How to Study a Foreign Language

studying foreign language

I love your post about taking notes from a textbook, however I’m currently taking Spanish and the book isn’t set up in paragraphs.  Any tips on how to study a foreign language?

– – –

It can be frustrating to study a class/subject that isn’t set up the “traditional” way. For example, we get used to textbooks being set up like a hierarchy with heading and subheadings. On the other hand, foreign languages are more about acquisition and proficiency of the language than they are about learning information.

Foreign Language textbooks tend to focus on grammar rules, conjugating verbs, etc. BUT they don’t always teach you HOW to speak the language.

Another thing that’s weird about  language is the vocabulary terms. For example, the vocabulary terms are usually pretty random and not necessarily what you would need in day-to-day life. I’ll never forget a Spanish class I had my freshman year when my teacher had us saying sentences from the textbook, like “Necesito  mochila” (I need a backpack). We were in tears laughing because they were so random!

Language acquisition happens for us in other languages the same way that it happens in our primary language. How did you learn the language you speak now? You listened to others speak it, you read short children’s books, you played games where you matched 3-letter words to pictures. Learning a foreign language is very similar to teaching yourself Kindergarten!

High Frequency Verbs

In Kindergarten, we teach High Frequency Words. These are words that appear most frequently in the Engligh language: words like a, to, the, are, you, is, etc. Similarly, Terry Waltz came up with the idea of teaching the seven most common verbs first, so that you can create more sentences that you might actually use. Here are the “Super 7” for Spanish:

1. está (is at a place / is feeling)

2. hay (there is / there are)

3. tiene (has)

4. es (is)

5. le gusta (likes / is pleasing to) 2

6. va (goes / is going)

7. quiere (wants)

Read: Study Tips for High School Students

Keep a Notebook

First, track what you’re learning in a notebook, and be sure to use a pencil! Color-coded notes may not work as well for foreign language like they would for science. Next, dedicate different sections of your notebook to what you learn about grammar rules and vocabulary. Finally, give yourself the challenge of writing 10 sentences for every new vocabulary word you learn.

Related: 4 Rules for Effective Studying

Give Yourself Homework

I’m sure your professor gives you homework but is it effective? In college, I always found it easier to teach myself than to try to learn from a professor (no offense, professors!). For example, ordering a simple workbook that’s designed for elementary Spanish-speaking students would be a great (and kind of fun) way to apply and practice what you’re learning!

You might also like: Crash Course in Visual Note-Taking

Use Google Translate

Throughout your day, what sentences do you find yourself saying over and over again in your primary language? Things like, “Do you want to go to…” “Would you please hand me a…” “What time do you want to…” As you start to recognize your recurring sentences, just Google the translation and practice saying that. Likewise, you can also record it on your Voice Memos app to help you remember in the future.

Read: How I Color Code My Notes

Practice!

Foreign languages are all about growing your vocabulary, practicing fluency, learning to read, and practicing correct grammar rules. These are all the things you did in Kindergarten! Don’t just do something once then move on to the next chapter. Keep practicing and applying what you’ve learned! I even used to have the “Siri” voice on my navigation app turned on in Spanish so that I would have to actively listen and comprehend basic instructions (and I only got lost a few times). As a result, my listening comprehension improved and I was able to differentiate between words more easily!

Related: How to Take Better Class Notes

In short, the more you practice, the better you will be! And don’t forget to keep practicing even after you finish this class. Foreign languages are a real “adult” skill that will benefit you for the rest of your life!

How to Organize Your Life in College

“We continue the way we start.” -Gretchen Rubin

Let’s create a time map for your first semester of college!

If you’re starting college next semester, chances are you are feeling INCREDIBLY nervous about this time.

Partly a good, I’m-so-excited, everything-is-going-to-be-so-much-fun, kind of nervous.

And partly an, oh-my-gosh-I-am-going-to-be-Responsible-for-feeding-myself-and-keeping-my-living-space-clean-and- waking-up-on-time-and-getting-things- done-all-by-myself kind of nervous.

Both are normal.

Both are fine.

You SHOULD be feeling this way!

But how DO you make sure that you get up on time every day, have reasonably healthy meals, get all of your work done, do your laundry, and everything else that comes along with being independent and on your own?

Two things: Time management and habits.

Those two concepts are basically married. You can’t have good time management without good habits, and you can’t form good habits without good time management.

So, where do you start? This is kind of a chicken and egg debate, but personally, I would start with the time management.

STEP 1: SCHEDULED TIME COMMITMENTS

Create a Time Map

Start by creating a weekly “time map.” Open Word or Excel and create a table or spreadsheet. If you’re creating a table, you’ll want it to be 8 columns x 33 rows for 30-minute increments or (if you’re a SUPER detailed person like *ahem* me) 8 columns by 65 rows for 15-minute increments. SIDE NOTE: Please check the math on that 🙂 You are just creating 2-4 rows per hour.

