How to Stay Organized

This past week was the first test week for most students. Many times after we receive the results of our exams, we realize that we need to work harder to achieve our desired grades. In my opinion, one of the best ways to clean up your academic act is to become more organized. I have had great success in this regard and thought that I would share some tips.

1. Use a planner.

  • I would advise buying a planner or notebook for recording your assignments and meetings. Use something that is bound; looseleaf paper is wont to be lost. Don’t write your assignments on your hand, either. You will most likely wash your hands after using the bathroom and completely lose the notes you wrote. The bookstore sells University planners for $6-$8.
  • For many people, simply listing assignments and crossing them out when they are complete is adequate. I like to keep a color-coded journal and use different bullet points to designate various notes:
    This is the bullet and color legend for my planner.

    This is the bullet and color legend for my planner.

    This is what a typical day in my planner looks like.

    This is what a typical day in my planner looks like.

2. Use time management strategies.

  • Spiraldexes are neat ways to track and plan how you spend your day. They are available in printable form online.
  • Completely scheduling how you spend your day may be helpful, especially if you are a procrastinator. It might seem extreme, but hey, Ben Franklin did it, and he turned out okay.

Ben Franklin’s daily routine. I wasn’t kidding.

  • For big projects, start planning early. I have 3 research papers to write this semester. For each of them, I am using a goal planner sheet, available here.

3. Limit your electronic use.

  • If I’ve given myself 45 minutes to accomplish one piece of homework, I place my cell phone at the bottom of my backpack during that time. I also use an internet-limiting app on my Mac called Self Control that blocks access to certain distracting websites (ahem, Facebook and Netflix). For PCs, Cold Turkey does the same thing.
  • Turn off your music. I know this is incredibly difficult for most students, but if you’re really trying to learn and retain material, you need a quiet environment. If silence drives you mad, try turning on a fan in your room to provide white noise.

4. Clean up your note-taking.

  • One of the most well known note-taking strategies is the Cornell Method. In this method, you divide your notebook into three sections: two vertical columns and one horizontal row at the bottom. The leftmost column is used for the titles of main topics or questions. The rightmost column is used for taking lecture notes. The bottom row is used for summarizing the material on that page (outside of class). I find that this method is the most helpful for humanities classes.

5. Start studying early.

  • Review your notes daily. You don’t have to look over every subject every day, but it’s important to review recent material in, say, 2 classes for at least 30 minutes a day. You don’t have to do this alone! Form a study group and assign a different person to lead the study session each day.
  • Make flashcards as soon as you learn new terms. That way you won’t be stuck making 50 flashcards the night before your test. If you don’t want to buy notecards or carry them around with you, Quizlet is a great site that allows you to make and review virtual flashcards.
  • When studying by yourself, don’t just read over your notes. Work with the material in ways other than how the professor presented it. This can mean organizing your notes into charts, or concept maps, or writing a narrative connecting the main ideas together. You might even make a powerpoint presentation as if you were going to teach the material to someone else.

I hope you found this tips helpful! Good luck to all students studying this week!

Rediscovering Love at the Lakehouse

This past weekend was my first opportunity of the semester to attend a retreat at the Chapman Lake Retreat House, a university-owned retreat center that is about 30 minutes by car away from the U.  I attended the  Love, Sex, and Relationships retreat, which was sponsored by the Catholic Studies Program, a subset of the Theology and Religious Studies Department. After finishing class at 2 PM on Friday, I rushed back to my dorm and threw together a quick away-bag with just the necessities: toiletries, comfy clothes, and some light reading  (Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, if you’re curious). Then, after stopping at Starbucks for an iced coffee (as is my modus operandi), I met the four girls and four guys with whom I would be spending this retreat. I also met our retreat leader, a warm-hearted, energetic woman by the name of Megan Murphy.

After arriving at the lakehouse, we spent some time unwinding. My friend and I played outside with one of our professor’s two little kids, and I definitely got my daily cardio workout in playing tag with them. It’s amazing to me how much energy they had; within 5 minutes, I was already winded! After dinner, provided by the University’s catering service, we got down to business. And when I say business, I mean all-out catechesis. Megan Murphy essentially taught us a two-day course in the Theology of the Body, a systematic way to approach love, sex, and human relationships as consolidated by the late Pope John Paul II. For some background on this beautiful teaching of the Catholic Church, you can visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ webpage here.

I thought that Megan Murphy did a great job expressing this unique theological teaching in an engaging and well-ordered manner. Her appeals to both heart and reason were powerful, and in her hands the Theology of the Body took on new life. I had learned this teaching in my Catholic high school years, but Mrs. Murphy rekindled the joy I had felt in its beauty and nonconformity. After just two days of learning about love and sex, I was surprised at how much the retreat group had learned. A professor quite aptly described our experience as “drinking from a firehose” because there was such a great deal for us retreatees to think about and try to apply back in our lives at the University. The retreat beautifully ended with the offer of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.

Below: a video shown at the retreat about the fidelity of love

A Physics-Filled Summer

Greetings, readers!

It’s three weeks into the school year, but I thought I’d recount my summer at the University of Scranton.  I decided to enroll in General Physics I and II over the summer. Yes, you read that correctly. I, a college student, decided to spend my summer memorizing equations and playing with magnets rather than going to the beach or kicking back and relaxing. Why? Well, on a practical note, these were required classes for my pre-medicine concentration, so I thought I would be proactive and finish the classes early. On a more personal note, I am someone who genuinely just enjoys learning, and devoting my summer to the study of physics didn’t strike me as boring at all.

Let me tell you a bit about the organization of the summer sessions. These condensed sessions, like the January intersession courses, compact a semester-long course into a month. To put this into perspective, this means that each week of classes in a normal semester is compacted into a single day during the summer.  I had physics on the brain all the time. For two months, I ate, drank, and breathed physics. When, during a study break, I decided to watch the Bullock-Clooney movie Gravity with a friend, I was excited to discover that I could analyze the physics aspects of the film with my new knowledge. Eight tests in 2 months with 24 labs might not sound like the best way to spend your summer, but to someone who is willing to work hard and is interested in the topic, it’s a great experience. And as a side note, we did get to play with Hot Wheels race cars one day during lab (cue “car” sound effect noises from every single 18-21-year-old boy in the class…).

One interesting part of my summer session was cooking my own meals every day. The University’s (amazing) dining services were not available over the summer, so I took on a new independence. To travel to the local Gerrity’s for groceries, I used the Colts Bus, a Lackawanna transportation service that was free with my University ID. Keeping track of my grocery expenses made me realize just how much work it is to feed yourself, and I became more of a savvy shopper over the summer (although I haven’t reached the expertise of those extreme coupon-ers on TLC). Students at the University receive a 10% discount at Gerrity’s (just be sure to show them your ID!). I now have the highest respect for all parents who cook for their families; it really is a lot of work! Thankfully, I split the cooking work and grocery prices with a friend who took summer classes with me. This was nice because when one of us had a large amount of work to do on a certain day, the other would take over cooking responsibilities. However much I enjoyed cooking for myself, I am now so glad to be treated to the food on the 3rd floor of DeNaples.

A typical grocery haul over the summer. I chose this picture because there's no junk food or ice cream in sight! :)

A typical grocery haul over the summer. I chose this picture because there’s no junk food or ice cream in sight! 🙂