I am one of those people who really enjoys organising things; from filing sheets of paper away neatly into ringbinders to colour-coding notes to writing detailed to-do lists. I can think of nothing more exciting than the annual back to school shop, when you stock up for the year on coloured pens, notepads, highlighters, pencil cases, folders and the all important academic diary (or is that just me?)
I know some people struggle with keeping things as organised as I do, especially after the first few weeks of college have passed and all you have left in your bag is one pencil you found on the floor and a crumpled ball of paper worksheets, so I thought I'd put together a survival guide, full of everything you need to know to stay on top of things while doing your A-levels. Obviously this guide can also be applied if you're in school or university, but I'm in sixth-form so am writing it from what I am currently doing.
It is really important to keep all of your work in one place, so you don't lose things and leave gaps when it comes to revising. I have tried a number of different ways of doing this, but have found one that works for me. I have a lever-arch folder for each different subject I study (French, Maths and Philosophy), each a different colour so I don't get confused. These are filled with polypockets and topic dividers, so I can easily skip to different topics when I revise. These folders stay at home on a shelf, because by the end of the year they become far too heavy to cart to and from college.
I then have A4 lined notebooks with a corrugated edge and holes in the margin, one for each subject I study. I can do my work in these and easily file it into my folders at a later date. I usually leave all of my work for one topic in the notebook until we move onto a new one, in case I need to look back on the work from previous lessons. Once a topic is complete, I can put it in its allotted section in my lever-arch file.
I have an expanding folder which I also take to college with me, to carry around any worksheets or homework I may have and keep them in good condition. I empty this every day when I get home, and either file the sheet away or do the work and put it back in the folder to take back in.
The Homework Diary
If your school doesn't provide you with a planner, you should pick up your own academic diary to jot down your homework and reminders about upcoming tests. You can use your phone for this, but I prefer having a hard copy because it reminds me to look at it when I get home and empty my bag.
When I am given a piece of homework, I write it down on the current date along with what subject it is for and the due date. Every day when I get home from college I check what homework I have been given and usually try to do it straight away to get it out of the way and make room for my leisure time. This is definitely a tactic that has benefitted me in terms of sticking to deadlines and producing good quality work, because I put my studies before anything else I do. When I have completed a piece of work, I tick it off because it makes me feel like I have achieved something.
If you can't complete a piece of work on the same day, make sure you set aside enough time on another day to get it done. If I am set a long essay, I plan it on the night and then write it in my next free lesson or weekend.
How to Colour-Code
I am a very visual learner, so when making notes in lessons I always colour-code them. I tend to write really important things I need to remember for the exam in red, things I need to revise in blue and then use my other coloured pens to split apart my notes into different sections. I also use highlighters to emphasise parts of my notes.
When I revise, I usually do it in the form of colour-coded lists and mind maps. I find this really triggers my memory of things during exams, because if I am trying to remember a certain topic and I know I wrote it in blue, I'll think back to my mind map and go to the blue section and remember what was written there. I know this doesn't work for everyone as I am lucky enough to basically have a photographic memory, but you should try to find out what learning style does work for you. If you learn through hearing people speak, record yourself reading out your notes and listen to it back, for example.
General Survival Tips
- If you miss a lesson or don't understand something, make sure you catch up. Ask your teacher if they can explain something again (in an email if you're too shy) or borrow a friend's notes.
- Buy some really nice pens for you to write with, and some cheap ones to lend to other people. There is always that one person who asks you for a pen, and then they always forget to return it, so be ahead of the game and have some on hand you don't mind losing.
- Don't make it obvious that you have gum. Just don't do it.
- Keep on top of your homework by doing it as soon as you possibly can, because leaving it to the night before is risky and almost always goes wrong.
- If you have time after your homework, read over your classwork for the day. This will refresh it in your memory, and revising it again before your exams will be easier. Likewise, when you complete a topic, go back over it and test yourself to make sure you understand everything. If you don't, see survival tip #1.
- Be nice to everyone, even if you don't particularly like them at first. They might turn out to be a wonderful person and even if they don't, you'll still come across as lovely to everyone else.
- Don't stress yourself about tests or even exams. If you have worked hard throughout the year then you have absolutely nothing to worry about, and if you haven't then you deserve to fail (just kidding... kind of)
- Canteen food is almost always disgusting and super bad for you, so try and prepare a packed lunch the night before. If you don't have time for this, try preparing the whole week's meals on a Sunday.
- Join as many clubs as you have time for without sacrificing your studies, to meet lots of new people from different social circles and expand your perspective on the world.
- Always eat breakfast. You don't expect an athlete to run a marathon on an empty stomach, so why would you expect your brain to function properly without any fuel?
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