Limit Your Active Hours

However, you are purposefully going to leave eight hours out of your day. Try NOT to schedule anything outside of those rows. Of course, there will be events here and there that you don’t want to miss… that’s not what I’m talking about. Don’t schedule SCHOOLWORK for yourself outside of those hours. College is an easy time to work past midnight, but there is a time management rule that “work will expand to fit the amount of time.”

Tell your brain those sleeping hours are not even an option! If it thinks they are, you will get distracted more easily and procrastinate more. I PROMISE this is true. If you need to get it done, you can do it in the 16 hours of your waking day. I’ll show you how!

Add in Your Class Schedule

If you already have your class schedule, or if you have a job and you already know the hours you will need to work, or if you cheer or play softball or are on the golf team, and you know you will practice at a consistent time every day/week, go ahead and add in those times.

Add in Travel Time

Go ahead and block out some time for getting ready and travel time to get to your location. One of my biggest mistakes during my early years of college was scheduling my activities where they bumped right up against each other. Add in time to change clothes, find a parking space, will hit a bunch of red lights on your way there, be REALISTIC about the time it takes to get to each place!

Read: Tips for Balancing Grad School and Real Life

STEP 2: HEALTH TIME

Ok, so now that you have your commitments + get ready/travel time scheduled in, let’s look at what you truly need to live a healthy life. Physical needs come first. It’s hard to train your brain to think this way because there is little accountability for physical needs. No one else really knows if you ate Oreos for dinner, didn’t drink enough water, or only slept four hours last night.

YOU are usually the only one who knows and, a lot of times, the only one who cares. You have GOT to take care of your body. Buy your groceries intentionally. Find a few things that are the perfect balance of cost-effective and healthy, and stick to buying those items consistently.

Eating consistently in college was a HUGE challenge for me and, as a result, I fainted in not one, but two public places. YOU DO NOT WANT TO FAINT IN PUBLIC. I once fainted at the airport from not eating, but before I actually passed out, I was literally crawling on the floor because my body was too weak to do anything else. Talk about embarrassing.

Don’t put your body last. Take the time to eat and drink consistently. Take the time to get outside and walk/run every day, even if it’s just across campus. The more you take care of your body, the more focused your brain will be and the better your grades will be 🙂

Related: What to Carry in Your Backpack for College

STEP 3: “ADULTING” TIME

First of all, let me say that I kind of hate the term “adulting.” BUT I can’t find a better way to describe this stuff, so… “adulting” it is! OK, on your time map, you should now have times blocked out for your concretely-scheduled commitments and anything pertaining to your health. Next up, think about what you need to do to keep your home and life running. These are all the things that fall under the term “adulting.”

For example, paying your electricity bill, vacuuming your carpet, scheduling doctor appointments, taking out the trash, putting gasoline in your car, etc. Schedule these things in so that you can keep your life up and running. They are usually things that don’t take long but are kind of boring tasks.

I love the idea that Gretchen Rubin presents in Better Than Before of having a “Power Hour” once a week. On your least busy day of the week, schedule in one hour to power through your to-do list. This hour should NOT include studying, working, or exercise. It is 100% dedicated to errands, to-dos, tasks, phone calls, and other things that you tend to procrastinate.

Make a list to power through and set a timer for one hour. When the timer goes off, stop and resume with your normal life. During next week’s Power Hour, pick up where you left off 🙂

Read: Best College Habits

STEP 4: SOCIAL TIME

Your time map should have your scheduled commitments, health, and adult life things all scheduled in. Next up, make sure that you have about three social activities scheduled in. You are your own judge of this. If you are someone who tends to blow off studying to hang out with friends, then limit your social engagements so you have more time for studying.

If you are someone who naturally tends to spend more time alone, try to schedule at least three social times for the week, even if it’s just grabbing a cup of coffee and chatting for a few minutes with a classmate after class. It’s obviously not going to happen at the same time each week, but try to make sure you get out with friends 3 times each week!

Social relationships are SO important and you need them in college! Use your own judgment for this because everyone is different, but ensure that you have enough time to study, too! You need to balance both.

Related: How to Stay Organized in Online Classes (Tips from an Expert)

STEP 5: STUDY TIME

Get a “Study Planner”

I bought a cheap planner from Target so that I could completely designate it to study time. I called it my “study planner.” In that planner, I wrote all of my due dates for assignments. This way, you can scribble in all of your reading assignments without feeling like it’s too cluttered!

Plan Backward

Then, I planned backward… two days before an assignment was due, I would write something like “reread and final edit of ___ paper.” Three days before that, I would write “add citations to ___ paper.” I would keep planning backward and adding small, bite-sized tasks for big projects. About two weeks ahead, I would just write something (very low priority) like, “think about a topic for ___ paper” or “jot down ideas for ___ paper.”

By planning backward, I was able to think of the steps that I would need to complete for this assignment and then give myself a deadline to have each individual step complete. This kept me from just writing something broad like, “Write ___ paper” and procrastinating until the night before it was due. This also gave me control over the amount of time I needed to not feel rushed or stressed about assignments.

