Half of the challenge in keeping up with college courses is staying organized. With classes having a multitude of information on various platforms it can be difficult to keep it all straight. This post contains a list of some tried and true techniques for note taking and organizing papers and information in college.
1. Choose the best note taking format for you.
There are a lot of different ways to take notes.
There are some professors that will require handwritten notes. In college one scientific study you will hear cited over and over again by profs is the study that shows that student retention of material increases with handwritten notes, and screens in class – even when the student is on task and taking notes – are a distraction to other students. Seriously, I’ve heard this cited at least six times in different classes in my two years at university. So even if you generally type or write digitally, know what hand written note organizational techniques work best for you. Taking notes in class that are difficult to look back on or confusing to re-read are largely a waste of your time. Think of lecture as a built in time to review and study for the upcoming test, and create notes that you can study from a reference later. Try to keep all of the notes for each class in one place, be that in a notebook or a binder. Some students take notes on loose paper and keep those papers in a 3-ring binder. Others have notebooks for each class. These are both good options. Add some color to break up your notes into sections, this helps your eyes skim to important sections later and allows you to find information without rereading everything.
Typed notes can also be a good option (despite the aversion of many teaching professionals to this format) as it allows for faster writing which can be particularly helpful for slow writers or in classes where a lot of information is covered very quickly. Additionally, some courses rely heavily on slides, and using a computer to take notes directly on slides or to copy and paste images onto notes can create a solid test prep resource. The best computer note taking format I have found is OneNote, which is free to download on Mac, PC, and iOS and has great organization, search ability, and customization.
Note: Learning, much to everyone’s chagrin, does not happen via passive osmosis, so don’t waste your own time and watch YouTube during class. Honestly, the amount of money you waste each class that you don’t actually listen should be enough to at least guilt you, if nothing else, into paying attention.
Digitally Written Notes
This is a great in between of the above two formats! For those that have access to something like an iPad with Apple Pencil or a Surface, this note taking style allows for the benefits of hand written notes along with the search ability and organization of online notebooks. This is the generally more expensive option as most good note taking apps have an associated cost. The apps I recommend are GoodNotes (Mac/iOS $7.99), Notability (Mac/iOS $9.99), and OneNote (Mac/iOS/PC/android FREE).
2. Online resources build up.
I am sure that I do not need to tell you this, but a lot of your work and information will be online! Surprise. Welcome to the 21st century. Although many of you were probably born in the 21st century. Welcome to UP in the 21st century! There are many different places to store and find information online. UP runs on Moodle, the location of online grades, assignments, and readings/syllabi. Things that you download from and turn in via Moodle will be very numerous. It will make your life easier if you organize these things on your computer. Take it from someone who had 16 (?) downloads of her History class’s syllabus on her computer, it’s easier just to have folders or use a Dropbox or Google Drive or any of numerous online file organizing methods.
3. Keep papers organized.
Despite the movement towards having materials available online, you will still receive paper handouts for many of your classes. Please, for the sake of your own sanity, do not just throw these in your back back to be crumpled and lost. You will be given homework, readings, slide printouts, syllabi, test grades, graded essays, and more. Keep these at least until you have received your final grade for the course. Homework provides good practice for tests, syllabi are always handy to know dates, and graded documents are good to have on hand for any potential disputed scores. There are many options for paper storage. Colored folders are an solid options, as long as you can find everything you’re looking for relatively easily – for some they become very messy very fast. If that is the case for you, get something like a 3-ring binder or accordion folder. With a binder you can either invest in a portable three-hole punch (very handy-dandy, but be prepared to have tiny paper circles on and in everything you own) of fill the binder with folders and/or clear paper sleeves and organize papers by course that way. Just keep your papers.
4. Keep track of your assignments and schedule.
A planner! A planner. Seriously. Do not try to keep track of everything in your head. You do not have to buy a really nice personal calendar to make this a reality (although if you want to do that, rock on). There are cost friendly hand-written planner options, or if you are digitally minded there are online calendar/planner apps and sites. I can 100% recommend Google Calendar. They have a task feature that is perfect for putting homework and assignments into your calendar. Keep track of classes, appointments, office hours, and to-dos online accessible anywhere! This is beginning to sound like an ad (#notsponsored), but I can assure you it is simply my zeal for all things Google Calendar. You should also be able to access the Outlook Calendar via your student email and Outlook account that can be used similarly for another solid, free online calendar option.
Your life will be so much easier if you maintain even a basic level of organization in college. Have a rough idea of where those papers are! Know where the syllabus can be found! Have that graded essay so when your professor accidentally plugs in a B- in the grade book you can show them your B+! There are enough stressors in college without having to stress about losing papers of assignments or information from lecture. Wow them with your color-coordinated notes.