Hey guys! I’ve gotten lots of questions about my favorite pens to write with, especially when it comes to annotating First Aid and Pathoma. My handwriting is really small and I write fairly quickly, so it’s important for me to use pens that don’t smudge. Few things annoy me more than having neat notes and then a smudge at the end of a sentence. Keep reading to see what my favorite ones are…for the boards and the wards (Online MedEd, anyone?)
Let’s just get it out of the way immediately – my absolute, favorite, number one, holy grail pens are the Uni Jetstream Ballpoint Pens. I much prefer ballpoint over gel pens because 1) they barely take any time to dry and 2) they have less drag, meaning they’re smoother when you write and don’t feel as scratchy. I first discovered them through JetPens back when I was googling for thinner pens (just one of the many fascinating ways I like to spend my free time) and have never used another ballpoint. I prefer the 0.5mm for everyday use because the 0.38mm is a little too fine, but the smaller size was amazing for annotating my First Aid and Pathoma. The pages of FA and Pathoma are glossier than normal paper so they can smudge more; I highly recommend the Jetstream for them! More photos of the 0.38mm in First Aid at the end of the post.
Black ballpoint and gel pens:
In order from top to bottom:
Uni Jetstream Ballpoint 0.5mm
Uni Jetstream Ballpoint 0.38mm
Uni-ball Signo RT1 UMN-155 Gel 0.38mm – this pen comes in at a close second to the Jetstreams, but the reason it doesn’t win over the Jetstream is because, like all gel pens, it tends to smear once you start to write quickly. I also use Moleskine notebooks and this pen does a pretty nice job on that paper without bleeding or smudging. The rubber on the barrel is a nice touch and makes it easier on your fingers if you’ve been writing for a long time. I do tend to carry this pen instead of the Jetstream when I’m in the hospital since it comes out a little bit thicker, which forces me to write bigger, which in turn lets my attendings and residents actually decipher and read my notes.
Muji Hexagonal Polycarbonate Gel-Ink Ball Point Pen 0.38mm – a clickable version of the popular Muji pens. I bought this to try, thinking it would come in handy since it doesn’t have a separate cap. Unfortunately, it’s probably my least favorite pen on this list. It comes out much thicker than the other pens (as seen in the photo above) and it takes forever to dry. Also interestingly, it’s thicker than the 0.38 regular Muji gel pens.
Uni Style Fit Single Color Slim Gel Pen 0.38mm – I bought this thinking it would be awesome to have such a thin pen. False. It’s pretty hard to grip because of it’s tiny barrel size and there’s no grip for the fingers, so I’m always fumbling with it. I’ve had it for 2+ years and have only used it twice – once when I got it, and once for this blog post. **update below
Pilot HI-TEC-C Gel Pen 0.3mm – I was curious to try a 0.3mm and this one had some decent reviews. It’s pretty scratchy but that’s to be expected with such a fine needlepoint. I’m not sure if I got a faulty one but the ink doesn’t come out very smoothly (last line in the photo above). I had high expectations for this pen but it was too small, even for me! This is another pen I’ve only used it once or twice.
**Since doing this blog post, I’ve been using these pens more and now prefer the Uni-Style Fit Single Color Slim Gel Pen to the point where I bought the full range of colors. They’re what I wanted out of the Muji pens: colorful gel pens that dry quickly and write smoothly. I bought the colored ones in 0.28mm and they write like a dream. They dry quicker than any other gel pen I’ve used, and I’ve used a lot. Highly recommend as an alternative for colorful annotating in glossy books! As for the thin body, I actually prefer it now because it takes less room and I can slip them into purses or wallets without an issue.