Plus, this allows you to just open your study planner and see a color-coded prioritized study list in front of you; no thinking about where to start. Set a timer and power through it! Schedule “study time” on your time map, then work from your prioritized list.

Read: How to Get Better Grades in College

STEP 6: HOBBY TIME

Now that you have your health, adulting, school/work, and social things in place, you can include fun on your time map 🙂 This includes any hobbies/interests that you have. Keep in mind that this will probably receive the smallest amount of scheduled time, and will most likely be the first thing that you cut out on busy weeks… but THAT IS OKAY. This is your lowest priority for now.

Include downtime things like reading for fun, painting, social media, volunteering, etc. In my life right now, this would include Junior League, this blog, or Instagram. Those are things that I love, but they’re also just for fun. They aren’t paying my bills, helping my health, or the health of my family.

When there is time to do these things, that’s great… but I’m also not going to freak out if I have to go a week without social media or if I have to pass on a couple of Junior League events. When my life calms back down, I’ll get back to those things. You can’t treat everything like a top priority. Decide now what can be the first to go and follow through on that decision when your time gets limited (which it will)!

Related: How to Prepare for a New Semester

STEP 7: ASSESS & ADJUST

Now that you’ve got everything in place, go back to your time map and look at how much blank space you’ve got in your week! Fill in the white boxes accordingly. I will really, REALLY encourage you to block out boxes for “social media” under “hobby time.”

Did you know the average American spends over 2 hours a day on social media?! That’s a full block of study time! Of course, you can learn so much from Instagram and YouTube… it’s not all mindless scrolling. But try to set boundaries so you don’t feel stressed later!

Read: How to Set and Follow Study Goals

I would love to see your time map once you’ve got it completed! You can share it on Instagram with the hashtag #organizedcharm, or describe it below! 🙂

What time management strategies do you use? What are your priorities 1-5?

How to Organize Your Class Binders

 
 
Reader Question: “What are your suggestions to keep organize for my college binder such as labels on dividers, notes, and assignments? I prefer to use binder instead of the folder. I like to bring everything in the class.” -Amanda
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of opting for class folders over binders. But what if a folder just isn’t practical for your class? Or what if you get really annoyed by the bent up corners and you just can’t take it anymore? 
If you’re the kind of person who prefers to use binders, this post is for you!
 
 
1 | Label your binders for quick access
This may seem really obvious, but you’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes! Make sure to clearly label your binder on the front cover as well as the spine. This way, whether you have them standing in a locker or tossed in the backseat of your car, you can quickly grab the right one! 
2 | Follow the same format in each binder
Make up a consistent system and use it in each binder. What I mean by this is, plan the “layout” of your binders and use the same format in each one. Here’s an example:
-Front Pocket: Upcoming Assignments
-Back Pocket: Graded Assignments
-Back Cover: Class Grad Sheet
Pull out the 3 things you’ll need/use the most over the semester and put them in these easy-to-access locations! In the photo below, I used the first page of my binder as an “actionable steps” list. Just use whatever you need and whatever works best for you! 
 
3 | Get a sheet protector
I love sheet protectors! I recommend using one as your very first page in the binder. I would put a semester assignment spreadsheet for the class in there, just to make sure you’re always on track! You could also use wet/dry erase markers to write on them, like below!
 
4 | Don’t be afraid to rework your syllabus
What I don’t like about syllabi is that each professor uses a different format. I like to take the syllabus, get rid of all of the university guidelines, and re-type the important parts, like assignment due dates and class meeting dates. This keeps is clean and concise. 
5 | Use tabs
The amount of tabbed notebook dividers I find all over my house is ridiculous. I usually just get the ones that have 5 dividers, but you can use more or less depending on your needs! Here are the categories I usually use:
Class Information- Hole punch and save the original syllabus
Handouts- Any handouts your professor gives you, newest on top
Notes- Neatly rewritten notes from class, newest on top
Graded Assignments- Papers/tests that have been graded & returned, newest on top
Blank Paper- If you’re not bringing a separate notebook, bring blank notebook paper 🙂 
Binders are a great way to stay organized throughout the semester! They are a little bulkier and a little more awkward to deal with in class (all that snapping!), but if that doesn’t bother you, then bind away! 🙂 
How do you organize your class binders or folders?!
 

Tips for Balancing Grad School and Real Life

“I’m Managing a full-time job, full-time grad school, and a social life…help!”

Sound familiar? 
Grad school is a pretty tough time in life because you typically have more responsibility than you did in undergrad. 
Maybe you’re paying your own tuition for the first time. Or your own rent. Or you now have a mortgage (or a marriage) or a baby. 
Maybe all of the above! And don’t forget about that full-time job you worked so hard to get straight out of college.
 
Going back to school with the responsibility of adult life can be super challenging! Whatever the reason, the blend of college life and adult life can be a struggle for all of us.

