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How I Use My iPad as a College Student: A Deep Dive

As a college student, I rely heavily on my iPad for all my classes for notetaking and completing assignments. Here’s how.

Photo by Daniel Korpai on Unsplash

It’s pretty common to see college students carrying around tablet devices nowadays — its easy portability and high functionality make the investment all the more worth the cost.

For the past two years, I’ve been using an iPad 6 paired with the Apple Pencil 1 for all my school work and it still serves me very well in all my classes regardless of the subject.

I love the convenience of having everything I need from notes to class material all in one place and accessible from this small device not to mention the wonderful little features that are built into notetaking apps and the iPad itself. Especially since I prefer writing by hand, I appreciate that I can convert to a more digital life while maintaining the little things that I love about the old fashioned notebook and pen.

In this article, I’ll be going into detail as to how I use my iPad and its features as well as the different apps that I use. If you’re a student with an iPad looking to discover alternate ways you may be able to utilize this device or simply curious as to how iPads can be used for studying, I highly recommend you continue reading.

Photo by Dose Media on Unsplash

Notetaking

Probably the main reason why any student would invest in an iPad for college, the notetaking capabilities on the iPad are amazing. With the Apple Pencil, I can write very precisely and smoothly almost as if it were on paper.

What I love about taking notes on my iPad is that I get the benefits of both handwriting and digital notetaking. I get the same information retention of handwriting as well as being able to store all my notes on the cloud (not to mention saving paper). Not to mention no more carrying 5–6 notebooks per class and assortments of stationary.

With just a few clicks and drags, you can have a very organized digital space to hold all your notes and make them look however you want.

Apps

There are tons of notetaking apps available on the App Store. Here are some of the more popular ones:

I actually have both Notability and GoodNotes and have tried using both to see which one I like better.

After experimenting with the different features and user interfaces, I’ve decided to stick with Notability as my primary notetaking app for the following reasons:

  • smoother writing
  • cleaner user interface/aesthetic
  • recording capabilities
  • automatic backup to Google Drive

Organization

In Notability, you can create dividers to organize your subjects, which are essentially folders that contain all your notes.

Screenshot taken from my iPad

As you can see, I like to split my courses into my semesters by using dividers (ex. Fall 2020). I then have a subject per course that has all my notes, lecture slides, and assignments that I’ve imported into the app.

Writing

How I take notes depends on the class. For classes such as math, which usually don’t have slides, I take notes as I normally would if I were on paper.

I like to create my notes by section or chapter rather than lecture since my professors often don’t complete entire sections in one class period or continue from where he/she left off last class. This just allows the content of my notes to be more organized for when I have to reference them while studying or completing assignments.

Additionally, there’s a handy magnifying feature at the bottom right corner that makes writing long sentences a lot easier and helps keep your handwriting neat. It creates a window that zooms in on a specific area of your note and allows you to write bigger and with better precision without having to physically zoom in on your entire note. This is perfect for those of you who don’t have small handwriting!

Screenshot taken from my iPad

The best part of this feature is the automatic adjustment of the window. As you’re writing across the screen in the zoomed-in box, the window will automatically shift to the right or to the next line (down and all the way to the left) once you reach the opaque blue section. This makes writing a lot more efficient since you don’t have to physically pinch and grad the whole note every few words to shift your view.

Importing Slides

I try to take advantage of the classes that release lecture slides by importing them directly into Notability prior to class, which allows me to write directly on the slides. I write pretty slowly, so this allows me to focus more on what the professor is saying rather than mindlessly trying to scribble down everything by hand. Rather, I highlight the important things that the professor points out and incorporate additional information not mentioned in the slides.

Diagrams / Images

Screenshot taken from my iPad

Notability also has a handy feature for inserting web clips or images, which is perfect for those classes that require a degree of visualization, for example, chemistry or biology. With the iPad’s multitasking feature, you can drag any image you find on the web or from Photos directly into your notes and add to them as you’d like.

I also use Notability’s smart shape tool pretty frequently to draw clean diagrams, especially in my math and CS classes. All you have to do is draw whatever shape you want in one stroke and hold it for a second and the shape will snap into place.

