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How to Use Notion for Students – A Complete Beginners Guide
I found Notion quite complicated when I first started using it. People would show off their high-level productivity set-ups with interactive tables and fancy integrations which would leave me feeling overwhelmed with what to do. To help those in a similar position, I have created this article which will discuss the basics and get you comfortable with using Notion.
If you are in a rush, here is a quick summary of everything I talk about.
Notion is a great app that all students can use to organise their notes. Here are some of the things you can do with it:
- Create an interactive to-do list
- Make notes that help you study using the toggle feature
- Organise your classes and lectures
Remember to keep things simple when you first get started and not copy templates from random videos.
To summarise such a lengthy detailed article in a few words is hard, so I suggest you continue reading to get a glimpse of what Notion is capable of.
What is Notion?
We need to know what Notion is before using it.
Notion is a note-taking app. You can write notes, make bulleted lists and have separate sections based on the topic.
However, it is much more powerful than a normal note-taking app. It can be hard to describe everything it can do, and so this is the best way I have found of describing it.
Imagine a website. It has pages, subsections, headings and complex integrations between all these structures.
If you were building a website, you could edit the pages with ease as there is no code required (modern website builders don’t require coding knowledge).
The result is a simple but powerful app that can handle everything from basic to professional user requirements.
That is probably the best way to describe Notion. It may seem slightly abstract at the moment so here is an image of what a page in Notion can look like.
Hopefully, this has given you a basic understanding of what Notion is.
Now, before we get into the details of how to get started, let’s explore what makes Notion so good for students.
Why Should Students Use It?
Here are some of the main reasons why students should give Notion a shot.
There are many reasons why students might want to use it.
- It is free
- Can store a vast amount of information
- Adaptable to your needs
- Ready-made templates to save you precious time
- Easily organise classes and lectures in tables and calendars (where everything is linked)
- Have notes that you can learn from
Some of these things may seem too good to be true. But I’ll be showing you how you can implement them into your Notion workplace (a “Notion workplace” is analogous to saying “Word document” – workplace just sounds fancier).
There are plenty of other things that make Notion amazing, but as I said before, this article is only concerned with getting you familiar with the basics.
Hopefully, I have convinced you that you should be using Notion as a student.
So let’s move onto how you can set download and get Notion.
Let’s quickly get your Notion account up and running.
You can use Notion online. Just go to the Notion website and use your email to sign up.
Notion online gives you all the features than downloading it would, similar to how any web app like Grammarly, Evernote or Microsoft Teams is similar whether you use it online or download it.
But I do still think there are some minor advantages of downloading Notion.
- It is more convenient to have a separate app that you can open
- Allows you to work while not being distracted by other tabs.
- You can also still use it while offline.
Go to the Notion website and download Notion for your device.
Once downloaded you simply login and you are good to go!
I would also suggest that you get Notion on your phone and tablet (or whatever other devices you carry with you all the time).
Although it is probably not a good idea to be taking notes on your phone as the app is slightly clunky compared to the desktop version, it is still useful for when you want to jot things down or tick off something on your to-do list.
You may notice that there are different price plans. As a student, you almost certainly don’t need any of the paid options.
The free plan gives you more than enough.
The Homepage and Other Essential Stuff
Your homepage will be the centre of your world. The essence of your digital existence. The elemental piece of the jigsaw puzzle that connects everything together.
Below is my homepage which I interact with every day.
As you can see it is quite simple with links to the main things I use Notion for.
Straight away you can see some interesting things which make Notion unique.
There is a cover image at the top (the horse) as well as an icon (the house emoji). You can set a cover image and icon for every page you create.
My layout can be adjusted for your own needs but is a good place to start.
Other Basic Information
Templates are pre-made Notion pages that people have made. There are literally thousands of them out there and cover everything from homepages to course schedulers.
To get an idea of the template available, check out this article by Keep Productive. Otherwise, you can also see the official templates page on Notion.
It is common to use different headings in Notion.
For example, there is the Header 1 which has the largest text. After this, there is the Header 2 and 3. Headers are simply different font sizes that help you quickly and easily break up the text.
Pages are separate documents that you can have stored within a page.
It is similar to having folders within a folder on your computer.
The “/” Feature
The slash (/) is a commonly used shortcut which brings up a list of actions that can be performed.
You can create a new page, make a bulleted list or create a divider. It is something you will quickly learn to use if you are using Notion on your desktop.
You will see examples of this in play later on in the article.
Making Notes & Questions
One of the most important things that students do is prepare for exams, and one of the most common ways of preparing for them is by making notes. So let’s talk about how Notion can help you make better notes.
As we know from evidence-based study techniques, note-taking on its own is not an amazing way of revising.
Therefore, we can use some of the awesome features that Notion has to offer to ensure we aren’t just mindlessly taking notes.
Cornell Note-Taking Method
You can use the Cornell note-taking method. See the image below to see what it looks like.
You can get the template here.
In the middle of the page, you write your notes. On the left, there is a recall section where you put key phrases and questions that you will look at later.
