Being organised at university is a big step to success. But, it’s a pretty un-sexy study skill I know.
Being, and staying, organised at university will help you stay on track and remove those panicky moments of ‘why aren’t my notes in order?’ and ‘where the hell did I put that very important document!?’
So, put aside some time to organise your study materials now before your modules or classes really ramp up, and you’ll thank yourself (and me!) later.
In this blog post you’ll discover...
- How 15 minutes of organisation can set you up for a year of success
- How to organise your study materials so you never lose anything important
- That it's easier to stay on track when everything you need is in one place.
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My simple but effective method to organise your study materials
One folder per module
It’s important to have a physical space to store your study materials even if some of them may be online.
I recommend you buy one folder for every module you’re taking. A simple A4 ring binder folder like this one is perfect.
You’ll then need to buy some dividers like these.
I bought this folder and a set of dividers for less than £5 on Amazon so you don’t need to spend a lot of money to organise your study materials.
Next, you need to think about the types of materials you’ll want to store in your folder, and assign a section to each using a divider. It’s important to separate your materials as over the course of one module you’re going to accumulate A LOT of pieces of paper. You don’t want to start studying and then realise a few months down the line that your syllabus, notes, handouts, and test dates are all over the place. Spend a little time getting organised now and reap the benefits later.
Here are the sections you could use in each folder.
- Module information and admin (module guide, an introduction to the class, learning outcomes, referencing/citation guide…etc.)
- Important dates (tutorials, assignments, tests and exams)
- Assignments (assignment information and guidance, your marked assignments, tutor feedback)
- Notes (every week, transfer your notes to the folder)
- Handouts and slides (any presentations or handouts from tutorials)
- Exam information and revision material (exam details and guide, and revision material you create throughout the module and anything you’re given from your tutors)
- Other (for material that doesn’t work in another section)
You might not need all of these and you might want to add others, but they’re a good place to start.
Once you’ve decided on the sections, mark your dividers. You can either mark the section on the tab of the divider, or keep them blank and instead create a content page as the first page in the folder. I prefer to mark the tabs as it helps me find things faster but do what feels right to you.
Below are the sections I've chosen in the folder for my Creative Writing module.
The note taking dilemma
Everyone has their own way they like to take and store notes. I recommend what works for me but you can tweak this until you find what works for you.
I always suggest filing your notes to keep them safe and in order. If you type your notes, file them in a sensible online folder structure and then print and pop them into your physical folders.
I take all my notes in an A4 notepad like this one.
The pages can be removed so every week I take them out and store them in their own section in my module folder. I find it easier to carry just one notebook around with me and write all my notes in there, even if I’m taking different classes. This means I have to make sure my notes are clear – with the module details written in the corner so they don’t get mixed up.
You may hate this idea and prefer to use one notebook per module. Or you may think its blasphemy to rip apart a notebook and would prefer to keep your notes separate from your main folder. What’s important is that you choose what you think will work for you and what will help you stay organised.
Now, let’s back to your folder. Once you’ve set this up you’ll see most of these sections are pretty empty. But it will soon fill up as you file your notes, assignments and handouts.
If you’re taking multiple modules, or just don’t like lugging round lots of big folders, I’d recommend you do the following.
Buy a smaller folder for each of your modules – a small envelope folder like this works.
Rather than taking your big module folder to tutorials you can take out the things you’ll need and put them in this smaller folder e.g. readings, prep work, handouts…etc. Once you get home you can refile these materials and add any new ones.
I hope you can see how useful this simple organisation method is and the impact it could have on your studying.
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Chloe, this is great!! I normally use one big binder with dividers by course, but that makes it difficult to find things within each course section. I really love this idea of having a smaller binder for each course with its own set of dividers for syllabus, notes, exam prep, slides, etc. Thanks for sharing!!!
Hi Michelle! Thank you for your lovely comment. I’ve definitely done the one big folder before and it does have its benefits. But I found it was too big to take out of the house and it would soon become a bit of a mess. Let me know what method you end up using.
Thank you so much for all of this! I’m a pretty good student, but I really need the help to be more organized. However, my modules are all online. Would you still recommend printing out the materials for the binder? I’m torn on this one, as it may waste a lot of paper.
Thank you for your comment.
If you’re happy taking notes from your online materials without printing them then that’s fine.
Instead, file your notes in week order in your binder. Does that make sense?
I have a question. What is the benefit of using this system over say using individual notebooks/ paper folders for each class? Wouldn’t be more convenient to have all of your notes in a notebook and any relevant papers in a folder with you instead of having them all stored in a ring binder?
Thank you if you take the time to answer my question! 🙂
Hi Steve, thanks for commenting. I mention in the post that some students may wish to keep separate note books for each class. If you have a ‘nice’ notebook you may want to do as you suggest. I personally use a refill pad for my notes where everything tears out so I choose to file mine. The important thing is that your materials are organised, clearly marked and easy to find. If you can tick those off your method is great 🙂