As you’re preparing to go back to school, having the right tools to work with can make school a lot easier! As you’re preparing to go back to school, having the right tools to work with can make school a lot easier!
Here are the most important tools I would recommend setting up before the year begins.
1. Binders and/or Folders for homework, notes, and handouts
While some schools are going electronic and giving out less paper than they used to, most students still have a lot of paper they need to keep track of for their classes. So, it’s important to find a system for storing that paper that is going to be organized and easy to use.
For some students, this will be one binder with a 2-pocket divider for each subject to store homework and handouts, and some lined paper for notes behind each pocket. For students on block scheduling, it might be 2 different binders — one for “A day” and one for “B day”. Other students might prefer to have 5 smaller multicolored binders— one for each class, with a homework packet in the front of each one.
For students who dislike binders, consider using a 5-star notebinder, a horizontal or vertical accordion folder with 2-pocket folders inside, or a set of heavy-duty plastic 2-pocket folders — one for each class, with homework on one side and handouts on the other.
There are a lot of different options here, so think through the pros and cons of each system before choosing the one that’s right for you. Then, evaluate how it’s going, and don’t be afraid to change it after the first few weeks of the school year if you find it’s not working for you.
2. Filing Station at Home
In addition to having a good system for organizing current papers, it is also a good idea to set up a filing station at home where you can store any old papers you don’t need to carry back and forth to school anymore.
I generally recommend keeping all past quizzes, tests, and worksheets with practice problems or potential test questions, until after the final exam, since these can be great study materials…but after you’ve taken the unit test on that material, it is generally safe to store all of the papers associated with that unit at home.
Some of the tools you’ll want to have in your filing station include a trashcan to throw away anything you don’t need anymore, a hole punch for any papers you want to keep in your binder, a file drawer or box with hanging file folders to store older papers, and possibly also a label maker to label all of your files.
If you take a little time once a week to store the materials from any classes in which you had any for test, and hole punch any loose papers and your binders, it’s generally much more manageable to stay on top of all the papers you receive….and much easier to find your study materials when it’s time to prepare for your final exam.
3. Daily Planner
This is one of the most important one is for students to have, because it is where you will record everything you need to do for the day.
One factor to consider here is whether you would do better with a paper planner or an electronic planner.
If you need reminders about your tasks, and you tend to lose anything that’s on paper, and electronic option may be a better fit for you. In that case, look into tools like iStudiez Pro, or MyHomework.
On the other hand, if you get distracted easily by electronic devices, and remember things better when you’ve written them down, paper may be a better option for you. In that case, my favorite option is Leslie Josel’s Order out of Chaos Planner, because the grid layout makes it easy to see what you have coming up each week, and you have space to plan out your after-school activities in addition to your homework.
4. Monthly / Semester Calendar
In addition to the daily planner, it is very helpful to have a larger calendar where you can record all of the major due dates for the semester, so it’s very easy to see them coming up.
If you prefer to keep this online and get reminders about the upcoming due dates before hand, look into Google calendar or iCal.
If you prefer paper, you can print out a custom calendar at Time and date.com that’s formatted exactly how you’d like it. Or, consider getting a white board calendar for the semester or a monthly desk pad calendar where you can easily write the dates you have coming up.
5. Reminder App
Ivan, students will think of things I need to do when they’re not as a Saralee right in front of their computer. So, it’s a good idea to have some sort of reminder app you can use to keep track of those things you remember all of a sudden. For example, Siri, remind me at 4 pm to get posterboard for my project. Or remind me when I get home to get money for the field trip tomorrow. This can be done for Emily, by speaking a reminder out loud, or manually, by typing it into your Reminders app. It can be done on Apple, with Siri, or on androids, with Google now. There are also the ability to set reminders by time or my location.
6. Homework Timer
Many students struggle to manage their time effectively, especially when they have a lot of homework to complete. So, it’s a good idea to have a timer you can use to keep track of how long you been working on assignment, and how much time you have left.
Ideally, these timers are best used in airplane mode so that you don’t have any other distractions from your device while you’re working. If that’s too hard for you, consider getting a physical timer, like Time Timer Mod, or an old-fashioned kitchen timer.
7. Distraction Blocking Apps
Once you set your timer and you’re ready to work, how will you make sure you’re not distracted by your phone or computer? Are you going to put your phone in another room? Turn it on airplane mode and put it on the bookshelf so it’s out of reach? Or use distraction blocking apps like Focus, or Forest, or Self-control to keep you on task?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, so figure out what’s going to work best for you, and enable YOU to take control of your time, rather than letting your devices control it for you.
