Binder Organization!

1. I keep my schedule right at the beginning of my binder, so I have easy access to it

2. I like to print out calendars to plan out my study in - in monthly view -, it really helps to see how much time you have left until the test/exam, and it’s easy to plan out what you’ll do each day. I also color code my classes, so it’s easy to pick up the things I need for studying for the classes if I go to the library, for example

3. The first thing you’ll see behind each divider is the class syllabus. It’s important to keep it, especially if it has the test dates on it. Can’t afford to forget when tests are!!

4. For my Human Language class, our teacher made guides, and she would use them to teach the topics, and elaborate on each one

5. Rewritten class notes

6. Actual class notes

7 & 8. Before the tests, I would type everything out on the computer, and then print it out and use it as another way to study

9. Our final literature test

10. The resolution of said test, in which I actually got an A, I’m so proud!

How to: Use a Syllabus

I have had a disconcerting number of asks lately dealing with syllabi. Which means it’s time for another in my ever popular line of “How to” posts.

Let’s begin with finding a syllabus. Hopefully your school handed you one before you even knew you needed it. But as seems to be the case, this isn’t happening as often as it should. Let me tell you now. YOU NEED A SYLLABUS FOR EACH CLASS YOU ARE TAKING. If your school did not provide you one - try asking your teacher for a copy. They might not know that they should be sharing this with you. If they refuse or give you a hard time, don’t stress. Simply go on google, type “[class name] ib syllabus [year]”, and a pdf or word document should be linked in the top 20 hits. example: “HL Biology ib syllabus 2015″ If you need help finding a specific class, let me know. If you have a copy of a recent syllabus/find a really good copy online - PLEASE let me know, I will make a library of links to make it easier for people to find these. Really, so much of success depends on syllabi that it’s crazy and unfair for students to be working without them.

Now that you have the syllabus - you need to learn how to read it.  At the beginning, it may have a bunch of boring information about how that subject is scored. This isn’t critical to the purpose of the syllabus. Right now, we’re more interested in teaching you what you need to know, rather than explaining how you’re going to prove it. The meat of the syllabus is divided into Core topics and Higher Level topics. Everyone (SL and HL) studies the core, but only HL has to study the additional topics. In some classes like Biology, there may be optional topics that your school will choose to focus on. Looking at the syllabus, under Core topics, you will see Topic 1. Think of this as a chapter in a book; it represents an overarching theme of study. Ex. Biology - Cell Biology. Following the Topic are subtopics or section headings. Ex. Biology - Topic 1.1 Introduction to cells. Underneath this subtopic will be a sequence of questions or statements that could be asked or referenced by an examiner. This is what you are expected to know. Exactly. There are rules in place, where professors who write the exams have to prove that the questions come directly from the syllabus. What I am telling you is that if you are familiar with the syllabus there is no possibility that you will see something new on the exam. The IB literally hands you a study guide and says if you know everything on here, you’ll get a 7.

This sounds great right? fool proof? You might then ask me why everyone isn’t getting a 7?  Go look at the sheer length of a blank syllabus and then come back. Yeah. It’s crazy how long they are. Here’s what I recommend: get the syllabus on the first day of IB. Heck - a bunch of my followers are reading this before they’re even in IB. Go get it now. ASAP. As soon as you know about syllabi, get them. Before you start a new topic in class, read the syllabus (don’t waste time previewing the book! There could be a bunch of interesting facts in there that won’t matter at all come exam time. Stay focused on that syllabus). As you cover a topic in class, keep a running syllabus going. You should have a binder of notes organized by topic, subtopic, and the question in the syllabus followed by the answer. If you do this as you go, it will be 100% easier come revision - because all your notes will already be organized per topic and you can focus in on memorizing the information. 

Now the syllabus for each class will look a little different. By now you should understand that a History class is not taught the same way as Biology. However every class is held to the standard of providing a syllabus with topics and subject focus points. Anything you are learning should directly relate back to a point on the syllabus. If you stay focused on the syllabus, then your exams will be much easier.

If you ever don’t understand something in the syllabus, either ask your teacher or feel free to ask me, because I guarantee you there is nothing more important in all of your exam prep than the syllabus.

How to create a syllabus

If your teachers or professors do not hand you a syllabus for your classes, worry not! You can create a syllabus yourself with the important information you will need during the course.

  • Title of the subject, abbreviation or code, name of the professor, meeting hours, and email.
  • Description of the subject. You can find this on your university’s website. I like to have this in my syllabus because it says what is expected from the students, and what you can expect from the classes.
  • Goals of the subject. These come in handy when preparing for exams, since they say exactly what students should know at the end of the course.
  • Methodology. How the classes are going to be (divided in groups, or one big group, with practice and theory, or just theory, with workshops…), and what kind of projects you’re going to perform. Are lectures mandatory? Are there any group meetings? Do you have a pre-course seminar?
  • Evaluation. How your professor is going to evaluate you, what are the reports and projects that you need to do to pass, how is going to be the exam.
  • Bibliography. Sometimes, I am given a list of books I can copy in here; sometimes, I am not, and I just add relevant readings, recommendations from the professors, and even articles and material viewed in class.
  • Planning of the sessions. In a new page, I list the months I’m going to be having that subject, and write all the days I actually have class. It’s always encouraging to cross out days before a holiday, and even useful to have a global perspective of the amount of time you have until a certain deadline or exam.
  • Special dates. Below the planning of the sessions, in case you have guests that come to your college to give a speech, oral presentations, special meetings, deadlines, tests, trips, workshops, seminars…
  • Notes. Always on the last page. It has individual notes and reminders, like “students failing to attend the first lecture will be excluded”, or “Page 394 is going to be in the exam FOR SURE”, or even “bring headphones for practical sessions”.

I myself am not given a syllabus at college, so I create my own to have all information together. Usually, I get all this info in the university’s website, in subjects’ reviews from old students, or in the first day of class -when the professor introduces the subject. If this is your case as well, and you’re missing information, you just need to add the relevant data in your computer or leave blank spaces in your printed syllabus to complete later.