The Learner Blog

The Learner Blog

6 Steps to Stay Organized for the Rest of the Year

Organize your backpack

Did you start out the school year with a nice, neat, color-coded binder, folders for every subject and great intentions about how organized you were going to be this year? Did you keep up with that system, or is your bookbag now in total disarray? With winter break coming to an end and a new year starting, now is the perfect time to get re-organized so you can tackle the rest of the year with ease.

Here are a few steps to get organized in both your physical and virtual worlds:

Step 1: Clean out your backpack
The first step in getting organized is to start at ground zero: your backpack. Dump everything out onto the floor, throw away any trash, and then go through all of the loose pieces of paper and put them into the folders where they belong. Next, replenish your notebook paper and pencils — just like you did on the first day of school — and return everything to your backpack so it’s nice and neat. Trust us, this will feel amazing! (Another tip: Try doing this once a week throughout the rest of the year to keep the bookbag from becoming a disaster area again).

Step 2: Clean your bedroom
If you do the majority of your homework in your bedroom, it’s important that it be a clean, inviting place where your important school papers won’t get swallowed up on your desk or on the floor. Take some time to go through your clothes, books and other knick-knacks and throw out whatever you don’t use on a regular basis. The cleaner your space, the more clearly you’ll be able to think. (Again, this is a great habit to get into at least once a week.)

Step 3: Go through your handouts
Right after final exams is usually a great time to sift through all of your handouts from the last semester. Typically, you should keep a folder for each class and put every handout your teacher distributes into that folder throughout the semester. Alternately, you can hole-punch each handout and put it into a binder where you have divider tabs separating sections for each class. What not to do? Tuck handouts inside a textbook or stuff them randomly into your backpack where they may never be seen again.

After each section or unit, move those handouts into a box or folder you keep at home so your binder doesn’t get too cluttered. Then, before final exams, go through your box at home so you have everything you need to study from the whole semester.

Step 4: Organize your Google Drive folders
Electronic files are just as important to keep organized as your physical files are. Shockingly, many people just throw documents onto their Google Drive with no organization at all, which ends up wasting tons of time when you’re trying to find something you need.

To keep your files organized, make sure to create one folder for each class, and then subfolders for different types of documents or assignments. You can even make each folder a different color so they all stand out easily. Just click on the file and in the dropdown menu, select “change color.”

Step 5: Give your documents specific names
Another way to keep your electronic files organized is to give your documents specific titles. Like it or not, you’re probably going to write many essays in English class each year. Naming them all “English essay” in your Google folder is not going to help you find things easily. Instead, use specific titles such as “Great Gatsby paper.” Google docs will keep track of your version history for you, but if you’re working in Microsoft Word, it’s helpful to put the date in each file name — and update it each time you save — so you know when you most recently worked on it.

Step 6: Set up reminders
Want to keep these good habits going? Put a reminder in your phone or assignment notebook to spend 15 minutes cleaning out your backpack or organizing your electronic files each week. And when the alert goes off, make sure to actually do it! A little bit of weekly maintenance will keep your mental and physical clutter to a minimum and make a huge difference in how calm you feel.

Do you have any other tips for how to keep yourself organized? Share them with us in the comments below!

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SAT vs. ACT: Which one should I take?

When it comes to applying for college, many students want to know: Is there an advantage to taking the SAT or the ACT?

Traditionally, the SAT has been more popular among students on the East Coast and West Coast, and the ACT has been more popular in the Midwest. In Illinois, however, all public high schools now give the SAT to every junior at no cost to the student, so if you want to take the ACT, you’ll have to seek out a separate testing site and pay the registration fee.

When the tests were first introduced, the SAT was more geared toward testing a student’s IQ, while the ACT focused on testing students’ knowledge of high school curricula. Today, however, the tests have evolved so that they’re both designed to test what students learn in school.

So how do you know which one would be better for you to take? Before making that decision, consider these basic differences between the SAT and the ACT.

Q: Do colleges have a preference for either the SAT or the ACT?
A: Most colleges don’t really care which score you submit, so that doesn’t necessarily need to be a factor when deciding which test to take. They understand both scores and will almost always accept either test.

Q: What are the differences between the SAT and the ACT?
A: The SAT has one section each for reading and writing/language, as well as two math sections and an optional essay. The ACT has English, math, reading and science reasoning sections and an optional essay. So one of the biggest differences is that the ACT has an entire section devoted to science (although the SAT does ask some science-related questions in its reading section).

The ACT is also a bit shorter (about five minutes shorter without the essay and a total of 15 minutes shorter with the essay). That means the SAT offers more time per question. So if you don’t deal well under a time crunch, you may be more comfortable with the SAT.

Q: Can you use a calculator on both tests?
A:
Not exactly. The SAT has two parts to its math section: one where you can use a calculator and one where you can’t. The ACT allows a calculator for its entire math section.

