Good Practices For A Strong Start To The New Semester

Heather O'Donovan Jan 2020

The beginning of a new semester can be a time of great excitement, but it can also bring unwelcome stress. Make sure you start off on the right foot by staying organized from day one. You’re obviously going to need to restock up on school supplies, but having the materials isn’t going to get you very far if you don’t know how to use them to their full potential. Set yourself up for academic success by following some of our favorite organizational tricks.

Get The Right Gear

Pencil Case

  • Never get caught asking your classmates for a pencil again. Before the semester starts, buy yourself a sleek pencil case that can fit easily inside your backpack, or recycle an old case from a previous school year. Stock your case with pencils, erasers, black-ink pens, multicolored pens or thin-tipped markers, highlighters in at least two colors, and extra lead (if you’re using mechanical pencils). 

Notebooks & Folders

  • There are a lot of notebook options available to students, but one of our absolute favorites is the Five Star wirebound two-subject notebook with built-in pocket dividers. You can divide the two sections of the notebook into class notes and homework assignments, while the divider pocket can be used to hold handouts. Get a different color notebook for each class to ensure that you grab the right book as you’re rushing off to class. If you start accumulating too many handouts from any given class, store the overflow in a separate folder in the same color as your class notebook. Color-coding is not only an effective way of keeping track of your materials. It’s also been proven to improve cognition.

Physical Planner

  • Invest in a planner that has lots of room to write down all of your nightly homework assignments and upcoming exam dates. Be sure to get one that devotes a maximum of two days to each page, so you won’t risk running out of space to write during busier times of the year when homework loads tend to increase.

Once you have your supplies in order, you can start making the most of them. First things first, let’s take a look at that planner…

Planners Are For Planning

Transfer homework assignments from course syllabi

  • As soon as your teacher hands out the class syllabus, transfer all homework assignments for the upcoming two weeks into your planner. Don’t just write the assignment down under its due date and leave it until the last minute, though. Instead, assign each item of homework to the specific day when you plan to complete it. Remember to always take into account your overall homework load across all classes. Strategically decide how you’re going to break up the workload in order to complete every assignment on time. 
  • For example, if you see that you have no homework due on Thursday, but four major assignments from four different classes due on Friday, don’t just take Wednesday off and save everything for Thursday night! In your planner, assign two of the assignments to Wednesday evening and the other two to Thursday. 

Note upcoming exams

  • You should also use your planner to mark down any upcoming exam dates as soon as you know them. Make a note one to two weeks prior to the exam as a reminder to start studying. 

Color-code everything for easy visualization

  • Use colored markers or pens to write down your homework and exam schedule for each course in the same color as the course’s notebook.

Make time for downtime 

  • If you plan out your homework and studying schedule two weeks in advance, you’ll be able to clearly see everything that you have coming up. This will free you up to plan time for family, friends, and extracurricular activities. After all, you know what they say about all work and no play! 

Now let’s revisit your notebooks…

Expert Note-Takers Use Indexes

Why create an index?

  • When it comes time to study for exams, students often spend a disproportionate amount of time flipping through piles of paper to find specific notes, handouts, and homework assignments that they’ll need to review. Make your life easier by creating an index for your notebooks — just like what you might find at the front of any book — so that all of your study materials are easy to locate. 

How to build an index

  • Leave the first two or three pages of each section of your two-subject notebooks blank. Number each subsequent page of the section, starting with the number one. After each lesson or homework assignment you complete, list it in your index with a few identifying notes. For example:
  • Class Notes Index
    • 9/15/19….. Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 1, Class Discussion Notes….. pgs. 1-3
    • 9/16/19…..Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 1, Peer Presentation Notes….. pgs. 4-5
    • Etc.
  • Homework Assignments Index
    • 9/15/19….. Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 1, Essay… pgs. 1-2
    • 9/16/19….. Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 2, Annotations….. pg. 3

You can even use this system to organize your handouts…

Handouts Are Not “Throw Outs”

Say it with me: Date, Pocket, Index

  • Never find a crucial handout crumpled at the bottom of your backpack again. The next time you receive a new handout, immediately write the date at the top of the page and place the handout in the divider pocket of its relevant class notebook. Keep all handouts organized in the order in which you receive them. Then, flip to your index and note that you received a handout in class on that date. You can do this by drawing an asterisk next to the lesson date, or writing the letter H in the margin next to the appropriate lesson. 

Organizing your notebooks and handouts is important, but there’s another part of students’ daily lives that tends to get cluttered and chaotic pretty quickly at the start of the new academic year: lockers…

Make Your Locker Your Zen Zone

A locker’s potential

  • Your locker is only going to be as useful as you make it. It could either be a void into which you toss random papers and stash books willy nilly, or it could serve as a welcoming haven to return to in between class periods where you can regroup and regain your focus. 

Make your locker work for you

  • There are many ways you can make your locker a more organized and welcoming space. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:
    • Label the spines of your books for easy grab-and-go access in between periods. 
    • Install a locker shelf (available in most office supply stores) to double your locker’s storage space. 
    • Use command hooks to hang lunch bags and jackets on the inside of your locker’s door, rather than allowing them to clutter the space. 
    • Finally, display pictures that make you smile on the inside of your locker using magnets for a little dose of sunshine whenever you feel down.

If you follow these practices, you’ll be sure to start the new semester off on the right foot. Remember, though, that it’s never too late to work these practices into your routine. Even if you’re experiencing a mid-year slump, you can always turn it back around and finish strong. Now, go off and crush the new semester!

Be sure to check out our list of effective study habits too, so you’ll be properly prepared for all those inevitable tests and quizzes!

About Empire Edge

Empire Edge is a premier educational services company serving students in New York City and the surrounding areas.  We deliver exemplary academic assistance and standardized test preparation to students of all levels. Through classes and one-on-one meetings, our team strives to create a personal connection to the subject matter, bolstering mastery and self-confidence in the process.


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