How to Prepare for a New Semester & My Note-taking System!

A new semester can seem really intimidating and daunting. You are starting new classes with professors you may not be familiar with, you have a whole new schedule, and your assignments are different and probably more challenging than ever before.

Preparing yourself ahead of time can make the entire experience so much easier, and it definitely helps to set you off on the right foot!

I thought today I would share with you all how I prepare for a new semester, as I get ready for my junior year of college!

Also, this can apply to any age, but the tips may just have to be reworked a bit to suit your needs!

*Another note- obviously this semester is a bit different for most of us, as we are in the middle of a pandemic, but the way I prepare (whether it be for online or on campus classes) is the same!

Step 1: Buy your stationery and books

The first thing that I do to prepare is get all of the supplies I need! I feel like once I have all of my school supplies, I’m officially in the back to school season, and I can prepare myself mentally.

First and foremost, this includes a planner for me (basically the most important supply). I will have a more in-depth post about my planning system going up soon, but having a planner is integral to my organization for school. In addition, you want to get any notebooks, textbooks, pencils/pens, erasers, etc. that you need.

I like getting this all ahead of time because then I feel like the most options are available. I know a lot of people recommend waiting before buying your books in case your professor tells you that you don’t actually need it(which is a valid tip). However, I found that if I waited too long, I could not find used editions of the books I needed because they were already sold out. Most places that I buy used books from allow me to return them for a certain period of time, so I’m not worried about getting books I don’t need. Obviously, this is up to you and what you decide you want to do with buying your books! If you buy them as e-books, for example, you can wait on that!

Step 2: Create a weekly time table (schedule)

Every semester, I create a spread in my bullet journal (or on a piece of paper/your phone) with the days of the week written at the top and times going down the bottom. I write down what classes I have at what times, and add in any weekly events such as club meetings, jobs, etc. This way, I know how much free time I have, when the best days are to study, when I can hang out with friends, etc.

On this time table, I also like to block off time that is just for me. Meaning, I do not set any meetings, events, ANYTHING during that time. I use it to relax, stay at home, and catch up on anything that I want to.

Step 3: Write out all of your assignments & due dates

As soon as I get my syllabi for each class, I write out the assignments & their due dates in my planner. I know this seems tedious, but as the semester goes on and you get busier, you may forget about an assignment. If it’s already in your planner, there’s a greater chance you’ll remember about it!

Also, sometimes professors won’t remind you that an assignment is due, they just expect you to hand it in on the day of. This can be incredibly stressful, so just do it & write it all down! Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.

Step 4: Figure out a time management & studying plan

This is super important in my opinion! Figuring out when and how you are going to study can really save you a lot of time once classes start. In the time table I mentioned earlier, you can block out specific days/times that you want to study, and make sure that you actually follow it each week. Or, you can create a plan for each class depending on the subject matter and how much time you want to dedicate to it each week/day. Either way, having a set plan can really make your life easier.

Also, knowing what study method works best for you (i.e. flash cards, quizzes, study groups, etc.) is important. You don’t want to find out the day before a big exam that you can’t seem to learn something because you’re trying to use flash cards when that just doesn’t work for you. It ends up being a waste of your time!

Everyone studies in different ways, so learning this early on is crucial to success!

Step 5: Relax and Refresh

Finally, the week before I go back to school, I try not to overwhelm myself with too much. Obviously there is a lot to do to prepare, especially if you are moving for college.

However, the semester itself is going to get hectic and stressful already, so don’t try to cram in too many last minute things in this final week (or at least the few days leading up to the first day).

Instead, give yourself time to relax and unwind!

Also, it’s a good idea to fix your sleeping schedule (I know, it’s easier said than done), and do some self-care.


My Note-taking System:

It took me a long time to find a college note-taking system that works for me, if I’m going to be honest. I think I wrote a post last year where I went through a really long and complicated process. It was way too much work and it was not sustainable AT ALL.

I have definitely narrowed down the process and made it much simpler for myself, and I definitely think it’s what I’m going to use for the rest of my academic life.

First off, I ditched my 5 subject notebooks. Honestly, it felt like such a waste of paper. In some classes, yes, I was taking a lot of notes and the pages were going to good use. However, in some classes, I only had to take notes maybe once or twice a month. This is what college is like in a nutshell. So the majority of that classes section was empty, and after the semester was over, I had so much leftover paper that wasn’t ever going to be used. It was so so wasteful. Plus, I usually take 6 classes a semester (and in the Spring I’m going to be taking 7), so 5 subjects just isn’t enough either.

Instead, I now use one composition book for all of my classes. Yep. Just one.

I only use this compostion book for lecture notes, by the way! Which means this is where I write my messy notes during class, while the professor is speaking (or lecturing), and I don’t worry about making the notes neat or pretty.

On the first page of the notebook, I create a key with all of my classes, and I designate one color pen/highlighter to it.

When I take notes for that class, I start on a blank page and write the class name and lesson/unit at the top. This way, I can easily flip through my notes and look for one certain color that pertains to that class. This may seem a bit chaotic, but it works really well for me.

Then, after each class, I review my notes by rewriting them. I type my notes, and I don’t use any fancy processing system- just plain and simple Word! I tried using OneNote in the past to make my notes look nice and neat, but it doesn’t really allow you to print out your notes properly, and I found myself copying and pasting all of the information to a Word document instead. So, now I just stick to Word.

When I type up my notes, I always start with the lesson number or unit name at the top, and I rewrite the professor’s ideas into my own words. I also make sure I keep the important stuff that may be on tests, and lose anything that I don’t really need to know. Basically, I just make sense of the quick, messy notes I took during class and make them more readable in a typed format- almost like I’m creating a study guide. Then, when I have a test coming up, I can print out these notes, highlight them, write on them, etc.

I try to do all of my rewriting the same day as the lecture if I can, but no more than 4 days later. Otherwise, some of the things I write down might not make sense cause I’ll forget what they mean.

That’s it for my notes! I really don’t do anything fancy as far as color coding or anything else goes, aside from separating my classes by color.

I hope this post was useful (and that it made sense) for you! If you have any questions about anything I talked about, please feel free to ask!

What are some back to school essentials for you?