How I plan to take notes in medical school

I’m awful at note taking. So much so it’s borderline embarrassing. Throughout high school and then college, I’d spend lesson after lesson making countless pages of notes on what the teacher was saying, or showing us in a power point presentation.

But the problem was that it was messy and disorganised. There was no clear layout to help me learn from them afterwards, instead just a list of almost indecipherable scribbling.

There was no colour, no variation, just a black biro written wall of teacher transcription.

And nobody, me included (having a body and all) can learn from that.

Plus I also have to mention that these notes were organised by subject, and that is all. What I mean is I was just filling notebook after notebook with notes throughout the year, and the only thing distinguishing them was the subject name written on the front.

So by the time exam season rolled around, in terms of notes from the year, I’d (for A levels, anyways) have 3 fairly high piles of full A4 notebooks, but with no method of:

-organising what was written inside them

-learning from that information

-looking up information on a particular topic without having to go through an entire notebook

Now, I know I should have just made neater notes in class, but using different coloured pens and then ripping the pages out to place different topics in separate folders/binders would have been a waste of time for me. So instead, I completely discarded all of my class notes when the exam revision began, and used just the textbooks instead.

Now the only reason I’ve been able to get away with just revising from textbooks for my GCSEs and A levels was because the textbooks I used were made by CGP, for example. Now these were dedicated ‘revision guides’, meaning all of the information was condensed, concise and organised, with important words highlighted, for example.

So yeah, that’s why I could revise by just reading the textbooks over and over (for biology and chemistry) as they were in the format my class notes should have been in from the start.

So what’s this got to do with medical school, I can almost hear you screaming at your monitor. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that medical textbooks are going to be absolutely brutal to revise from. I mean, it’s just going to be wall after wall of solid medicine jargon, with the occasional breather provided by an incredibly detailed and complex diagram/image.

Not a pretty picture.

No CGP quick revision guide this time, folks. So…back to class (now lecture, I guess) notes to save the day.


The actual plan:


An iPad pro. With the Apple Pencil.

Pricey, but since I’ll (hopefully) make use of it for five years, almost every day, the cost per month is very low if you take into account the potential gain if all of this is successful (a long and happy life being a doctor).

So I’ve spent A LOT of time watching videos on YouTube of university students explaining how they use the iPad pro + Apple Pencil to make their notes, and I really love the videos.

Instead of having piles and piles of notebooks from various modules and years, you have one single device on which to input the notes and then you can access them from anywhere, as I will make use of Google Drive to store them in.

I plan on either using the app ‘Notability’ or ‘GoodNotes 4’, as they seem to be the most widely used (by the uni students whose videos I’ve watched) and feature rich note-taking apps available.

Now these apps come with a bunch of amazing features, such as the ability to zoom in to add tiny intricate details to diagrams, combine text with your written notes, import scanned documents (such as paper handouts) from your iPhone to instantly annotate and also the linking of the apps to cloud services, to ensure if your iPad dies, your education isn’t completely screwed.

I really do like the idea of having my five years of notes perfectly organised by module, in my pocket. Much more convenient. They’ll also look great, as I can make use of all the colours in the spectrum to write with, plus they’ll be no scribbling out thanks to our good friend, the undo button.

Using the Apple Pencil is going to take a lot of getting used to, though. Firstly, the iPad screen is made of a perfectly smooth piece of glass. So the pen will have much less grip on the screen than an actual pencil would on paper.

Now there are in fact matte screen protectors available to combat this issue and give the iPad writing experience a more ‘paper like feel’. Sure, there are benefits, but downsides, also. So these matte screen protectors sound good at first glance: more grip when using the pencil, less glare and fingerprints are less visible.

But the major (and deal breaking) downside is that the fact that the protector is matte meaning that it has a ‘grainy’ texture, which is actually visible when there is a solid colour on the screen. Since last time I checked we usually write on solid coloured paper, this won’t be great. Plus, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this ‘visible grain’ causing a reduction in the quality of the screen, and when you’re paying THAT MUCH for a device that is, well 100% retina screen, then a slight increase in pencil grip is nowhere near enough to make me endure a reduction in screen resolution.

Okay, I hear you say, how about a tempered glass screen protector? So yes, they don’t cause a reduction in screen resolution, but the issue here is the thickness. These things are so thick that the Apple Pencil can’t actually get close enough to the screen for it to be 100% optimal. What I mean is that it will function, but an attempt at drawing a straight line will make you question as to whether your hand was trembling when you put pencil to pad.

Since I like my notes to be legible, that’s a no-go.

So looks like I’m going to settle for a good old fashioned, like mama used to make, standard, no bells and whistles, plastic screen protector. Yes, slip-and-slide mode will be enabled, but to be fair, Apple designed these products to be used together without a screen protector. I’ve heard that it just takes a bit of getting used to, that’s all.

I can also print my notes and then organise them into binders if I want to revise from physical copies.


Why not get a laptop, instead? 


Well if I were to buy one to make notes on at uni, it would have to be a Macbook Pro 2017. They’re the best laptops available, and although very pricey (around double than the cheapest iPad pro) it would have been worth it…if I could make notes that way.

The problem with typing out notes is that I’m just not fast enough at typing. Decently fast, but not rapid. You understand what I mean.

Also, it’s more difficult to customise your notes and add drawings when on a laptop than writing by hand.


Why not the iPad 9.7 with Apple pencil support?:


Aimed at students, this new iPad 9.7 is smaller than the smallest iPad Pro, and cheaper, also. I would have bought it, but it has a major flaw if you compare it to the Pro. The refresh rate.

The refresh rate of the iPad 9.7 screen is lower than that of the iPad Pro, which is 120 Hz. This means that there is visible lag when writing on the iPad 9.7 due to the lower refresh rate. Since I want as close to the experience of actual writing as possible, and that I want to make use of the device for five years, the extra price for the Pro is very much worth it, for this reason alone.



2 thoughts on “How I plan to take notes in medical school

Add yours

  1. Sounds like a good idea! A lot of my friends take notes on iPads, and they are especially useful for jotting down handwritten notes in tutorials, and really does help you keep everything organised. Personally I use OneNote on my macbook, as it allows me to import slides and annotate around them. Good luck starting med school! 🙂


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