Top Five Note Taking Apps for Medical School
Compared to undergraduate education, medical school is a completely different ballgame. Chances are you will have to tweak your study habits to meet the demands of professional school. It is important that you are willing to adapt and make changes whether it is once at the beginning of the year or for each course. Before I even started medical school I was researching the different ways medical students study so that I could prepare myself for what was to come. With that research came discovering and trying out different note-taking apps. There are a ton of options out there for note-taking and organizing notes for school, so I am going to give you the breakdown on a few popular platforms. Since this post is going to focus on note-taking I am going to explain how each platform can be used for that purpose only. Of course, a lot of these note-taking apps can also serve to help with organization in your life in general of which there are many reviews out there already.
Evernote is probably the most robust note-taking platform out there if you use it to the fullest extent. I created an Evernote account a couple of years ago, and I have loved it ever since. It is advertised as a “second brain”, and it is a great investment if you plan on using it that way. What I really like about Evernote is the ability to create notes from pretty much anywhere as it plays very nicely with other platforms and has the most seamless syncing of all of the apps I have experienced. For example, you can add notes to Evernote easily while researching medical topics on the internet with their web clipper extension. They also have an app for all the major devices so you can carry your second brain with you everywhere you go. All your notes also sync to their online platform in case you need to access something on another device. In Evernote you create a note, which then belongs to a particular notebook which can then be further added to a notebook stack. For example, you can have a notebook stack titled “MS-1” and within that stack, you can have a notebook for each class, say “Medical Gross Anatomy”, then within that notebook you will have a note for each lecture. Within that note, you can add recordings of the lecture, photos, PowerPoints, web links, links to other notes, even links to notes in your Google Drive. If you prefer to take handwritten notes that is a possibility in Evernote whether you are using the native app or their secondary handwriting app Penultimate. Another great feature about Evernote is their very robust search function. You can search all of your notes all at once across multiple notebooks. The function will even pick up your handwriting including a photo of your handwriting. For example, if you are like me and like to draw out diagrams on a whiteboard or using pen and paper, you can scan that photo into Evernote and it becomes immediately searchable. Evernote is an extremely powerful app which is probably their justification for jacking up the price in recent years to $70/year for their Premium version which is going to be the best option for a student creating and uploading a lot of content. They do offer a Basic version which is free, so if you are looking to try out Evernote I would recommend starting out with their free version before making the leap to Premium or another option with less storage, Plus. With that said, I am barely scratching the surface with this platform since there are multiple ways to use it to organize your entire life!
To see a recent video putting this platform into action see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQOIMfmboMQ
OneNote is extremely popular amongst students in my class, and for good reason. Similar to other apps you can organize your class notes into “notebooks” and creates notes within it. What most students do is download a lecture PowerPoint into a OneNote note, and directly annotate on the PowerPoint via a stylus or type alongside the slides. OneNote offers infinite paper which is great if you only plan on using OneNote, but not so great when trying to transfer your notes to other platforms or download it as a pdf. I have tried doing that when transferring documents I just end up with this super long squished up PDF which looks terrible. Again, this won’t be an issue if you plan on keeping your notes in OneNote and never plan on transferring them. Similar to Evernote, OneNote also has a web clipping feature, audio recording, and a way to search all of your notes. I am a very visual person so I appreciate how colorful their platform is compared to others. I have tried OneNote on both Microsoft and Apple products, and you can get by using either. However, it was designed for Microsoft products and therefore functions best on those products. So if you are an Apple user this app might be lower on your list. The best part apart OneNote though is that is completely free! It seems like every note-taking app has some type of cost, but OneNote goes above and beyond by offering a ton of great features at the best possible price for medical students on a budget.
Pretty much everyone knows about Google Docs, and it remains a staple in medical school for the ease of sharing documents. Some institutions will provide you with a high amount of storage on Google making it a great place to hold and organize all of your documents, and they can be accessed from any device. Occasionally during the first year, I used Google docs to create notes, but it mostly served its purpose when working with a group or sharing documents amongst classmates. It is a tried and true platform, so it is worth it to at least have an account.
Notability is probably the most popular note-taking platform I have seen students use, particularly those with an iPad due to its superior handwriting function. You can easily sync your notes between your devices, record lectures, and organize class notes in a very intuitive way. One of the coolest features about Notability is that if you record a lecture while taking notes, during the playback of the recording the notes that were taken at that time are highlighted, allowing you to easily coordinate what is being said to what you wrote. I did try using Notability but after having used Goodnotes for so long I felt handicapped (I will get to the features about Goodnotes below) so I did not stick with it for very long. However, if one day my favorite note-taking app completely crashed, Notability would be my go-to. Like OneNote is has a very colorful platform and has a feature where you can change the theme of the app. Their iOS app costs $4.99 with their Mac app running $9.99. The app also has some in-app purchases that can be made to make it more customizable.
Goodnotes is the dark horse of the note taking app world. I happened upon it when I trying to find a note-taking app that worked best with my Evernote Adonit JOT stylus, and Goodnotes worked seamlessly with it. I now use an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, and the pairing is perfect. Goodnotes allows you to create notebooks and add pages within the notebook to take notes on. What I love most about Goodnotes is that is the most customizable of the note-taking platforms I have tried. You can create your own templates for notebook covers as well as pages. The pages are really easy to move around as well as copy and paste when needed. Anything you can make a PDF file can be used in Goodnotes. I also really like the zoom box feature which allows me to zoom in on a line when writing notes so my handwriting is incredibly accurate, and I can add the smallest of details to my notes. One of the downsides to Goodnotes is that they do not seem to have as robust of a team behind them than other platforms so changes can take a while to make. For example, they had issues with iCloud sync for years that just finally got fixed. Goodnotes also does not currently have an audio recording feature which is nice to have but not necessary most of the time since lectures are already recorded by most medical schools. They are about to release a large update from version 4 to version 5 so I am not sure what is to come as far as new features. I like use Goodnotes in medical school by annotating PowerPoint slides during lecture and then creating summary notes afterwards. You can see some examples of this below. Sometimes I will write out my own notes or grab helpful images from the the lecture slides and annotate those. Overall, Goodnotes is hands down my favorite app for taking notes in class, and it should not be overlooked.
At the end of the day you will have to find what works best for you, and I hope this quick summary helps you do just that!