Learn With Your Mac (Part 2)

12/9/2012 9:17:08 AM

Your timetable is complete and so the real work is about to begin. Fortunately, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to note-taking apps for OS X and iOS.

The best note-taking apps focus on not only making notes, but on finding and sorting them later as well

The best note-taking apps focus on not only making notes, but on finding and sorting them later as well

First among these, in our opinion, is Evernote (evernote Corporation, OS X, iOS: free, Premium version: $4.5 per month, $48 per year). The basic version costs you nothing at all and yet is still a fairly powerful suite of tools. Essentially it’s a big but well-ordered briefcase in which you can store all manner of coursework for effortless retrieval later on. You can import images, PDFs, internet clips and so on and over these you can add your own text and annotations in order to clarify salient points or remind you to explore in more depth later on. All of this information is stored centrally so if you install the apps on all your computers and iPads and phones, you’ll have access o your work at any time. It’s incredibly useful for jotting down any ideas that occur to you, taking copious notes in class and storing important websites that you can later view offline. The free version, while extremely generous in its offering, is limited in various ways. If you come to depend upon the Evernote system you might want to consider paying the annual subscription that gives you bigger uploads, the option to take your stored notes offline to view at any time, sharing of notes with other users, and the rather nifty option of being able to search text in images.

Not all students require such an exhaustive set of tools, so a cheaper, more streamlined, but still very powerful option is Course Notes (Dear Panda LLC, OS X: $4, iOS Universal: $4). The basic features include the ability to make notes from text image and PDF sources, organize your notes according to subjects and link assignments to them, and sync your work over Wi-Fi between your desktop computer and mobile devices. It’s straightforward. But an elegant way to keep all your stuff in one place.



If you really only want an alternative to a briefcase and pad in class and don’t want to lug your laptop around, you couldn’t do better than NoteHub (, LLC, iOS: free). This iPad-only app enables you to easily store text notes and call calculations, make sketches, attach documents and organize your work via a simple interface.

To finish, there are a couple of non-essential, but rather pleasing apps any committed student might want to consider. Skitch (Evernote Corp, OSX and iOS Universal: free) is a stylish app that enables you to import web pages, documents, photos and the like, and via a few swipes, add arrows, annotations and so on in order to quickly and easily store information for later study. In this regard it’s useful both to students and teachers.

The fashion-conscious student should also look out for Paper by FiftyThree (FiftyThree Inc, iOS: $2-$7.5 IAP). It’s a very basic note-taking app but it’s beautifully presented in the style of individual, high-quality notebooks (of the Moleskine variety famously used by Ernest Hemingway and Picasso). After scribbling and sketching your ideas you can then flick through the pages of these beautiful objects.

Revision apps

Regardless of how well you comprehend the tidal wave of information that washes over you during a given college term, making it stick and being able to recall it at will is entirely another matter. When the dreaded exams lumber into view on the horizon you need something to make the process of revision that much more efficient and enjoyable.

Our primary recommendation is Mental Case (The Mental Faculty, OS X: $32, iOS: $4.5). Despite the hefty price tag, we would suggest you try to squirrel away the readies for the OS X and iOS versions of the app, as it is without doubt a superb tool with which to cram for your exams. As you progress through your course you can begin to enter the information you’re given into Mental Case in the form of flash cards. These contain the subject, the key piece of information, explanations of the concepts, audio and visual notes and so on.

No matter what subjects you are studying, Mental Case will greatly improve your chances of academic success

No matter what subjects you are studying, Mental Case will greatly improve your chances of academic success

Once you have a completed deck of flashcards you are then able o go back in and review what you’ve learned in a variety of ways, either looking up individual items for study, watching slideshows of your subjects or setting yourself multiple choice papers.

As you work your way through the slideshows you’ve created you can indicate whether or not you have remembered the information on any given flashcard, allowing the software to prompt you on your weaker areas in subsequent sessions. In this way it’s possible to monitor how well your retaining all the information. And if manually entering all this data proves to be too much of a headache, the killer feature is the online FlashcardExchange, where you can browse a substantial library of pre-existing flashcard decks across a vast range of subjects and download those pertinent to your course.

The budget alternative to mental case, and a very solid option at that, is Smartr (Barefoot Hackers AB, OS X: free). What it lacks in sophistication it makes up for in simplicity and functionality. This is a tool for creating your own card stacks. You simply create a card, then add all the necessary info. You can provide question and answer data for testing, add concepts and explanations, definitions, include images along with explanatory notes and essentially build up a vibrant database of all your work that you can then come back to for cramming. And as you work through your flashcards, the software automatically selects subjects according to your past performance.

Finally, if you don’t own an iOS device and want a relatively inexpensive revision tool, iFlash (David McGaven, OS X: $16) proves to be a no-nonsense way of creating your own flashcards featuring texts, images and audio and the option for users to share their decks online. The result is a library of over 5,000 freely available flashcard decks.

In looking through the vast array of educational apps out there, we’ve tried o find a selection that fits every pocket and collectively covers every aspect of your learning adventure. Importantly though, with your coursework mounting up, the last thing you need is o be finding your way around dozens of new apps, which is why we’ve split the options down into distinct sections. Our advice is to start with a time management app… organizing your term is of paramount importance. After that, you can take your time choosing the apps that best suit the rest of your educational needs.

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