Minimalist school supplies

Back-to-school shopping, an event where students throw fat stacks of cash at large office supply chains. As a kid, I loved annually re-expressing myself every September through the latest stationery trends. Now I realise that the only purchases truly worth raving about, were the few that stood by me for the years to come.

Back-to-school shopping was one of the more exciting moments of going back to school. I loved picking out flashy binders and brand-new pencils for the upcoming school year.

The remains of my beloved stationery collection

While they’re fun to collect, buying low quality supplies only to replace them the next year can be quite draining on the wallet. This time around, I want to showcase my most well-loved school supplies.

Essential school supplies

Scientific calculator

The Sharp Writeview EL-W516X was the first scientific calculator I bought and has reliably stayed by my side from middle school to university. Even through all these years, there are still some functions and modes that I haven’t used yet.

My trusty dusty calculator

The main features that had me hooked was its complex mode and equation mode. These two modes carried me through my exams.

The complex mode can evaluate complex operations in both polar and Cartesian form automatically. This was an invaluable time saver for exams.

The equation mode provides a quick way to solve quadratic, cubic, and systems of equations. Yes, everyone has the quadratic equation memorized, but in exams, every second is precious.

One thing to watch out for when purchasing calculators is exam restrictions that your school may put on calculators. Some schools have a list of which calculators are allowed for exams. Calculators like this one sometimes do not make the list.


I bought Samsung Galaxy 10.1 Note 2014 Edition when I went paperless in university. I liked the idea of organizing my notes digitally. At the same time, handwriting notes was my way of learning in lectures.

Handwriting notes with tablet

What drew me to this product was the pressure sensor of the pen. I wanted my notes to look handwritten, as if I was writing on paper. Back then, most tablets would vary the stroke thickness by the speed of the pen. I felt that this didn’t make my handwriting didn’t look very natural.

Another essential feature of the tablet is the automatic shutoff of hand sensors when the pen is close to the tablet surface. That means I can rest my hand on the tablet screen while I write, like a real piece of paper.

I was able to hand write all of my notes on this tablet throughout my university career. It has saved so much paper and I am able to digitize all my notes. It has also come handy when signing forms without access to a printer.

While the tablet is pretty powerful, it can never replace an actual computer. It’s possible to edit Word documents or Excel spreadsheets on the tablet, but a laptop is much better at getting the job done.

Note-taking app

I needed an app that could let me take clean handwritten notes. A lot of my peers liked using Microsoft OneNote, but in my experience the handwriting response didn’t look natural. The infinite pages also made it difficult to organize. It just wasn’t the style I was looking for.

I discovered LectureNotes in my first year of university and used it until my last year. It’s an incredibly flexible tool and the handwriting looked genuine since it supported my pressure sensing pen.

One of the best features is its ability to invert colours while exporting notebooks into PDFs. Writing on a bright screen for long durations strains my eyes, which is why I like writing in “dark mode”. With this feature, I can set my notebook pages to black and invert the colours to white when I’m exporting.

Each notebook can also be sorted into folders so subjects were easy to organize. Pages in notebooks can be indexed for easy reference. PDFs can also be imported and notes could be taken on top of it.

As great as this app is, there is still one major downside. As the pages and pages of digital notes build up, it becomes increasingly difficult to refer back to these notes since handwriting is not searchable. I can index pages with keywords, but it’s not comparable to the convenience of searching text. This is one of the reason why I have started re-typing my old notes so I can easily refer back to them in the future.

Lightweight school essentials is the way to go

And that’s it! I’d use a pencils and erasers for exams, but this is all I needed for lectures. This helped me save some money since I never had to go back-to-school shopping. Additionally it made my backpack extremely lightweight and reduced back strain.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, so these school supplies aren’t necessarily suited for you. My school supplies were sufficient for my school’s curriculum and personal working style. The tools you use no doubt contribute to successful studies, but for me, there is no need to go back-to-school shopping every year. Good tools can last the school year, but great tools can last your career.