like GoodNotes, OneNote, Notability and if you’re trying to save money, the built-in Notes app works great too. You can choose from a few pen options and they give you the ability to choose your preferred pen size.

If you choose to go the traditional route, I recommend using grid paper for more controlled writing. As far as the actual writing I use a number of pens to rewrite my notes. They don’t cost a lot of money and they don’t write like cheap pens. Those are:

Paper Mate Ink Joy gel pens

They have very vibrant colors and ink that doesn’t smudge. The ink leaves a slight shadow, but doesn’t bleed through the page.

Zebra Mildliner

These aren’t as bright as traditional highlighters and some people prefer that.

Sharpie fine point marker pen

I haven’t tried the colored pens, but my favorite is the black pens. It’s the only black gel pen that I enjoy using. If you’re heavy handed when writing it might bleed through, but it doesn’t for me.

Paper Mate Flair | Medium

These are thicker and vibrant just like their gel pens. I usually use these for titles and key terms. For such a thick pen it doesn’t bleed through paper, but that all depends on pressure applied.

If you’re ever looking for other pens, I’d recommend going to stores (not right now in these hectic times) like TJ Maxx, Burlington, Ross, etc. for inexpensive gel pens and marker pens.

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