Q: How are the English (writing/language) and reading sections different on the two tests?
A:
The reading, writing and language concepts covered on both tests are almost identical. However, the SAT has more evidenced-based reading.

Q: How are the math sections different?
A: Although the SAT math sections have some pretty challenging questions, they are mainly focused on algebra, while the ACT puts a much bigger emphasis on geometry. The ACT also includes more trigonometry questions as well as questions on matrices and logarithms. So if you’re an ace at geometry and trigonometry, the ACT might be a better choice.

The SAT does provide a list of geometric formulas at the front of the test, so you don’t have to memorize them; the ACT does not.

However (and this is a big one), on the SAT, the math section counts for half of your score, whereas on the ACT it only counts for a fourth. A big factor to consider!

Q: Do the tests cost the same?
A: The ACT costs $46 without the essay or $62.50 with the essay. The SAT costs $46 without the essay and $60 with the essay.

Q: What if I’m still not sure which test is better for me?
A:
The best way to tell which test is better for you is to take some practice tests. There are free full-length SAT and ACT tests online, so try each one to get a sense of the differences in content and format and learn which test suits you best.

Feel like you need some help preparing for the SAT or ACT? Sign up for our SAT/ACT Test Prep Workshop starting Jan. 16.

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10 Tips for Studying for Final Exams

final exams

The end of the semester is almost here, and that means one thing should be at the top of your mind as a high school student: finals week. And since final exams can count for as much as a month or more worth of regular school work in the grade book, it’s important that you do your very best.

Although it may seem overwhelming to study for a massive test covering everything from the entire semester, it can actually be very manageable if you know how to study smarter, rather than harder. Here are our top 10 tips on how to prepare for final exams.

  1. Start two weeks early
    Don’t wait until the night before the test to start studying for your exams. Instead, create a schedule for how many hours you will spend studying for each course in the two weeks leading up to your exams, and break your studying up into manageable chunks of time. This will also give you enough time to make appointments with teachers or tutors to ask for additional help if you need it.
  2. Find out what will be on the exam
    Wait, you’re allowed to find out what will be on an exam? Yes! It’s ok to ask your teachers what sections they plan to cover and what format the questions will take (i.e. multiple choice, short answer or essay). This will help you strategize about how to study.
  3. Gather materials
    The next thing you need to do is find all of the materials you have from the course and get them organized. Look for your course syllabus (this will give you clues about the main topics that were covered), class notes, returned homework assignments, returned tests and quizzes and graded essays you did throughout the semester. You’re going to need to review all of these materials as you start studying.
  4. Think like a teacher
    This is probably the most important one on the list. If you were the teacher, what would you ask on the exam? Think about the big picture. What are the major concepts that they have been trying to teach you all semester? Make a list of all of the units/chapters or big topics that you have covered in the course, writing each big topic in all caps so they stand out. Under each heading, list the key concepts you discussed in each unit with a few details you should know about each one. For example, if you did a chapter on minerals in earth science, you probably discussed subtopics like classification of minerals, how to identify different minerals and how each of these minerals is formed.
  5. Create flashcards/timelines, etc.
    Once you have a list of the big concepts covered in the class, it’s time to delve more deeply into each one. Create flashcards for key terms, dates and names you’ll need to know and describe each one on the back of the card. You can also write a one-sentence summary of the main idea of each section of class notes or create a timeline of key events.
  6. Go over past tests, quizzes and homework
    When you’re studying for an exam, you have to use your time wisely. Instead of reviewing material you already know, make sure you spend time understanding questions that you got wrong on previous tests of quizzes. If you still have questions, this is a good time to seek help from a teacher or tutor.
  7. Create a practice exam
    One really effective test prep strategy is to create a practice exam with questions similar to those you think your teacher might put on the exam. Exchange your test with a friend and try answering each other’s questions. It’s a great way of getting inside your teacher’s head and rehearsing your answers in advance!
  8. Focus
    Do your best to concentrate and stay focused on your studies during finals week. Start by turning off your cell phone and the TV for at least an hour at a time. Vow not to log on to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other social media platform, and don’t respond to any texts during your study time. For more on breaking your cell phone addiction, check out this recent post on the Learner Blog.
  9. Reward yourself
    To keep yourself going, set short-term goals and then reward yourself when you meet them. For example, tell yourself that after you spend 60 minutes studying — reviewing a stack of flash cards until you know every one or re-reading one chapter — you can reward yourself with 15 minutes of checking social media, watching a show, or having a snack.
  10. Stay calm
    On the day of the exam, try to stay as calm and relaxed as possible. Spend some time doing deep breathing or meditation. Think positive thoughts, such as “I am doing my best, and that will be enough,” to relieve your anxiety and avoid psyching yourself out. Once you’re taking the test itself, try not to think about how long the test is taking you or how your peers are doing. Pace yourself, focus on one question at a time and do your best!

 

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