Hey @justinw, welcome to the forum! Thanks for the great question.
Firstly, it’s probably worth pointing out that both @tobias and I studied engineering in university, and the main reason we started building Supernotes was because we weren’t happy with any of the apps at our disposal.
When we were just starting out, it was very important to us that we actually helped students improve their learning. So we did a lot of research and read many, many studies related to note-taking and learning. One pattern that comes up again and again is that students who take notes with pen and paper have a tendency to do better than students who use a computer to take notes. However if you dig a bit further, studies will segment this into “rote learning” vs. “understanding”. When you do that, the research shows that pen + paper vs keyboard had little impact on rote learning / memorization (“what happened in 1965?”), but a noticeable impact on understanding / information synthesis (“why did that happen?”). Some studies focused on how this was possibly due to the actual movements associated with handwriting vs typing, but others focused on how fast people are at typing relative to handwriting. In fact, most people that take notes in a classroom context with a computer are generally fast enough typists that they can write everything a lecturer says verbatim, and that students indeed have a tendency to do this, because of course if you can write everything down presumably this will be beneficial.
However those studies found that this behavior had the opposite effect. Turns out that synthesizing information as you go is actually a very useful thing to do when it comes to fully understanding the material you are trying to learn. Pen and paper force you to slow down (unless you know shorthand, which most students don’t), which in turn causes you to try to understand and summarize the notes you are taking in real time, rather than just typing everything as fast as possible. I touch on this a bit in this post, but to restate: we originally added the card-length limit to Supernotes as a way to discourage students from writing everything their lecturer says verbatim into a giant document and instead encourage them to summarize / categorize as they went along, with the goal being to have 5-20 Supernotes cards (as a very rough guide) per lecture, rather than having a single “kitchen-sink” document.
So because of this I’m going have to disagree with @49f9 here, and assert that at best I think “speed” is not very relevant to how well a student is able to learn, and at worst is actually a hindrance when it comes to truly absorbing learning material. I’ll agree though that Supernotes should probably not be used if you need to write many equations down very quickly, but in that instance I don’t think Obsidian (with the aforementioned plugin) is a good idea either (as a student). Unless things have changed a lot since I was a student, in your exams you will not be using LaTeX to actually write out equations, so learning how to write equations very fast in that format does not seem like a useful way to spend your time.
This is also the reason Supernotes is a very opinionated app – we would rather not encourage our users to spend a lot of time configuring their system / adding plugins / choosing themes / etc, because although that can feel productive, it is rarely actually a good way to spend your time. This leaves some features on the table, but it is a tradeoff we are quite happy with.
My incomplete (and very opinionated advice) about using Supernotes as a student would be thus:
- use Supernotes in lectures, trying to synthesize information as you go as much as possible. Embrace the card length limit!
- if a big equation comes up during a the lecture, don’t bother to write it down in LaTeX in your notes in real time – go back later and add them to your notes at some point after class, straight from the lecture slides (I assume you have access to a digital copy of the slides).
- if the lecturer is doing some hardcore whiteboarding work (derivations / proofs / etc) / work that doesn’t appear in the aforementioned lecture slides, you should be switching to pen and paper at this point. Pen and paper is what you will be using in the exam for stuff like this so it is better to practice that. Then later (again after class) you can re-write those derivations in LaTeX on Supernotes for maximum retention.
- Overall, never be scared to “duplicate” notes. It is not a bad thing to write notes in a lecture on paper and then turn them into Supernotes cards (or anything other digital format, but Supernotes cards were kinda designed for this) later – this is actually a very beneficial workflow for learning. Also don’t be scared to go the other way: if you write some notes in Supernotes during the lecture but later decide you can better summarize them visually / spatially with pen and paper, go for it!
- with regard to diagrams, we actually have basic support for Mermaid, so definitely try that out as well, though yes this might be another thing to do on pen/paper. Really everything I said earlier about equations and LaTeX probably applies to diagrams and Mermaid – draw them with pen and paper in class, recreate with Mermaid (or another digital diagramming tool) later.
- Don’t just write notes on Supernotes from lectures, also try to take notes from other sources (like your textbooks) and then integrate all these notes together / remix them / add to them. That is one of the great things about taking notes digitally – you can always go back and add more context / improve them at a later date, which is harder with handwritten notes.
- And that’s about it.
Of course this is not a complete guide to studying and learning, I will leave that to the professionals. There are many things I haven’t touched on (like spaced repetition), but to me engineering is almost always more about understanding than memorization, as frequently these days the kinds of things you need to memorize (constants / equations) are actually given to you in exams as the focus is on understanding. But for anything you do need to memorize that is short and sweet, I can recommend SR apps like Mochi or Anki (or good 'ole Quizlet) for that. We’re working on SR for Supernotes but no real ETA on when that would be ready so don’t rely on that promise.
Hope that helps, and of course we’re always responsive if you need other help. And if you do decide to use Supernotes as a student and arrive at any helpful insights, it would be great if you could share your learnings with the forum so that others can improve their systems as well!