In college, my life was a hot mess. But I knew how to organize your notes.
Seriously. I couldn’t be trusted to eat real food, so I had to have weeks’ worth of dinner servings in the freezer at any point. My room was always a mess because I lived off campus and I spent almost all my time either in the library or at Connor’s house. At any given moment I had over 100 unanswered emails in my inbox.
But my notes… oh, my notes.
My notes were perfect.
My notes were organized.
Because with everything else, I could fake it ’till I make it. Sure, my room was messy, but I didn’t let it spill into the common areas. And I just spent one day a month making food so I had a solid stock of dinner and lunches frozen for later. And every now and then I would power through that inbox. With my notes, though, there wasn’t really room for a slip-up. If my notes were disorganized or messy, my productivity was shot.
When you keep your notes organized, your time can be put towards studying, not reformatting your notes so they actually make sense.
I had so many friends who took terrible notes, shoved them in the bottom of their backpacks, and then spent hours before every midterm re-writing them painstakingly. Then, without fail, they would panic before the midterm because they hadn’t had any time to actually study the material! They had just been writing it out for three days!
So today I want to show you how to organize your notes so that studying is 10x easier!
1. Keep your notes in one place
This is the number one rule for how to organize your notes. It seems like such a simple thing, but so many people don’t do this! You have no idea how many people I used to get texting me the day before a midterm asking if I had notes from the third lecture because they simply couldn’t find theirs.
Keeping your notes in the same physical location is key. Many people and bloggers I know recommend using a different notebook for each subject. If that works for you, great. I personally didn’t like that. Instead, I kept them in a binder or on my laptop.
With a binder, it’s pretty straight forward. You separate each course in your binder and keep all your notes organized by date. On the computer, you have a few options.
Now, some people say “taking notes on your laptop isn’t a good idea.” But to that I say: you doing it wrong. I took notes almost exclusively on my laptop during my last two years of school and had a 90+ average. It’s not the computer’s fault–it’s a tool, and you can use it well or poorly.
I’ll be creating a freebie about how to take notes on your computer soon, so stay tuned for that!
But back to how to organize your notes on your computer. The trick with organizing notes is to keep it very simple. Keep all of your notes from each class into a folder dedicated to that class and that class alone. Just using a “notes” folder and then cramming all your files into one place isn’t going to help you stay organized. Instead, keep a different folder for each subject.
Also, organize your notes by date or lecture number. Many professors are going to cover multiple topics that are very similar throughout the semester. For example, with my psychopathology class we talked about depression in four different classes. So labelling my notes “depression lecture” isn’t going to help much. Labelling them by date, however, helps you keep your notes organized so you know exactly what material you should be studying for the midterm or exam you have coming up.
2. Combine your notes
You’ve got notes from the lecture, the information on the slides, and the textbook. Going through all three of those isn’t efficient. Instead, try and combine all your notes into one file for each section of your course. Usually the readings are going to correspond to lecture material, so it doesn’t make sense to have the same material in multiple places in your notebook. Keeping organized is a lot easier when you have gotten rid of any duplicated material.
One tip that keeps this efficient is just to type up your notes all together as soon as you get home. When I was in university I would go to the library and get my readings done during the day, go to my lectures, and then go home and type up my notes. That way my lecture and textbook notes would be combined with the slides material immediately and I wouldn’t have to waste time later trying to figure out where everything goes. Doing this while the information is still fresh saves you a lot of time and stress later.
3. ALWAYS date your notes
Nice candlelit dinner, walk through the park… No, I mean, write the day’s date on the top of the first page. This will help you keep track of when the notes were from, what slides they go with, and whether or not you’re going to need them for the final. Plus, it’ll help show you if you’re missing any notes–if you’ve got them for every class except one from September, maybe call a friend and ask for theirs from that class.
4. Relate your notes to the text and slide material
Taking notes in class without captioning them leads to so much confusion later on. If you keep them organized by topic, everything becomes much easier. When you’re taking notes, always remember to organize them by heading and subheading–that way, if your exams are cumulative, you’ll know which notes go together. Many of us have professors who jump all over the place from lecture to lecture. Having those headings can help you later when you’re trying to compile your notes to study for your final, since you’ll have a complete picture of what your teacher said about each topic throughout the semester, even if the material is peppered through several lectures.
5. Discard your notes when you are finished with them
This may be a bit stressful for some of you, but hear me out on this one.
If you’ve compiled all of your notes or you’ve typed them up onto the computer, you have no need for the original files. Having extra papers or computer files lying about is just going to create more clutter, and be more to wade through later. As long as you’re labelling your notes correctly, throwing away old versions won’t be anxiety-provoking.
My rule of thumb is less is more. You want fewer, better notes. That means that if you are able to condense the material from the September 17th lecture down to 5 pages, including the textbook material, awesome. Get rid of everything else. Organizing your notes allows you to streamline your studying. Holding onto extra papers isn’t helping achieve that goal.
What are some of your tips and tricks for how to organize your notes, or other school files? Let me know in the comments below!