Here are some ways that I learned to deal with it:

Manage your time:

First of all, you are the manager of your time. Your boss probably won’t care about you being behind in schoolwork, and your professor probably won’t care that you’re overloaded at work. It’s up to you to find the balance of your responsibilities. Set limits and stick to them!
 

Read: 5 Time Management Tips for College

Start by prioritizing your time between the two… Yes, they may both be important, but which one is more important to your long term plan? Most likely, you’re in grad school to help further your career. If that’s the case, school is your top priority. 
Don’t be afraid to let your employer know which days you need to leave early for class. But also, don’t try to do schoolwork during work hours! Have the mindset that work time is for work and school time is for school. Don’t forget to leave time for working out and socializing! 
A good planner can really help in this area! Here are a few of my favorites!

Use effective studying skills:

Since you have a limited amount of time to study, you want to make sure your studying techniques are as effective as they can possibly be! Write down what you will work on ahead of time. This way, when you sit down to work, you can start working right away!
The Study Tips page of this website is full of my favorite study techniques I’ve collected over the years! Here is my overall study routine: Have a prioritized and detailed list before you ever sit down. 
-Set a timer for a certain amount of time. 
-Say NO to any and every distraction that comes your way during that time. 
-When your timer goes off, write down a detailed list of the next steps you need to take on this assignment. 
-That will be your prioritized and detailed list for the beginning of your next study session! 
Continue this cycle religiously, even using the same time and location! Consistency is key to creating new routines!

Find a great home organization system:

The final piece to balancing full-time work/school and normal life is to find a quick and efficient home organization system. I like FlyLady’s system because she just says to do a little bit every day. 
She has a free app that works as a recurring checklist you can use on your phone! Plus, you can edit it to fit whatever daily chores/routines you need in your own life (“feed the dog”, “file papers”, etc.). 
 
Also, this simple technique is my Holy Grail of home (and life) organization!
The key to balancing several different areas of life is to make sure you’re maximizing your productivity and not procrastinating
 

Read 8 Anti-Procrastination Strategies

By having these three things consistently in place, you’ll have more time to spend with friends and family (or secretly binging your favorite series on Netflix)! 🙂 

What tips do you have for balancing full-time work and school? Share them below! 

Follow Organized Charm on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for more productivity tips!

Visual Notes: Crash Course

How much more likely are you to read an infograph than an actual article or research study? Probably a lot more likely, right? In fact, 90% of info transmitted to our brains is visual! “Yeah, so what?” you might be asking. So… have you ever considered using visual notes for studying instead of just writing out a bunch of words? You know, a little like creating your own infograph? I started doing this for two reasons:

  • #1: When I was in high school, we had a teacher who would allow us to create a 1-page study guide that we could use on our tests. I know, I know… sounds so easy, right? And you are right, it was easy. But here is what our teacher knew: He knew that we would spend SO MUCH time analyzing and evaluating what information to put on those study guides, that we would secretly be learning more information the whole time we were creating them! Pretty sneaky, huh?
  • #2: I am a visual learner. And you probably are, too. In fact, 65 percent of us are visual learners! This is why we may get overwhelmed when we open a document/e-mail/textbook that just has dense paragraphs and paragraphs full of words. And I don’t mean for that to sound as bad as it may sound (like we’re too lazy to read a book or something). It’s just that images, like charts or graphs or illustrations or photographs, can make it easier on our eyes and our brains because they improve a document’s readability.
In fact, when I was in my Educational Psychology class a few years ago (favorite one ever, btw), our professor told us that one of the jobs within that field is to create those little images and tables in textbooks! I just thought it was pretty cool… I never even thought about why they were in there! Now I notice them all the time (AND I actually pay attention to them)!
Now, whenever I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed by a topic, I try to put all of the most important info onto ONE PAGE using a mixture of bullet points, charts, drawings, keywords, whatever I think will help! I created a study sheet of visual notes for my most recent certification exam (the last one ever. YAY!). Luckily, I took photos of this one because, as you know, studying is a little like working out: If you don’t photograph it, it doesn’t count.
As you can clearly see, stick people are my specialty. Just look at Jean Piaget’s glasses.
Remarkable talent.
So, how about this: How about if, the next time you’re studying for an exam, you comb through your notes and your textbook and create an infograph-style study sheet. One sheet (or poster) with pictures to quickly trigger certain concepts in your brian with a few keywords or major facts to remember! Then hang it up somewhere where you will see it frequently throughout the day (like above your desk or on your mirror to look at while you’re getting ready).
Maybe you’ll be able to get a little more into studying using a method like this than you would if you had to sit down, pull out your notes, and flip back through pages and pages of your own handwriting! I have included some examples of “visual notes” to inspire y’all! Also, there are links to several different sites that mention them (and other things) as well!
Of course I love this one by Liz Cazaly because it’s about education, too! Win-Win!
This one is by Austin Kleon (of austinkleon.com) achieves what I was TRYING to do in the photo above.
And this one by Guilia Forsythe makes it easy to scan through the categories of the topic!
Here are some links to sites that are
not drawn by Kindergarten teachers
actually informative on this topic
talented at drawing visual notes
…helpful
 
Remember, it doesn’t have to be good to be effective!
Thank goodness! 🙂
 
Do you take visual notes or have you ever tried? How do you typically create study guides? Have you tried that trick of putting them on your mirror (or somewhere in your home)… if so, did it help or not help? 

