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Organization, what's the best way?

  1. Jul 27, 2011 #1
    I'm starting my 2nd year of university this fall, and am trying to improve upon my 1st year mistakes. Biggest one is the amount of notebooks I used. I usually take notes in class (1 class/notebook), as well as read and takes notes from the texts on my own time (another ~1 or 2 classes/ notebook, separate from the class notes), as well as using another notebook still for practice questions from the texts (approx. 1 per class). In total this can add up to actively using 10-12 notebooks each semester. It feels wasteful and inefficient.

    How do you guys organize your notes? Any suggestions for me to improve?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 28, 2011 #2


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    I never bothered taking notes. Never really helped me.
  4. Jul 28, 2011 #3
    I had some organizational issues my first year too. I tried getting a small file box thing, it had about 12 different folders in it. Well it sucked, I would not recommend those. What I'm doing this year is having one binder for each class. I like the types with a clear pocket for papers on the outside so you can be reminded of important stuff. You can have paper in the rings for anything, then use the pockets on the inside for stashing your extra examples and stuff. Or you could get dividers and have different sections for notes/homework/whatever.
  5. Jul 28, 2011 #4


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    What worked for me was one binder per class. I carried around a clipboard and loose leaf paper that could be sorted into the proper binders once I was back from lectures. You can always seperate the binders into sections - that way you have everything (physical) you need in one place when you want to crack open the subject.

    Of course, this was well before the time of tablet computers. I thought students were using those for notes these days.
  6. Jul 28, 2011 #5
    Me neither. Taking all those notes feels too much like lying to myself. I never read them. Or at least, not in full.

    What I do now, is listen to everything in the "lecture" (still in high school but doing A-Levels, which, for the most part, is the same level as first-year college) and only take down what is more important. As well as diagrams.

    The tricky part is figuring out what the important bits are. If you get those wrong, you're pretty much screwed. I also suspect that there should be some kind of syllabus on the course's web page. So, read it prior to taking the class and keep a copy of it with you. Knowing what you will be assessed on can make your grade...depending on which teacher you have/which school you go to/etc.

    +1 for binder

    Not sure about tablet PCs yet. I haven't made my mind up on them. Damned iPads...
  7. Jul 28, 2011 #6
    I'm looking into a new method too. I'm also entering my second year.

    Last year (2 semesters), I used a composition notebook for each class's in-class notes. I then had a 2-inch binder I kept in my room with dividers for homework problems and book notes. This was the main downfall...after I did a set of problems, I never looked at them again.

    This coming semester, I'm going to try a composition notebook for in-class notes (I like not being able to lose anything from it), and a folder for each class for homework problems/book notes. I plan on emptying the folder into the large binder after each test has passed, so I only carry around recent material. I got a bunch of folders for $.01 on sale, so I can even have two per class if necessary.
  8. Jul 28, 2011 #7
    I'll add in my vote for the binders. For notes, homework sets, etc., I would often use the backside of white paper printouts (picking up more from the recycle bins in the computer labs when needed).. but eventually I would buy a big box of white printer paper until it would run out. Some classes I'd use engineering paper for homework sets, but it's expensive. I've never been fond of generic lined paper. Spiral notebooks, era, in my opinion very sloppy. You can't temporarily remove papers (for say, xeroxing), if you do remove paper from them, you have all those nasty edges, and if you try to file them or box them, they often get caught up in each other or other things (even your sweater when you're carrying it around).

    Now that I teach, I still use binders and white paper... but I do have the binders at 1 per test-based section of material, instead of 1 per class, so I can carry a smaller binder (1 inch, not 2 or 3), and so I can have all the relevant materials, including copies of my notes and examples, copies of my homework solutions, past exams, copies of the chapters' problem-pages (so I don't have to carry around the book)... etc. At the last "review" I can just bring all 3-4 binders. You may want to do something similar if you don't want to carry large weight (that technique has been mentioned here already, I'm just reiterating).

    Some people here are also talking about the difficulty of making homework useful for later study. https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=3374196&postcount=5"

    With regards to taking notes... I always took notes on example problems and derivations (probably to stay awake...), but I would try to be one or two steps ahead. If I made a mistake, I could cross those lines and correct with some personal notes about where I was going wrong.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  9. Jul 28, 2011 #8
    Depending on the lecture, I may:

    1.) Use lined sheets to write the notes, this includes numbering the sheets and adding other info (date, title).
    Once I'm home I staple them along with earlier notes of the respective lecture according to date.

    2.) If the instructor did upload the lecture slides beforehand or they were given at the beginning of the lecture, then I would take some notes.
    Typically I like to to print the slides as 4-in-1 page format (landscape orientation). I prefer not to have it dual sided sometimes as I might want to talk notes on the back side as well.

    Also, choose your writing pen wisely in a way that your writing is still readable even if you write quickly, as sometimes you have to sacrifice neatness for speed.
  10. Jul 28, 2011 #9
    Thanks for the suggestions! It's nice to know what works for everyone.
  11. Jul 28, 2011 #10
    Nice, I am definitely surprised to see the recommendations for binders. I find them too bulky for day to day use, perhaps to store notes is their better purpose to me. I think a big point is using scrap/loose leaf paper for practice problems, too much of a commitment having an entire notebook just for problems of one subject.

    Ack, I can't imagine taking notes on a tablet PC! Paper and pen is still far superior in my eyes.
  12. Jul 28, 2011 #11
  13. Jul 28, 2011 #12
    Just try different things till something clicks. I really never have any way to organize my stuff but I generally dont have much stuff since I dont take notes. I'm too lazy and I space out alot during class to take em. I'd rather focus the little energy I have on actually listening especially since I cant/wont read my notes after.

    This semester I used a binder. Last semester I had a large multi-subject notebook. The one thing that I do consistently that I caught on to last semester is to write all hw assignments (assuming they arnt posted online) on the first page in whatever organizational tool I use. This way I never lose it or forget to do it.

    Digitally I keep everything in a Dropbox account. This way I have access to it at all times via smartphone, laptop, or any computer anywhere. This has saved my butt alot of times when I forget something but since I save everything in that HW folder that's synced to dropbox I'm good. I keep things separated by semester and then by class. Just wanted to mention this since I'm 10000% more efficient and organized digitally.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2011
  14. Jul 29, 2011 #13


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    I do this with SugarSync. It is nice to have a central location that I can access no matter where I am.

    The notes I take are pretty general in nature - I don't write down detailed facts. I'll usually just write down important concepts from the lecture and then read-up on them later. I put asterisks next to the concepts on which the professor spends the most time. After I feel like I understand the concepts in my notes, I'll neatly rewrite them in my own words and organize them by topic in a 3-ring binder with dividers.

    This isn't as effective for some courses, but it really helps me remember the material and allows me to pay more attention to what the professor is saying during the lecture.
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