8. Focus Boosting Tools
When it comes to working effectively, eliminating distractions that destroy your ability to focus is important, but it’s just half of the battle.
The other half is creating the conditions that will promote focus, and enable you to get “in the zone” with your work. I like to call these your “focus triggers“.
* Do you lose focus when the sun goes down? Consider getting some bright lights for your study space, or a sunlamp to keep you alert.
* Do you study better when you have a big, distraction-free surface where you can spread out all of your work, like a desk or a dining room table? Or do you feel uncomfortable sitting at a table, and find it easier to focus when you’re sitting on a beanbag chair, or curled up in a corner with a lap desk?
These will be different for every student, so experiment with different options to figure out what works best for you.
9. Note-taking & Brainstorming Apps
If you’re working on a project or paper and need to generate creative ideas, the best way to do that is to generate as many ideas as you can…ideally over a long period of time. (If you’d like to learn more about why this works, check out Adam Grant’s book, Originals.)
Often, the best ideas will come to you during the day, when you’re NOT sitting in front of your computer, so make sure you can access your notes on any mobile device. Good tools for this include Evernote, Google Drive, or the notes app on iOS.
10. Study Websites
One of the most effective ways to study is to practice recalling information from memory.
So, once you know what your classes are that you’re going to be taking this year, it’s worth taking a little time to figure out where you’re going to find practice questions for each of those subjects. Some great examples are Khan Academy, Quizlet, and IXL.
A lot of textbooks also have online websites where you can find practice quizzes, so if you get a textbook this year consider looking up the book online to see if there is a website that you could use to help you study.
Depending on your classes, these tools will be different, but it’s worth taking a little time at the beginning of the semester to figure out which one will work best for you.
11. Alarm Clock
Are you someone who has a hard time getting up in the morning? I’ve always had a hard time waking up, too, so I completely relate!
If your parents are happy waking you up every morning…and you’re happy having them wake you up…that may be your alarm clock of choice this year.
But if the “parent-as-alarm-clock” model has been frustrating either (or both!) of you in the mornings, it may be time to consider another option this year that will help you consistently get out of bed on your own.
If you are someone who NEVER hears your alarm going off, consider trying Sonic Boom. This is a VERY loud alarm, which literally shakes windows. (This is fine if you’re the LAST person in the house to wake up…but don’t use it if you’re supposed to be the FIRST one out of bed, because you WILL wake everyone else up in the process, and they will be angry at you all day.)
If you hate getting up when it’s dark, consider using a daylight alarm clock that gets brighter as it gets closer to the time when you’re supposed to wake up.
Or, if you’re someone who hits snooze in the morning and rolls back over to go back to sleep without even realizing your clock went off, consider using an alarm clock that moves around the room and requires you to get out of bed to turn it off like Clocky or Tocky. Or, install a puzzle solving app on your phone like Alarmy for Android or FreakyAlarm for iPhone, and plug it in across the room, so you have to physically get out of bed and STAY out of bed long enough to solve whatever puzzle it gives you to do in the morning…which takes so long that you’re typically awake by the time you get the alarm to go off.
If the puzzles aren’t enough for you, you can even set up the alarm so it requires you to get up and walk to another room to scan a barcode before it will turn off. (Just make sure you cut out the bar code you’re going to use and tape it somewhere visible, so it won’t be thrown out by mistake!
If you’re an especially sound sleeper, you may want to combine two of these…for me, setting a daylight alarm by my bed AND setting up a problem-solving app across the room is 100% reliable, and has never failed me yet. So, experiment and find out which alarm — or combination of alarms — works best for you!
12. Grade tracking app or spreadsheet
If you’ve been working so hard with all of these tools to earn the best grade you can, you’ll want to have some way of keeping track of your progress, so you can see how you’re doing!
Many students already have a way to log into their school website and see their current grades. In that case, all you need to do is set up a reminder to check your grades once a week. And, if you’d like, you can also set up a spreadsheet in Google sheets or Excel to enter your current grades each week, and keep track of how they change over the course of the semester. This is a great way to keep track of your progress, and — if grades do start to slip — to catch any downward trends early, while there’s still plenty of time to address them.
If you’d rather track grades on your phone, there are lots of apps available to do this, as well, just search for “grade tracking” on the app store and choose your favorite!
Putting it into practice
Which of these tools do you think would help you get off to a strong start this year? When would be the best time to get them set up and ready to go?
What are YOUR favorite apps and tools for school? Are there any I’ve missed, that you really enjoy?