Write Notes in Your Own Words

I can’t really remember when I started doing this, but I’m pretty sure it was sometime around my Junior year of undergrad. Okay. Wait a minute. Actually, I can tell you exactly when I started doing this! I remember it like it was yesterday… it was indeed the fall semester of my Junior year. Apologize by OneRepublic was on the radio every 15 seconds and Facebook was still the only social media network we needed.
I was in a World Civilizations class (which somehow made me hate my favorite subject… history!). My professor was wonderfully nice, but she literally, LITERALLY typed entire pages/paragraphs of notes onto her PowerPoint slides. At first, I joined the whole class in frantically trying to copy each slide word for word, until I figured out that I could quickly read the paragraph, then paraphrase it into one or two sentences.It was like reaching this super state of zen or something.

I was able to stay so calm during her lectures while everyone else stressed about the slides. And yes, that is the only time in my life that I have been less stressed than… oh, I don’t know, anyone else. A lot of people went on to drop or fail that class (her tests were also 100 questions long). But not me. In fact, I did so well that it ended up being my first time to be exempt from an exam! Once I started grad school, I learned why paraphrasing the notes helped me so much.
And I totally love the reason because… it’s science! It turns out that what I was doing (just to save my hand from getting a cramp) was called active listening. Instead of mindlessly copying words without thinking, I was forcing myself to comprehend the material before I could write it. That way, when I re-read my notes, I totally understood them because they were all in MY own words to begin with! 
 
 
On top of active listening, this gave me ownership over the notes… I created themThey were my wordsmy examples; not my professor’s. And we all love the things that we create, right? That’s why teachers aren’t supposed to use red ink to grade papers anymore… It’s just too traumatic for us to see our beautiful creations all covered in that mean-old red ink!
 Below, I have listed some articles on effective note taking, but the one I like the most is University of Reading because it compares Active Note-Taking and Passive Note-Taking! Passive Note-Taking includes things like underlining, highlighting, and copying from Power Point slides! All of our favorite things to do! When you look around your classroom, you are probably swimming in a sea of Passive Note-Takers!
BUT who wants to do more work and get less out of it? No one, that’s who! So check out these examples of Active Note-Taking! Go into class with a purpose and with questions about the topic! Try to connect the new information you’re learning to other information that you already know! Think of your own examples. And, of course, write notes in your own words! (unless you need to remember a direct quote, obviously).
Less writing, less study time, and better understanding of the topic?
Ummm… yes, please! 🙂
Here is a really cool article about Effective Note-Taking from University of Reading!
Do you take notes in your own words? Why or why not? 
If not, do you think you might start now?

Note-Formatting Resource

 
I was recently asked to share a post on how I format my notes. It’s pretty straightforward the way that I do it, but I’ll do my best to make it sound interesting!
 

Scribble Fast Notes in Class:

If I’m in class, I kind of just scribble my notes quickly with a mechanical pencil… making sure to include all examples and maybe draw a quick graph if I think it will help me remember the material.
 
These are my really quickly-written, really sloppy-looking notes. I use a lot of abbreviations, bullet points, and paraphrasing so that I can keep up with the PowerPoint/professor. It’s never fun to be that person in the class that everyone waits for as they copy the entire slide word-for-word!
 
 
 

Rewrite Notes When You Get Home:

Once I get home, I rewrite my scribbled notes into more logical, colorful notes that I will actually be able to read in the future. In the photo below, old notes look the ones on the left and the more-organized, rewritten notes look like the ones on the right. The ones on the right get saved and used as future study guides.
 
You Might Also Like: Good Habits to Form for College
 
 
 

List Chapter/Content in Righthand Corner:

When I rewrite my notes, I start at the top of the page (naturally) by writing the chapter/content title at the top center and the date in the top right corner. This is so that, when I’m flipping through my notes, I can quickly look for a particular chapter, date, or topic… which saves a lot of time in the future!
 
 
 

List Your Headings:

Then I begin writing the major headings/slide titles/topics on the left side of the notes page (by that red line that’s on notebook paper… the margin line, maybe?).
 
I used pink in this example because it stands out the most to me, but you can choose whichever color you like best (obviously). I used to write the title in a different color, but now I like the title, date, and major points to be the same color.
 
 
 

Format Your Bullet Points:

If there are numbers or bullet points for the major headers in my notes (1., 2., 3.,), I put those to the left of the red line. If there aren’t, then I just don’t put anything over there. This is just helpful for things that may have steps (like Bloom’s Taxonomy for those of you who are Education majors). It helps me remember for tests!
 
