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Monday, September 15, 2014

4 Secrets To Study Organization That Never Get Talked About

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He was like a nerdy James Bond to me. I noticed him in class. He flipped out his binder like it was nothing. The binder was tabbed into sections related to the course work. All the sheets he got were neatly organized into his binder. Even his handwriting looked perfectly organized.

I looked down at my textbook with sheets randomly crushed into different sections of it. I suddenly felt the shame of my ugly organizational system. (If you'd dare call my system organizational.) I knew that I had to get to the bottom of it. That opportunity came a few classes later.

The class was organizing into groups for an activity and I was like a rocket guided missile ready to kiss whatever butts were necessary to get in his groups so I could ever so casually ask him a question. (Yes. That's a terribly mixed metaphor but I'm sticking with it.)

After asking him a few questions about how he kept so organized I learned about the work he put in. He told me he spent 5 or 10 minutes every night after class organizing his binder. I also learned this was his only class. I was suddenly I little less impressed. Then when he flipped through to the test section of his binder I casually noticed (okay, I stared inappropriately) his test scores. Then it hit me.

1. The Over-organization Virus

This nerdy James Bond of mine scored a grade lower than I had on the class's last test. Despite his awesome organizational skills and investment, he got a B when I got an A. My organizational system consisted of carrying random papers inbetween the pages of my textbooks. I couldn't put my finger on this at the time but it caused me to look closer at organized students.

There is this cliché that surrounds organized students. The more organized a student appears to be, the more we expect them to get better grades but that just doesn't hold true. There are plenty of organized students that get poor grades. There are plenty of disorganized students that get great grades. Of course, part of this comes down to intelligence but I believe it goes much farther.

Organization does not improve your grades (unless there is some kind of a binder check score.) Organization can help you improve your grades but those are two very different things. Having your binder perfectly laid out will not prepare you for your next test. It will only help you prepare for your next test. You need to still prepare for that test.

That raises a fundamental question. Would the time spent organizing be better spent studying?

In some cases it would, and before trying to implement any new organizational system you need to remember that. Time you spent tabbing stuff is time you don't spend learning stuff.

The sad truth is that most students use organization as a means to avoid productive activity. Organizing your binder can be kind of fun. Studying, on the other hand, (if you're doing it right) won't always be a fun experience. Organizing your stuff can be useful but it can just as easily be an excuse for you not to do the work you should be doing.

2. Organize Individually

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It is absolutely essential that you plan out your required level of organization for individual classes. Every class requires a certain amount of organization. If you organize every one of your classes as well as the nerdy James Bond I was discussing earlier then you'll spend way too much time organizing things you could have just as easily thrown away.

If you organize everyone of your classes with my classic, sheets randomly slipped between textbook pages, method then you'll be screwing yourself out of a good grade in many classes. With every class you need to figure out how much organization you're going to require. Doing that isn't always easy but just working on this problem will help everyone of your classes grades.

Some classes require organization because the teacher grades binders or other organization methods. I find this unbelievably irritating and as a matter of principle, if the binder is worth less than 10% of the grade, I'm not making a big effort. That being said, many people find this to be an easy way to get points. Academically speaking, it's often worth organizing a binder if it gets you points for it. (Unless the requirements for that binder are ridiculous or the points you get are really low.)

Another factor that you need to consider when deciding how to organize for a class is how difficult the course is. The simple method of dealing with this is organizing more for harder classes and less for your easy classes.

The more complicated way of dealing with this is a little more my style. There are many very difficult courses that don't require much organizing. The more the teacher lectures out of the textbook, the less you need to worry about organization. If a teacher virtually follows the textbook then almost no organization can usually get you by comfortably. If the teachers flies off on tangents all day, you may need to organize everything more carefully to keep up.

3. Put It On Paper

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There are a ton of different organizational methods but there is one trick that all of them use. It's one of the fundamental reasons organizational systems work at all.

Write stuff down.

Most organization is that simple.

While the biology of all this is way more complicated than I'm going to give it credit for. Think about your brain this way:

You only have so much space to hold information actively. By actively, I mean, in a useful way. I may know the capitol of Yugoslavia but until I hear someone say it, I might just feel like it's trapped on the tip of my tongue. That's not active information in my brain. It's just there. Ever forget to do something that you were supposed to do? It just wasn't in your active memory.

When you write stuff down, you take it out of your active storage memory and put it somewhere that you don't have to struggle to find it. That saves brain space for other stuff.

When I say to write stuff down, I'm talking about just about anything you need to remember in whatever way you want. Some people like to write stuff down in complex organizers. Others prefer random notes to themselves. Even if there is no chance you'll forget something write it down. That allows your active memory to clear it out and be used to store other important information. (And there will always be more important information to remember.)

4. Cool-ness Matters

Yes, despite noticing how ineffectively the nerdy James Bond's system worked, I still learned something from it. I started to emulate some of the things I noticed he did. As I learned to emulate those things (in only the necessary courses), my grades got a tiny boost. While I liked that boost, there was something that was significantly more important to me.

I felt way cooler (yes, I know. I'm a nerd.) when I didn't feel like a disorganized mess for my classes. If I just got that tiny boost in grades then I probably wouldn't have followed through completely. A couple points isn't particularly motivating but, honestly, I would probably have been willing to lose a couple points to feel cool.

Sure, you may be some superhero of not-care-what-they-think-itism but it helps.

If you like some organizational method for whatever stupid immature reason it is, this is probably the organizational system you should be using. Some people do this by keeping everything on there iPhone. Maybe you want a trapper keeper (Hipsters are bringing everything back. Please not these...) However you want to organize is probably the right way to do it.

Organization can be a beautiful thing but beauty is often subjective and useless in improving your grades. (Yes. I'm avoiding an obvious prostitution joke here.) Focus on using organization right. Don't focus on organization. With the right balance, it can be the key to taking a good student up to great student status but it needs to be done with the end in mind.

Do you want to learn how to study in 15 minutes a night while getting the grades of someone who studies for hours? Check out my books and other articles for more information.

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