Zebra Sarasa Push Clip Gel Pen 0.3mm vs. Muji Gel Ink Ball Point Pen 0.38mm
Both of these brands offer amazing colors but overall I prefer the Zebra Sarasa over the Muji pens. I annotated my FA with the Zebra pens and they didn’t budge, which was fantastic. The Muji pens were gifted to me by my brother after I had already taken Step 1, but I did test them out on FA+Pathoma recently and found them to be too thick for my liking. Even when I’m writing on blank paper or in my Moleskine notebooks, I they seemed to drag and smudge easily. The Zebra pens take less time to dry, probably because they’re slightly thinner (0.3mm vs 0.38mm). The Muji pens also have a tendency to loosen near where the cap attached and I had to re-twist them pretty often. Very inconvenient. The Zebra pen, however, doesn’t have a cap. This is more based on personal preference and use but when I’m scribbling down notes and then hurrying to catch up with my resident, it’s one less thing for me to think about! Aesthetically, the Muji pens win because they look much nicer compared to the Zebras, which look like any basic pens you can pick up Staples. But aside from the aesthetic and Instagram advantage that Muji has, the Zebra Sarasa is definitely the pen I recommend.
Uni Propus Window Soft Color Double-Sided Highlighter (4.0mm/0.6mm)
I LOVE these highlighters. I bought these to fill my cart so I could get the free shipping at JetPens (just being honest) and will be ordering my third pack soon. I really dislike the neon highlighters because they can be rough on my eyes, especially after I’ve been studying for a long time under fluorescent lighting. These have just enough color that they stand out without being obnoxious. They worked perfectly in First Aid and Pathoma and most importantly, did not bleed onto the next page. I haven’t tried out the Zebra Midliners that seem to be popular, though I’ve been tempted!
Annotating First Aid and Pathoma
I really recommend unbinding your First Aid, hole punching it, and then putting it in a three-ring binder. This can be done at most Staples or Kinko’s. It lets you add in your own notes and helps you keep everything in one place. I added notes/diagrams/pathways from incorrect UWorld questions on blank pages and then placed them in my binder; as I got closer to exam time, re-reading my First Aid meant I was reviewing both FA material and UWorld information.
For Pathoma, I had it spiral bound so it could lie flat for note-taking. The book already has a lot of room in the margins for notes so the binding is not necessary – I just prefer having a flat surface to write on.
For my First Aid, I attempted to color code on the first pass but then gave up 2 chapters in because it felt like everything needed to be highlighted. Below are examples of how I put notes in: I used the Propus highlighters, the Zebra pens, and the 0.38mm Jetstream. I only used the Jetstream and the highlighters for Pathoma. In both books, none of the colors bled through the other side of the page and I had no major issues with smudging.
Last but not least, my stylus for my iPad mini can be purchased on Amazon here. I’ve been using my iPad mini since school started, and this is the only stylus I’ve used. It’s not bluetooth enabled or anything fancy like that but it’s a solid choice for under $15.
Wow, this post ended up being longer than I expected but it was really fun to put together 🙂 I hope you guys were able to find parts of it helpful! Like I said, I have tiny handwriting so pen thickness really matters. I’m also very particular about my notes (if you can’t already tell) and having good writing utensils is essential.
Below are links for each of the pens. When I make a big purchase to try different pens I like to buy through JetPens because you can get free shipping after $25. If it’s a pen I know I want, I purchase through Amazon because of Prime and occasionally I can snag a good deal on packs of 3 or 5!
I was not offered these pens nor was I asked to do a review of them. I randomly decided to purchase a bunch while I was studying and thought this blog post would be helpful for picky individuals like me.
Uni Jetstream Ballpoint 0.5mm
Uni Jetstream Ballpoint 0.38mm
Uni-ball Signs RT1 UMN-155 Gel 0.38mm
Muji Hexagonal Polycarbonate Gel-Ink Ball Point Pen 0.38mm
Uni Style Fit Single Color Slim Gel Pen (full color set)
Pilot HI-TEC-C Gel Pen 0.3mm
Zebra Sarasa Push Clip Gel Pen 0.3mm (10 colors)
Muji Gel Ink Ball Point Pen 0.38mm (8 colors)
Uni Propus highlighters
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