You Might Also Like: How to Take Better Class Notes

 

 

Add in Your Important Information:

Then I just start filling in the information under each heading/topic by rewriting my original notes. Just copying the info from my “scribbly” notes and adding missing information, removing repetitive information, or clarifying things that may not have made sense from my first round of notes.
 
 

Add Textbook Page Numbers:

If I’m following along in my textbook, I add the page number of everything we cover in my notes. This makes it easier to read the text in the future because you’ve already connected it to something learned in class!
 
Also, there are SO many times when a professor/teacher asks a question and the answer is literally written right there on the page. It’s not a trick- go ahead and say the answer! Then write down the page numbers because if they bring it up in class, they’ll probably bring it up on the exam!
 
 
 

Add Keywords to Trigger Your Memory:

Add keywords to your notes. If I’m pretty familiar with the concept, I’ll jot down a few keywords to trigger my memory. However, if I’m learning the material for the first time, I write down whole sentences to reexplain it to myself when I read the notes again.
 
In this example, purple and blue could really be consolidated into one color… but if there are a lot of different levels, it may be helpful to have more colors to differentiate the information! Add page numbers for quick referencing!
 
 

Draw/Write Down Examples:

I draw or write every example in my notes. Examples given by the professor or book help you picture the concept in real-life. This is what helps you remember the content the most. I love examples because they bring the material to life and actually give it a purpose!
 
Teachers are always adding real-life examples or stories to go along with their lectures! WRITE THESE DOWN! They make the information so much easier to remember! And the crazier the story, the more likely you are to remember it on the test! yay!
 
 
 

Add Vocabulary Definitions:

Add new vocabulary terms to your notes! I write them all the way to the left of the red line (in the margin) so that it stands out. I may even highlight that if it’s a super-important concept AND a new word. This means that the things to the left of the margin line are page numbers and vocabulary words, which makes it easy to find and reference both!
 
 
 
 

Add as Much as You Need:

When I get to the bottom of my notes page, I just draw an arrow pointing to the right in the bottom right corner to show if there is writing on the back. Although, lately I have really been trying to condense my notes into one page instead of two.

 

 
 
If I do write on the back, at the top of the page, I write the topic name follow by continued. 

 
 
Then I use the same formatting system for notes on the back of the page. (gotta save those trees!)
 
 
 
 
If I’m writing notes straight out of the assigned reading, I write them like this. And that’s pretty much all that I can think of to describe the way I format my notes.
 
Please let me know if this sounds confusing or if I should clarify something!
 
 

Do you have a special system for formatting your notes? How do you do it? Do you rewrite them afterward or just format them the first time. 

Read Your Textbooks Out Loud

Are you ready to hear the study tip that makes me sound like a crazy person? Oh, you are? Fantastic! Here it is: I read my textbooks out loud to myself. But that’s weird, you say? Yes. It is weird. And also weirdly effective. I started doing it about a year ago because, just like everyone else, I was having a hard time concentrating and comprehending the material. I just wanted to make myself pay attention. But then I started researching it… and reading out loud does SO much more than just keep you from drifting off into La La Land (aka my favorite place)!

Think about all of the speeches that you’ve had to give over your educational career so far… I bet you can STILL recall some of that information! And (aside from the fact that you practiced for hours because you didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of your class) THAT can be attributed to the benefits of reading out loud! Think about the biggest issue(s) that you have while reading right now! There is a huge chance that reading the material out loud can help you!

If you have a hard time comprehending, reading out loud to yourself can increase your comprehension because you are actively reading as well as hearing the information! Sometimes when I’m reading out loud, I realize that something doesn’t make sense right away. Because I am reading it, speaking it, and hearing it all at the same time, it’s just easier to say “Hold the phone… what?!”. Then I can re-read, look up a word, Google it, whatever I need to do to comprehend the concept right away!

 
If you have a hard time focusing, reading out loud to yourself will cut down on your distractions since you have more than one sense involved in this activity. This is because you are actively engaged in the process. You are speaking. You are listening. And you are reading all at the same time. And it’s much more difficult to notice the refrigerator humming or your neighbors (or husband) screaming at the football game on TV when you’re so involved in your current task!

If you’re reading in your second (or third or fourth) language, reading out loud can enhance your vocabulary AND increase your fluency and literacy because it will help you learn new words and word patterns in that language! Reading out loud helps you practice reciting and repeating common phrases in your new language, which will improve your comfort level speaking and your grammar! (I’m pretty sure the Grammar Police are international).

If you have a hard time remembering what you read, reading out loud can help you create memories. Not only that, but reading things out loud in different voices or tones will help them stand out even more in your memory (and really give your nosy neighbors something to talk about)! This article on Psychology Today refers to it as the “Production Effect”. If you speak something rather than just reading it, you have a much better chance of remembering!