This recall section is the most important part as when you go back to looking at the notes, rather than just re-reading the notes, you answer the questions you have written there, thereby actively recalling the information.
This is certainly a method of note-taking that you can implement into your Notion workplace, however, in my opinion, the better way of using Notion is by using the toggle feature. it is much easier and quicker than using the Cornell template above.
Below you can see an example of a toggle in action.
When you expand the toggle, you reveal the notes which are hidden below.
Toggles allow you to hide your notes. You write a question or a key phrase or word that will help you know what notes are concealed underneath.
This is perfect for when you are going through your notes to revise. You can go through the questions you have written and answer them in your head.
After going through a question, you can even colour the question to indicate how hard you found it. A simple green = good and red = bad can work well.
As you can see, the toggle feature in Notion is a great alternative to simply using Microsoft Word where it is impossible to create these flashcard-like notes.
You Don’t Have to Make the Toggles Straight Away
When you are making notes for something, it is sometimes easier to focus on making the notes and then doing questions afterwards.
Therefore, if you feel that you can’t keep a good pace with your lecturer or don’t like trying to come up with questions on the spot, you can make notes how you normally would and then convert them to toggles later.
That being said, if you feel you can keep up, then making the toggles at the same time as the notes is probably a faster approach.
Now let’s create a simple to-do list that will be easy to manage.
This is the to-do list that I will be showing you how to make today.
It is simple and clean while providing you with all the basic functionality you could want from a to-do list.
To start, create a new page and name it “to-do list” or “task manager”. Whatever takes your fancy.
Then, start by creating a “list” block. Look at this gif below to see how to create this.
Once you have created a list, you can make a separate column by dragging and dropping the text to the right.
That is the main part of the to-do list done. You can create more columns if you wish; a “next week” and “next month” column may be something to consider.
You also want to make a separate “archive” page. This is where you will be storing your tasks once they have been completed.
This way, your “today” column should be a blank slate at the end of every night and you can move over your “tomorrow” column to today.
This is an extremely basic to-do list, but I believe that it is something that the majority of students could get away with as it is unlikely they will be needing to organise anything too complicated.
The most difficult thing for students to organise would be there classes and lecturesa which is what we will be exploring now.
If you would rather have a bit more functionality in your to-do list that I talk about here, then check out this task list template.
Organising Classes and Lectures
In this section, I will discuss how to make a bare-bones table which holds all the core information you need for your classes.
It is a bit difficult to give you an easy guide on how you should use Notion to organise lectures.
It entirely depends on how complex your syllabus and classes are and what sort of organisation method you prefer.
However, I suggest that you stick with this method initially, then build on it as you learn more about Notion. Doing this will help you get familiarised with how the more complex parts of Notion work rather than using a template and not having a clue how to use the integrated databases they have.
Start by creating a table block in a brand new page.
After this, you can name all the different rows with the name of your classes.
Now for each class you can do several different things.
One option is to create a tag for each class saying the date and time that they would occur.
Note that this would work best if your classes are the same every week and therefore you don’t ever need to edit the tags.
You could also create a column for the date of the exam. See the below gif.
This is gain a simple way to organise your lectures and classes. If you keep the skeleton of what I have shown you and build on it from there you can easily make something that works for your needs without feeling overwhelmed.
Here are some general tips that you can use when working in Notion.
Keep Things Simple
You may see people using complicated setups to maximise their productivity in Notion. However, don’t get sucked in.
It is easy to duplicate the template that they use and edit it, but, likely, you will soon feel overwhelmed with everything if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Therefore, start with the basics and work your way up. If you see a template that you like, take the time to research it fully so that you understand how to use it.
Notion Can’t Do Everything
Although Notion is an amazing tool that you should be using every day, it is not a silver bullet.
For example, I went through a period of trying to use Notion as my calendar instead of Google Calander. After a few weeks, I went back to Google.
Because Notion tries to do everything, you can likely find other applications that are specialised and can do their job much better. So learn when to let go of Notion and use another tool that might just do the job better.
Because I haven’t discussed everything that Notion has to offer in this article, here are some resources that you can use to learn more from.
- Keep Productive – 10 Best Notion Templates to Use
- Radreads – The Only Notion Tutorial You’ll Ever Need
- The Sweet Setup – A Beginner’s Guide to Notion
Learning the Basics of Notion
- studycollab: alicia – How I use Notion!
- Ali Abdaal – My Favourite Productivity App for Students
- Keep Productive – Top 15 Notion Tips for Beginners
More Advanced Uses of Notion
Let’s conclude everything we have been talking about.
In this article, we have learned how to make a homepage, a to-do list as well as organise our lessons.
There are a lot of things that make Notion an amazing and exciting app for students. Hopefully, this has given you a good introduction into the basics of what Notion is capable of.
Make sure you keep on researching for more articles like this so that you get a more complete understanding of how to use Notion.
If you enjoyed this article then please share it with your friends and colleagues who might find it useful.