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Staying Organized in Nursing School

*Original post released on 4/29/2020

I am a firm believer that staying organized saves time, helps improve your retention of study materials, and reduces risk of procrastination/late assignment submissions. I’ll be the first to admit that my house is not always clean, my clothes are not always hung up, and sometimes my car isn’t the tidiest either. However, when it comes to work and classes, I personally find it more difficult to be productive without being organized to some extent. That doesn’t mean you have to take all my tips to heart and run with them, though. Plus, each of us have a different method of organization that works for us. For instance, the way I organized and prepared for classes in nursing school is DEFINITELY not how my husband did for his LPN program. So, my advice? Read through the whole article first and utilize the tips that resonate with you and your approach to learning (…and life).

To kick things off, I’ll start with some general tips for organization during school. Then, I’ll delve deeper into how I personally organized myself for the nursing program I attended.

General tips & tricks:

  • If you don’t want to carry large binders with you all the time, consider having one folder per class and get in the habit of filing notes/handouts in the appropriate as soon as you get home. This will lighten your backpack load while helping you still stay organized.
  • If you DO like to carry you binders and books with you to class (not a bad idea anyway), consider investing in a rolling backpack. I’ll forewarn you that they can be a bit pricey, but I purchased one and never went back to carrying a regular backpack for classes. Plus, it will save your back.
  • If you’re interested in a great option, you can take a look at my tried and true rolling backpack…AKA: “Big Bertha,” since the capacity was astonishing. It’s available on Amazon and at the time this article was written, it’s currently on sale for $20 off AND has prime shipping! Here’s the link(I don’t receive any kick back for sharing this, I just loved the product):
  • If your textbooks and class resources have online content, consider utilizing it! Not only will it save your back to have online versions of books, they also tend to come with bonus material that might include practice review questions, supplemental learning materials, and helpful videos or simulations. I know not everyone learns best with online books, so if this doesn’t apply to you still consider looking into any bonus content (you’ll know if your book has this because there is often a code on the inside cover).
  • Keep a little note to yourself on your phone with all your school resource and e-book links and login information for easy access. This also helps free up some valuable space in your noggin’!
  • For note taking:
    • I strongly urge you to date all of your notes and handouts. This will help tremendously in organizing your binder later if you do use the folder method.
    • Color coding notes, if you like to do this, is best done when consistent. Have a specific color set aside for definitions, labs, key points, etc. This will also help streamline your comprehension and recollection of the material. I always found that highlighting (sparingly) helped me bring a visual to mind during exams and I was able to recall the information a little easier.
    • If highlighting, make sure you don’t cover too much information in color. Doing so will work against your ability to retain and recall information, thus defeating the purpose of this study method.
  • For binder organization:
    • Buy a bigger size if you’re unsure of which binder to use. Typically these were the sizes I used:
      • 3″ Binder –> Fundamentals, Maternal/Newborn, Pathophysiology
      • 3″ Binder each –> Med Surg I & II (I made mine into “Vol. 1” and “Vol. 2”)
      • 2″ Binder –> Psych, Community, Pharmacology, Health Assessment
      • 1.5″ to 2″ Binder –> Clinicals, leadership, research (depending on the amount of prepwork & assignments required)
    • Dying to put a creative spin on your binder? Try using a sheet of scrapbooking paper (Ex: from JoAnn’s) and cut it to an 8.5″x11″ size. Now you can print the title of your class and any other info on it! Just slip it inside the plastic covering. You can even do it for the dividers within your binder, just make them bigger than the pages they separate. I wasn’t really this creative when I was in school, but I wish I had been XD

Now, here’s a look at how I organized my binders to stay organized for each class!

  • I kept two binders for each class that had a clinical or simulation lab component…one for lecture and one for the clinical/lab. For classes with only a didactic (lecture) portion, I only used one binder.
  • To organize the binders, I used alphabetical tabs (A-Z) so I would have 26 to use however I saw fit. Because of this, I decided to organize week by week.
    • The first tab was always reserved for course documents (Ex: syllabus, calendar) and any policy handouts they issued us.
    • The second tab I would reserve for dosage calculations, because we had to test off each semester and EVERY class in our program had their own review session *eye roll.*
    • Next, I chose to file all handouts and review documents for the ATI exams associated with the class. We didn’t take or use any HESI materials/exams, so I don’t have much knowledge on that subject.
    • After this, I would use a tab for each week of the semester. This would usually take 12-14 tabs depending on the semester.
    • Exams got their own tab so I could file a study guide. So for example, if the exam was in week #4, I would put the tab behind the “week 4” tab.
      • Your program doesn’t provide study guides? No problem! Take the objectives from your professor’s lecture and create your own. Typically they won’t waste time talking about a topic if it’s not going to show up on the exam. Professor doesn’t provide objectives? My least favorite (and more broad) option is to use the objectives from your assigned readings to create your own. This doesn’t always help the most since assigned readings often cover much more material than is tested.
    • Once all the weeks and exams are accounted for, I do include a “final exam” tab. However, this is often reserved for material taught towards the end of the semester that was not included in a prior study guide.
    • You can also include a tab for resources and handouts that the professor provides in-class, or you can file them within the tab for the week they were given to you. Either way, I still suggest dating the pages…ALL OF THEM.
    • On the table of contents page, I would put the date of any examination in parentheses so I would always know the *tentative* dates.
    • If there were enough tabs left over, I’d use them in the clinical/sim lab binder (when applicable for that class). When I did this, I made sure to photocopy the table of contents page so I could still stay organized and know what information was behind each tab. If there weren’t enough dividers leftover, I would usually buy a smaller set of tabs (Ex: 8 count) for the clinical/sim lab binder.
    • For organizing the clinical/sim lab binder, I’d recommend setting it up week by week. Our clinicals were usually only half the semester and only lasted a few weeks. You could also include a section for skills information/handouts and clinical paperwork. Again, be sure to date everything to help you stay organized if something falls out of place or you need to remember when a skill was performed.

Wow! That’s a lot of information to take in. Sorry about that. Hopefully it wasn’t too dull. I could probably go on and on with organization tips for nursing school. If you’d like an article made about staying organized for clinicals/sim lab, or if you have tips of your own to add to these, leave a comment below!

XOXO Andra Alyse

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