Recording Audio

Notability has a very handy feature that allows you to record audio as you’re taking notes. This is super helpful if you’re a slow writer like me and have trouble listening and writing things down at the same time, thus often missing a lot of information. This feature is also great for those who have trouble understanding their notes at times.

The reason being, you can simply playback your notetaking process when you look back at your notes. In other words, you can see exactly what the professor was saying as you were writing/drawing whatever it is in your notes.

Don’t worry about the mic not picking up audio in large lecture rooms or when you’re sitting in the back — you’d be surprised by the audio clarity!

Assignments

A lot of my classes give problem sets and worksheets that require you to do your work out by hand. As opposed to doing the work out on a separate sheet of paper and scanning it, I can simply do my assignment in a note and export it as a PDF. Then, I simply airdrop it to my Macbook for submission. Better yet, if there are worksheets, I can import them into Notability and write directly on the worksheet, which limits the amount of back and forth between looking at the problem on my laptop/different window and my workspace.

Notability allows you to view two notes side by side, thus I often have my assignment open on one side and my relevant lecture notes right beside it for quick reference. Otherwise, Notability makes it really easy to switch between recently viewed notes if you don’t like split-screen.

Moreover, multitasking allows me to pull up both Notability and my textbook simultaneously for assignments that require me to reference problems from a textbook. Given the limited space of the iPad screen, I prefer not to do this (unless you have the bigger iPad Pro), but you do what you gotta do when you don’t have your laptop or textbook on hand.

Photo by Suganth on Unsplash

Studying

When I’m studying for an exam or need to reference something for an assignment, Notability’s search feature comes in very good use. Their amazing NLP and handwriting recognition lets you search all your handwritten notes for anything, making it very easy to find all the notes relevant to your query (like ctrl F).

Sometimes I’ll come across an old concept in one of my later notes that I don’t remember. I then search that concept amongst my subject notes to find relevant ones so that I can refresh myself on the topic quickly.

iPads are also great for doing practice problems as you can go on and on without worrying about wasting or running out of paper. It’s basically unlimited scratch paper.

I like to import worksheets and practice exams into Notability as well and redo them over and over again since I can repeatedly erase and redo as I please.

Multitasking

I’ve already mentioned multitasking a number of times throughout this article, but I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of how I make use of this feature.

  • Drag images from Photos or the web into my notes
  • Quickly search things up in other apps or the web while taking notes or reviewing them
  • Having textbook and notes side by side for taking notes or doing problem sets
  • Pulling up a calculator or any other resource/reference necessary

Textbooks

No one likes to pay hundreds of dollars on textbooks including me. Usually, before the semester starts, I browse the web to see if I can find any free PDF versions online that I can import into Apple Books.

If I end up having to purchase the textbook, I always opt for the ebook rental option and use apps like Bookshelf or O’Reilly to access them from my iPad.

Photo from Apple

Sidecar

This feature blew my mind when I first discovered it.

Sidecar allows you to use your iPad as a extention of your Mac — like a mini monitor. No connections needed, all you have to do is open the Control Center on your Mac and choose your iPad from the menu under Display.

Screenshot from my Macbook Pro

As a programmer, the more screen space the better. Even with my 16-inch Macbook Pro, I still appreciate the extra display to put my other windows.

Photo by Garrhet Sampson on Unsplash

Additional Apps

If you couldn’t already tell, I primarily use Notability for pretty much everything. Every now and then, however, I find myself needing other apps to assist me with my work. Here are some that you might find useful:

Textbooks

  • Apple Books
  • Bookshelf
  • O’Reilly

Documents

  • Google Drive
  • Google Docs
  • Google Sheets

Math

  • Desmos (graphing calculator)
  • MyScript Calculator (handwriting calculator)

Productivity

  • Google Calendar
  • Minimalist (to-do list)

Other

  • Quizlet
  • Zoom

And there you have it: the ultimate deep dive as to how I use my iPad as a student in college. There are tons more features that you can use and additional accessories (such as the keyboard) you can add to your tablet to boost its functionality.

You don’t need an iPad Pro to have all these features, so if you’re thinking about getting an iPad definitely do some research to figure out which one is best for you.

I absolutely love my iPad 6 as it has been an amazing tool to have throughout my journey in college. I hope this article helps anyone new to using an iPad for school or is thinking about getting one —it’s definitely worth the investment.

Happy studying :)

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