How to take notes as a CS student

September 20, 2016

736 words, a 4 minutes read

So I’m now in my 3rd term of studying Computer Science. I’m only doing that part-time, that’s why it’ll be longer.

As people are now starting their studies as well, I wanna talk about how I take notes and organize my stuff. It basically follows the principle of “don’t make me think”. There may be better solutions to parts of that, but I like to keep the number of tools I use to a low number, since I don’t want to be searching around.

Math/paper heavy lectures

I’m now officially done with all courses titled “Math” but I don’t know what’s to come. In these kind of lectures, you’re handed a text script which the lecturer follows more or less. During the lecture, he’ll work on the chalkboard.

For that kind, I print out the text script and take it with me in a folder. I like the ones with four instead of just two holes, all the paging around does take its toll during a term. I then take my notes on my notepad and after I’m done with a page or the lecture, I put that page approximately where we were in the text script in that folder. That way, I can scroll through the pages and have a copy of what was written during the lecture as well as just the theory behind it.

I’m doing the same for exercises. I’m doing it on paper and then I’ll sort it in right behind the whole script. That’s because exercises are not always in the script, so there’s no direct connection. I like to keep things the same way.

Why do I use no computer? I found out that it’s quite hard to write math on a computer (not talking about LaTeX, I’m not quick enough yet) during a lecture. Simple pen and paper always works.

Presentation lectures

Note: I’ve revised this part of the post in new post.

There’s the other type, where there’s a PowerPoint presentation and you’re handed the file before the lecture. The lecturer then goes through that presentation, explains things, but it’s mostly included in the presentation.

For that type, I’ll have sync scripts that sync the presentation from the server down to my machine, so I have everything ready. I then open the presentation that’s currently on the projector and print it to OneNote. That’s where I keep all my things stored and it’s my main tool besides pen and paper (hopefully that’ll be more and more).

Using OneNote for lecture notes

There’s a few things to consider when using OneNote

OneNote does not actually store your PDFs. When you print to the OneNote printer, it generates an image of every page. That image will then be pasted into your notebook. OneNote actually performs OCR on everything that you print to it, you can have that text back with the “Alt text” feature. Also, the text is searchable.

The only bad thing is that you can’t click on links or anything like that. On the other hand, it’s stable and not depending on any kind of interpretation anymore. Just this week I was having problems with formulas from a Word PDF document. It was showing up in Adobe Reader, but not in the printout. I used the “Print as image” feature, found under Print/Advanced, since it’s gonna be a picture anyway.

The reason I use OneNote that much is sync. I usually open a new notebook for each course on OneDrive and then open that one in the mobile apps if I ever need to check something. I don’t have to sync PDFs around where I only have a limited edit tool and everything’s the same on each device.

In OneNote, you’ll have three levels of organization. You’ll have a notebook, which is the actual  file. You’ll then have sections, including a list of pages. Those pages can be indented on the page list.

So I usually create a section for lectures and one for exercises. I then put each lecture file into its own page (make sure to disable the splitting of pages on large printouts) and name it according to the filename. For the exercises, I use one page for each as well. When I get solutions, I print that out as well and indent it by one under the exercise page.

Is it the best solution? Maybe not. Is is a working solution? Definitely yes.