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Saturday, January 10, 2015

How to Organize Notes During Nursing School

If this is your first semester in nursing school, CONGRATULATIONS on being accepted. You are about to enter the gates of hell, but it'll be worth it! :) If this isn't your first semester then you probably know how important it is to stay organized if you want to succeed. Here is a quick tutorial on how I organize my notes:

First let me show you a picture of the horror that will occur during nursing school:

This is a pile of all the notes I had at the end of my very first semester of nursing school. I used binders. You'll want to use binders.

 I didn't want to crop out the box that the notes are sitting on. I left it there for you to know that I didn't have time to fully unpack my apartment because that is how busy you are. Or at least how busy you SHOULD be. Granted I moved into my apartment just a couple days before school started so there's that.

Keep this warning in mind: 17% of my class didn't make it past this first semester. 

Now don't freak out or start to panic. (Trust me we all have so if you start to, that's fine. Just don't stay there for too long.) I'm here to help.

Getting Started

I feel overwhelmed when things are unorganized. I'm a visual person. I like to be able to see things, to visually organize them. This means I print off all the slides for class, which results in the horrors of the above picture. (I know, I killed a tree, but I grew up on a farm and have planted many a tree.) 

Also, I feel motivated when I see pretty things. This is why I like to run outside and take in the scenery. This is also why I like to have pretty binders. Not only do they add a little ray of sunshine while I'm stuck in a classroom for 8+ hours a day. (For the first year of my program I was in the same classroom, in the basement, without windows. I needed to see something colorful and alive.) Having pretty notebooks will also add a visual cue. Where is my pharmacology binder?? I see something green!! There it is!!

Visual cues are important. That's why we use headings, different fonts, sizes, colors. ANYTHING to help you visually organize the material you are reading so that you can better understand it.

And if that doesn't justify spending an hour making cute binders then here's a quote from Florence Nightingale, 
"She said the object and color in the materials around us actually have a physical effect on us, on how we feel."

Step 1

Collect your supplies:

  • Binders
  • Cute scrapbooking paper
  • Glue stick
  • Scissors
  • Paper trimmer
  • Microsoft Publisher

I buy 1.5 inch binders. Some classes I needed more, some I could have gotten by with a size smaller. You just never know unless you've had the teacher before. Make sure the binder has a transparent cover that you can slide your scrapbooking paper into.

There are lots of cute scrapbooking papers out there. Pick something that speaks to you. Hobby Lobby always has a great selection. Even Walmart is fantastic. (Pictured in this post came from Walmart.) You will need a front and back to each binder and a coordinating piece to act as a border for your text.

I prefer a glue stick to say Elmer's glue because it won't warp or buckle. If you're in a bind, go for it.

I put "paper trimmer" down because I think that's the most appropriate name for it. It looks like a guillotine. My mom's an art teacher, so she has these fancy tools everywhere. Just use a ruler and scissors if you don't have that, unless you want to get into scrapbooking crafts. But you're in nursing school, so you won't have time. 

I encourage the use of microsoft publisher to create your labels vs microsoft office. It's easier to manipulate the texts around. This way you won't waste paper. Also, printing your labels on cardstock would be a good idea, although for these in the picture I did not.

Step 2

Create your labels on Microsoft Publisher. Please, trust me. Publisher is so much easier than word. Just click "insert text box" and start typing the title of your class. Then have fun. Play around font sizes, color. Go crazy!! Or keep it simple. I keep it fairly simple and plain. Make a text box that fits the front of your binder and make a skinnier version for the spine of the binder. Like I said, cardstock is nice to print on if you have it. If you feel so inclined, print on colored paper. I keep things simple, but that's me. Have fun!

Step 3

Measure and cut your scrapbooking paper to fit the dimensions of the binder that you purchased. Doesn't have to be too difficult. I lay my paper on top and just bend it where I need to cut it. I don't use a ruler, but you certainly can.

Step 4

Cut out your text/labels of classes you're taking this semester. I keep them in squares or I might trim off the corners to create a octagon. Again, let your creativity run free.

Step 5

Now cut out a background for the text. I don't do anything too intense here. I just eyeball it. I do use a paper trimmer so that does give me a nice straight line. However, it may not always be parallel. ;)

Step 6

Now just use your glue stick to attach the text and background/border paper to each other and then attach that to your selected cover paper.

Spine of binders.

Even the backs look cute!

This takes time and you may not have it. I completely understand. I just like to have something nice and refreshing to look at because there will be many, many times that I cry looking at my notes over the semester. Everything else in my life will be a complete chaotic mess, but at least my notes will have a pretty home.

Other Tips for Organizing Notes

  • If you don't feel like making pretty folders/binders that's perfectly fine. I understand, but I would suggest buying different colored binders for each class. It helps keeps things organized and you will need to be organized.
  • I write on every packet the corresponding test it will be covered in. Sometimes the topics are very similar and thus hard to keep everything straight. I always right "Test 3" and so forth so that I know without a doubt what test this material goes to.
  • I use highlighters in my notes. I try to designate certain colors to be certain things, especially in pharmacology. I'll highlight a new class of drug pink. I'll highlight the mechanism of action in blue. The side effects will be orange, etc... Use colors to your advantage. It will make it easier to digest all of that information.
  • As I stated before, I print out all of my slides/notes/study guides. I print everything. I find it easier to study when I have a hard copy in front of me verses a computer screen. The computer screen hurts my eyes after a while. It hurts my neck because I'm not shifting around. I can't physically write on it, or draw on it (although powerpoint let's you write notes). Also if you're ever having technical difficulties, it is nice to have notes printed off. Nothing worse than the night before a test and the internet isn't working, computer crashes, etc...
  • I don't typically use them but tabs would work great. I really should use them more since I have various items in each binder. I would suggest as some tab labels: powerpoint, handouts, homework, articles. This depends on your school/teacher. Luckily almost all of my teachers provide us powerpoints. Some classes all I ever receive are powerpoints and that's it for the entire semester. Some classes a teacher chooses to hand out articles that relate to our topic. It just depends, but tabs or dividers would be amazing!
These are a few ways I stay organized and motivated. Maybe they're a bit "duh" but sometimes you just don't really sit back and think about it. 

What are some ways that you organize your notes? Leave a comment below.




  1. I will give you and example in our school. For Medsurg we use the required book for notes, the ATI books (one is a medsurg, one is a nutrition, and one is a pharm). It's a lot of information to have and using a one binder system like you have might just work. But the only tip I wanted to share was that I found it easy to use a white cardstock paper and color code the edges of it with washi tape. I used blue for the actual book, pink for the ATI medsurg book, green for the ATI nutrition book, and orange for the ATI pharmacology book. I didn't use any tabs on these dividers because the colors were enough. I did use dividers to separate chapters from the books although as you can see from what I've mentioned, one binder just isn't enough. I love to color code my sections between each area of the chapter because this way I can quickly get to that area. I wish I could post a pic.

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