D1 Year School Survival Toolkit: Note Taking

Posted by Dr. Patrice Smith on Tue, Aug 30, 2016 @ 01:00 PM

taking-notes-1.jpgCongratulations on being accepted into dental school! All your hard work has paid off. You made good grades as an undergrad, studied and did well on the DATs, and you had a killer application that earned you a spot in your dental school. Now the real fun begins! There will be several hurdles to jump over throughout the next four years, but don’t worry! We will be taking it one step at a time.

You are about to start classes and, for many of you, it will be a bit overwhelming at first. It will be very different from your undergrad experience in terms of the sheer volume of reading and work required. One of the first things you will want to get a hang of is proper note taking.

Everyone has a different way of doing things. People’s levels of efficiency and how they absorb and retain information vary greatly, and you will have to find the way that works best for you. However, there are some tried and true ways to get this done without stress.

“Old Fashioned” Notepad and Pen

Some people are just not tech savvy, and that’s okay. You might find that you are more efficient at simply writing notes in a notebook rather than fiddling with technology, trying to figure out apps or hearing the lecture over all the clicking keyboards. Pick up a notebook, notepad or perhaps a binder with re-fillable note pages from your bookstore. Grab some colored pens as well if you find that helps you keep things organized. Typed Notes >Type your notes using your computer’s notepad or note-taking tool. Apple Notes, while pretty basic, is a good tool as is Microsoft Word. If you are not into apps or any of that “fancy” stuff, keep it simple and get the job done using one of these tools.


Most of your lectures will probably be in the form of PowerPoint and will most likely be made available to you ahead of class time. You may find it simpler to either 1) Print out these PowerPoint lectures and make notes on each slide as you go along, or 2) Make notes at the bottom of each slide or write on the slide itself if you’re using a touch screen computer or tablet. This will make following along seamless and all your notes and lecture material will be in one place.

Note Taking Apps

If you are somewhat tech savvy, you might find that using some note taking apps will help you be a lot more organized. Some very useful note taking apps include Evernote, Microsoft One Note, Simplenote, Google Keep, and Google Docs. I personally have experience with Microsoft One Note and Evernote. Both are unique and I like different things about each. The great feature with Evernote is that you can incorporate text, images, audio recordings, web links, and files, and then organize them into notebooks. Another cool feature is that even if you have hand written notes, you can scan them into Evernote using the Scannable app by simply taking a picture of them with your phone.   Microsoft One Note was a favorite among some of my classmates. An entire semester’s PowerPoint lectures can be placed in designated folders. On these PowerPoints, you can incorporate audio notes and keep them next to written notes. You can also mark up images and place diagrams and drawings anywhere within your notes. This is particularly great when studying for cumulative exams. All the information for the entire semester can be accessed in one place.

Digital Recorder

Some people don’t necessarily get all the information while in class. Between mid-lecture snoozes and other distractions, it might be easy to miss some things. In this case, you can invest in a digital recorder. You can record lectures and listen to them at a later time. Your school may have podcasts where the lectures are recorded and made available to you at your leisure. A cool app that integrates recording and note taking is Pearnote. It allows you to upload a PDF or PPT file and record as you take notes. Before you start recording lectures, however, be sure you are given permission by the professor.

Hire a Scribe or Note Taker

So maybe you are not good at this “listening while taking notes” thing. You find that there are a lot of gaps in your notes, but you faintly remember your professor mentioning something else that you can’t quite remember. Ugh, how frustrating! Your note taker in this instance can be a classmate that takes really good notes and can seemingly write everything that comes out of the professor’s mouth verbatim. Or, as a class, you can pool together and hire a scribe. This person will get a digital recording of the lectures and turn them into files that can be distributed to the entire class. All of your classmates will have their notes and someone just got a part time job. What a win-win!


The key to note taking in dental school is finding what best works for you. Try a few of the above methods and see what you’re comfortable with and go from there. Don’t take too much time figuring this part out—you’ll have bigger fish to fry soon enough!

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Tags: dental school, note taking

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