If you have trouble sitting still, reading out loud helps because it exercises your body while you read. I don’t know about you, but I am a HUGE fan of talking with my hands. Reading from a textbook doesn’t change that at all, either! Not only that, but when we speak, we tend to sit up a little straighter, project our voices, and really focus on what we’re saying! And don’t be afraid to stand while you’re reading aloud or walk around the room! There’s no rule that says you have to sit like a statue in order to learn!
If you’re a “slow reader,” reading out loud can boost your fluency which will eventually result in being able to read text more quickly! Also, don’t feel discouraged if you need to read a paragraph/section more than once! Repeated Reading, as that is called, can do awesome things for your fluency AND comprehension!

If you have a hard time getting past unfamiliar words, reading out loud can help you because you are actively using the word in context already. How many times have you been able to figure out an unfamiliar word from a conversation or movie simply through the context in which it was used? It makes it pretty easy, right? If you’re the one using it in context, it has that same beneficial effect!
So go ahead… break out your best Miss America voice and start reading! 🙂

Have you ever tried reading your textbooks out loud to yourself? Do you think it’s something you might try now? Do you have any of the problems listed above while reading? If so, how else do you deal with it?! 

Outline Your Textbook Chapters

If you’ve ever tried to read a textbook chapter word-for-word, beginning-to-end, you know it’s nearly impossible to stay focused. We’ve all seen that photo on Pinterest of the textbook covered in gummy bears and laughed and then pinned it to a secret board and replaced the gummy bears with shots of wine. But there has to be a better way to get through our reading, right? I mean, we’re adults! We should only be bribing ourselves with candy and alcohol in extreme situations like cleaning or running.
Reading textbook chapters from beginning to end is difficult because that’s not the right way to do it. First of all, we have to take breaks while reading a bunch of informational text so that our brains can process it. If you’ve ever “read” 35 pages in a book, only to stop and realize that you can’t recall a single thing, that’s your brain telling you to slow down and give it a few minutes to process it all! Every time we learn something new, our brains basically have to connect it to something we already knew.

 
So, how should we be reading textbooks? Here’s what I do: 
  1. Read the first and last paragraphs of your chapter. That’s right PARAGRAPHS.
  2. Then flip through the chapter and write down all of the big headlines, leaving space underneath.
  3. Now go back and write down all of the smaller section titles under each big headline.
  4. Read the first and last paragraph of each section.
  5. Finally, read the first and last sentences of each paragraph. Write anything you need to here.
Why should you do it like this? A few different reasons: First, you’re optimizing your study time. What if you have 50 minutes to read and it takes you 24 minutes to read every word in the first section? There’s a good chance you may not make it to the end of the chapter. Secondly, you’re giving your brain a chance to “see the big picture” and helping it organize the information more effectively. Finally, you’re keeping yourself engaged by actively participating in your reading instead of getting bored and zoning out.
ALSO, think about this: Where do you put the most important information when YOU’RE WRITING a paper? You summarize what your paper is about in the first and last paragraphs, right? Then, you write a new paragraph about each big point you’re trying to make. Finally,  you begin and end each paragraph with a sentence explaining its big point. So does the textbook author. The middle of all of those middle paragraphs can probably afford to be skipped (unless you see a bold definition)!
WAY more sanitary than covering a dirty old book with gummy bears! :)Do you ever have a difficult time doing your assigned reading? Have you developed any strategies to get through it more quickly? If so, how has it helped?

Back to School Shopping List

This post brought to you by Brita. All opinions are 100% mine.

You know that commercial that was on a few years ago with the dad skipping through the school supply aisle, while his reluctant kids trail behind and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” plays in the background? Every year, when it’s time for back to school shopping, I totally feel like that guy!

And everyone knows that the making of a school supply list is almost as fun as the shopping for the school supplies themselves! SOOO… Here is a list of my essential back to school supplies (alphabetically, of course)!

2014 Fall Semester Essentials:

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BRITA® WATER BOTTLE

I know. I know. I’m like the only person in America who didn’t have a water filter yet. But let me start by saying that I live in Memphis… which is known for having pretty good water… so, I didn’t think it would make a big difference. However, in an effort to keep myself hydrated and feel more energized this summer, I bought my first Brita® filter water bottle (available at Target)! Oh my gosh, y’all… it makes a huge difference!

The filter reduces impurities, so the difference between drinking water through the filter and the faucet is incredible. Plus, I’m saving a TON of money by not having to buy bottles of water all the time while I’m running around (and reducing waste)! Not only that, but I can put anything in it, which is awesome. My husband has literally been filling this bottle up with water then pouring it into his glass before dinner… so I guess that’s a subtle hint that we should get the pitcher, too!

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COLOR-CODED PENS

Last fall, I wrote a post on how I color-code my planner. And I was all about these Cosmo pens from the Write Dudes. Well, I still love those but one of my Kindergarteners gave me the Paper Mate Flair pens as an end-of-the-year gift last year and I have become 100% obsessed! It’s like writing with a super thin, super pretty, little Sharpie. I am just all about these pens right now! If you want to check them out, I’ve seen them at Target, Office Max, and Office Depot!

