Sometime during the months before PA school I received an email recommending that I familiarize myself with note taking software. I didn’t think much of this message at the time. I mean, I had been pretty successful with a pad of paper and a pen all throughout undergrad, so why change what isn’t broken? Fast forward to my first day at OHSU, and I arrive with said pen and said paper in hand, ready to the face the barrage of information ahead of me. By the end of the week that pad of paper and pen were already collecting dust in my locker.
To fully appreciate how critical note taking software was, it is helpful to look back at the volume of material in the first quarter alone. We were responsible for a little over 150 lecture PDFs and each of these lectures contained between 35 and 100 slides. The bulk of these lectures were closer to 50 slides each, so I will use that value as an average. With 150 PDFs at 50 slides each, this comes out to approximately 7,500 lecture slides covered in three months’ time. If I had printed out every PDF it would have been prohibitively expensive, a vast waste of resources, and it would have taken up an entire closet of space to store it all. If I had just used pen and paper without printing anything out I would have been completely lost in tying notes to any particular slide. Cue the need for note taking software.
The software I chose, OneNote, let me easily organize PDFs by quarter, course, block and date. This made finding specific lectures very easy. Also, the search function was invaluable in helping me search for keywords to find the exact slide I needed. Without these searchable functions, I would have had to haul around dozens of notebooks to find specific notes on the fly. I typically used the margins to write my notes in, and these notes were the particular nuggets of information I thought were most relevant. When I went back to study for a test, I would read over these notes in the margin and then follow up with the finer details in the adjacent lecture slides as needed. Typing onto images and using the draw tool to mark important details on graphics was very valuable as well.
The transition to computer note taking was not seamless however. Some days the eye strain of staring at a screen for hours gave me a headache. It was also just as easy to open up Facebook or Gmail as it was to open a lecture slide, so managing distractions was important. But without note taking software, it would have been nearly impossible to organize the staggering amount of information. I can only wonder how previous classes managed before laptops became so ubiquitous.