The start of school can be overwhelming with the amount of materials needed and getting up to speed with new routines. Getting organized is one of the best ways to get a handle on the new school year and prepare for academic success. Here are 10 easy tips on how to get started on the right track from our study skills expert, Saskia Nilsen:
1. Get a PLANNER! Whether you write your homework down in notes on your phone, take pictures of what the teacher writes on the board, or check/download your homework electronically, it is still important to have an old-fashioned planner to be able to write it all down in once you get home, if not at school. The best kind are the ones that list the subjects going down the side and the days of the week across the top because this allows you to see the whole week at a glance. Using the planner allows you to make notes, like numbering the priority of assignments in a given night, estimating the time it will take you to do an assignment, backwards plan a long-term assignment into smaller nightly chunks or simply check off assignments as you complete them.
2. Develop a BINDER system that works for you. Some students have a binder for each subject and a very full backpack. Other students have one huge binder for all their subjects that starts to overflow around December. RITES recommends three 1 ½ inch binders with two subjects per binder. If your schedule allows, you can put the first two subjects you have in the morning in one binder and then the next. This allows for less frequent trips to your locker and a more compact backpack. Color-coding your subjects and binder dividers help you find the right subject quickly. Each subject should have a “Work-to-Do” pocket that you check every night as you sit down to do homework, as well as a separate “Work-to-Hand-In” pocket that you check each time you enter that class. Other standard divider sections include Completed Homework, Notes, Tests/Quizzes, Essays or Projects, and Other.
3. LABEL everything! By writing your name, your teacher’s name and the subject on all the materials you use for a given class, you are ensuring that lost items are more likely to return to you. People are more likely to track down a teacher or place an item in a teacher’s mailbox, than they are to try and find a student whose name they might not recognize. Get color-coded labels and use them on your books, folders, notebooks, binders, etc. They even work better for labeling binder dividers than those little stripes of paper that fall out by October!
4. Color-code your school SCHEDULE. This is particularly helpful when you have a cascading or rotating schedule. First, color-coding your schedule will help familiarize yourself with your week and, secondly, it will save you time when you refer back to your schedule. Making copies of your schedule and placing one in your locker, at your desk at home, on the fridge, in your planner, and on the front or back of each of your binders will make sure you have easy access any time you need it.
5. Block out TIME to do your homework. Make a schedule of your week with all the hours in your day and fill in all your scheduled events like school, sports, etc. Include meal times and transportation time. Look for the holes on any given day to plan homework time. Notice if you are overbooked on certain days, or that you can’t get to your homework until 9 at night when your brain is fatigued and read to start shutting down. Plan accordingly by working ahead when needed or saving easier tasks for later in the day. Try to plan to get your homework done when your brain is still at optimal functioning.
6. Develop an organization ROUTINE. When you get to school each morning, take a moment to make sure you are organized for your day and have the materials you need. Before you leave school, check your homework and make sure you have all the materials you need to complete your homework. When you get home, organize yourself before you start your homework by hole punching and filing papers in your binder and planning out how to approach your homework. Each night before you go to bed, pack your backpack and check that you have all the work due the next day in your backpack, as well as any materials you need to take to school the next day. Sometimes a little laminated checklist that hooks on to the inside of your backpack is a big help. All of this can take less than ten minutes on a given day, but those ten minutes can make a huge difference in your overall academic success!
7. Make a distraction-free PLACE to STUDY at home that has all the supplies you need, from a calculator and a dictionary to tissues and snacks. This will minimize the number of times you need to stand up to get something while working and allow your time to be more effective. By removing distractions like TV, phone, online chatting while you are working, you will be able to work more efficiently and get to relaxing and socializing sooner. Experts recommend not listening to music with words while you work because it makes the brain split its focus. Websites like Study Jams (for math and science topics) offer sound tracks that work like exercise mixes to keep you focused and motivated while you study.
8. Take time to get organized ELECTRONICALLY. Many schools have online tools like digital textbooks or homework websites to help you or are required in order to complete homework. Take the time to bookmark all of the sites you may need and create a password cheat sheet on an index card. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the features of each electronic resource. You may find things like chapter summaries, practice tests or printable teacher lecture notes that will really help you later in the year.
9. Once a month, PURGE your backpack and clean your binders. Take out things
you no longer need or papers from units you have completed. Place them in an accordion file or file box that you keep near your desk in chronological order by subject. Make sure to clearly label them so that when you pull them out for midterms or finals, you can easily access what you need to review while you are studying.
10. Don’t give up! When some part of your organization system is not working for you, don’t give up on it all. PROBLEM-SOLVE different strategies that work for you and make little tweaks here and there to personalize your system for your learning style and brain. Finding what works for you is the start of staying organized for the rest of your life. Ask for help if you need it. Teachers, parents, and tutors are usually willing to let you know what works for them. There are tons of strategies for any given organization problem online. Whatever saves you time and keeps you on track academically is an organizational strategy worth keeping!