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FLASH DRIVE

Over the summer, I mentioned that I left my old flash drive in the USB port at FedEx Office. Saddest day of my life. Luckily, I keep backups of important things in my computer and online, so I didn’t really lose anything too critical. Regardless, I’ll need one for this semester and I typically find the best prices on Amazon!

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FOLDERS

Organizing my new class folders is probably one of my favorite parts of the new semester! I just use one 2-pocket folder for each class (here is how I organize them). At the end of the semester, I save the ones that are still in pretty good shape and reuse them for the next semester to save money!

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HIGHLIGHTERS

I have literally been using the same brand of highlighters (Foray) forever (probably longer, actually). My most-used colors are yellow and pink. When I begin an assignment, I highlight it in yellow on my Semester Spreadsheet and in my planner. When I complete it, I highlight it in pink. This way, I can see what I’m finished with, what I’m currently working on, and which projects I need to start!

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INDEX CARDS

I used to just use index cards for making an assignment timeline but I have gotten SO into making flashcards lately! I don’t know why I never really made them before. I started over the summer when I made some to learn the menu items of the restaurant where I was working. After that, I used them to help me study for my certification exam. And right now, I’m actually taking a break from making some for my next certification exam. Less than $1 at Target? I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner!

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MECHANICAL PENCILS

Year after year, these are one of my main staples of the semester. I use them for taking notes. This makes it a lot easier for me to not freak out when my professors give us things out of order, get sidetracked, or leave things out only to add them at the end of the lecture.

Plus, it keeps me focused instead of worrying about whether I should make this heading pink or that bullet point purple (which is exactly what I will do if I try to color-code notes as I write them)! I can do all of that when I REWRITE my notes later. I also use these when I’m on-the-go and writing tentative plans in my planner, because they can just be erased and replaced with more permanent plans later.

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MINI-STAPLER & STAPLES

Speaking of “staples”, it seriously never fails that every time something is due in class, about 34 people start to ask “Hey… does anyone have a stapler?”. How people show up to class ready to turn in an assignment that isn’t stapled, I have no idea. But it is always awesome to be that person that saves the day! Also, by having your own stapler, you won’t have to worry about ever being that person (or using the germ-y one in the library). Plus, Target has PINK staples (of course they do)! And why use silver when you could use pink?!

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NOTEBOOK

Notebooks are another thing I’ve received some questions about lately. Some of y’all have asked whether I get a different notebook for each class, or use one multi-subject notebook for every class. I’ve tried both but, for the sake of simplicity, I just get one notebook and use it for every class.

When I first started college, I kept looseleaf paper in a binder, which was just too bulky. Then, I began to buy a separate notebook for each class. However, some notebooks would get completely used up 8 weeks into the semester while others barely had 8 pages of notes by December! Now I just keep everything in one notebook and fold down pages, write in the corner of the page, or use Post-It tabs to find what I’m looking for.

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PLANNER

And here it is: The Holy Grail of school supplies. Erin Condren? Kate Spade? Lily Pulitzer? MayBooks? You know, you can’t just rush into a big decision like this. It really takes a lot of research, trial and error, and maybe some modifications to make a planner totally work for YOU.

Here is a list of some of my favorites and here is what I use. Plus, your school bookstore will have some and so does Target (seriously, what don’t they have?). Make sure you check out all of your available sources before committing to one planner for the next year of your life! I mean, choosing a good planner is practically as important as choosing a good husband, right?

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POST-ITS

I have to admit that I am a little Post-It crazy. I have the 2×2 ones, which I usually write my to-do list on each morning and stick to the back of my phone before I leave for the day. I have the smaller Post-It tabs which I use to mark pages in my notebook/textbooks while I’m reading/researching/studying for school. And I also use these to mark important dates in my planner.

We could all always use more Post-Its!

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PRINTABLE PROGRESS TRACKER

I’ve had a few people ask about the weekly task pads that I sometimes get from Target’s Dollar Spot. The tricky thing about that little section of the store is that you just never know what you’re going to find! I might walk through there 10 times and not see any to-do lists at all. Then, I’ll go in there and there are, like, 20 different choices!

If you’re looking for something like that (but a little free-er), then check out this printable that I made last semester! Same concept, plus there is a place to write down what you actually accomplished each day, too! It also prints out 16 sheets (each with a different quote)… 1 for each week of the semester!

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TEXTBOOKS

Well, obviously, textbooks are a pretty essential part of back to school shopping! I always, ALWAYS recommend checking out Slugbooks to make sure that you’re getting the best price! If you’re thinking about getting an e-book, you should really check out McGraw-Hill’s SmartBooks, too! It’s an interactive e-book that quizzes you throughout the chapter and assesses your learning of the chapter!

Ahhhh… listmaking AND organizing AND an excuse to buy new school supplies?!

It really is the most wonderful time of the year! Until all of the post-Christmas organization sales, that is. 🙂

What are some of the essentials from your shopping list this semester?! 

Where are your favorite places to get your school supplies? 

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