Re-Organizing the Binders


After ALL the the work it takes to organize my binders each semester by week, and after I told all of you about how awesome that is, I decided to re-do it for my last semester. But don’t worry. If you are using the method I used, you might want to keep doing it that way.

I took all of my content from the first three semesters and put them in alphabetical order instead of by semester and week. Sounds like a lot of work, right? It was. It was kind of terrible, and I’m glad it is behind me now.

The reason I made the change? For the most part, I will only be reviewing content in my class this semester. Our program is designed to dig in deeper during the last semester with the content we learned in the first three semesters. We do this by working through massively long and excruciating painful case studies.

Since we use the content from previous semesters, it was important for me to be able to access that information easily. The old system wasn’t working for me anymore because I couldn’t remember what week or even what semester we went over cardiac. Plus, I am pretty sure that cardiac was covered in more than one class and in more than one semester.

Here are my binders before the mess began.

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I was too tired and crabby to take a picture of the mess. But just imagine paper…lots of paper…and no way to get around it. I was pretty much stuck finishing this project because I trapped myself in the dining room.

Basically, I took everything out of my binders and made a pile for topics beginning with “A” and another one for “B” and so on. I had separate lectures for heart failure, myocardial infarction, and EKG monitoring, so I put them all under the “Cardiac” tab and had smaller tabs for the individual topics. Same went for endocrine, neuro, GI, etc.

This is how I know where to find the content that I just spent hours organizing…

The front sleeve of each binder has a table of contents with the actual contents of that binder in bold lettering. Pretty handy.


The sleeve on the spine of the binder has the first topic, last topic, and the number of the binder.


Alright, it’s time to get back to care plans and case studies!


My Calendars — Part 2

If you haven’t read about how I use Google calendar in nursing school, check out My Calendars — Part 1.

The other two calendars I use are paper calendars, and I place them in the front and black slots of my binder. The one at the front of my binder is my syllabus calendar, and it is a very detailed version of the calendar I keep on my Google calendar.

The syllabus calendar goes in the front slot of my binder.

The syllabus calendar goes in the front slot of my binder.

Absolutely everything related to nursing school is on this calendar. I use the syllabus my instructors hand out at the beginning of the semester and delete all of the information that does not apply to me, such as the clinical dates for the other clinical groups.

Date, time, lecture topic, clinical information, exam information (I highlight exam dates), service learning, group project meetings, and all of the other stuff they pile on us goes on this calendar. I just rotate the pages as the semester progresses.


The calendar on the back of my binder holds only the important dates, such as assignment due dates and exam dates. I can look at it quickly and know if something important is going on this month.


I cross off the days as I go so that I can quickly see the next major event. The events I include are clinical dates, service learning dates and locations, exam dates, assignment due dates, and I throw holidays in there, too. (I can’t wait for Christmas!)


These three calendars (Google, syllabus, and important dates) keep me from pulling my hair out every single day. My mind can rest from some of the stress of not knowing whether I’ve missed a deadline or a meeting because I always know where I need to be. Give it a shot. And if you have a calendar system that works for you, let me and the other readers know because we need to help each other out!

My Calendars — Part 1

I use three methods to keeping my schedule organized. I was planning on sharing all of them with you in this post, but it was getting kind of long, and long posts are boring. So stay tuned to learn about my other two calendars:  the syllabus calendar and the important dates calendar.

There are a lot of organizational options out there for nursing students (planners up the wazoo, desk calendars, white board calendars, phone apps). My favorite combo is a Google calendar, a syllabus calendar, and an important dates calendar. Each one serves it’s own purpose, and I never have that dreaded feeling of missing anything.

The first calendar I will share with you is the Google calendar. If you already have a Google account, you are off to a great start (if not, Google how to create one…lol). Find the calendar button in the top right corner of any Google page (you must be logged in to see it). Click on it! 🙂

Google Calendar (Google Homepage)

Within your Google calendar, you have the opportunity to make multiple calendars that can be displayed at the same time or hidden when you want to focus on just one aspect of your life (e.g., nursing school).

Google Calendar (All calendars)

On the left side of the screen, you can see that I have three calendars that I control (Amy Determan, Nursing School, and Tasks). I also am able to see three calendars under Other Calendars (these are calendars that have been shared with me).

My Amy Determan (blue) calendar is for all of my personal appointments, parties, concerts, etc. My Nursing School (green) calendar is for my classes, clinicals, simulation activities, etc. And I can’t tell you how nice it is to have Grant using Google calendar, too! We don’t run into scheduling conflicts because we can easily pull up each others’ calendars in an instant (using our smart phones).

You can see in the picture below how each of my calendars can be viewed separately if needed. If you click on the calendar names on the left side of the screen, you can hide them or display them. I usually keep all of the calendars up, because how else am I going to know what’s going on outside of my nursing school bubble!?

Google Calendar (Only Nursing)

A view of my nursing school calendar without all of my other calendars.

If you would like step-by-step instructions on how to set up your own Google calendar, Anson Alexander has a great YouTube tutorial series that will get your started! You will be amazed at how many cool features Google calendar has to offer. And it’s FREE.

Question for y’all:  Do you prefer paper calendars or electronic calendars?

Also, is anyone else experiencing something like this today? Not cool, Mother Nature. Not cool.


My Most Effective Study Tool

If I could only tell you one study technique for nursing school, it would be to create your own tables and use them to study for exams. It is one of the tools I wish I knew about before starting nursing school (if you haven’t started school yet…you’re welcome). Instead, it took a failed test and a humble visit to the NCLEX guru to find this treasure. Totally worth it.


This is it! Pretty breathtaking, right?

Here is the gist of how I create the study tool that helped me achieve A’s on my nursing exams:

The process begins after I read the content in the textbook, listen to lecture, and re-listen to lecture via my recording. I gather my notes and create an outline of the table.

For the majority of my theory content, I organize the tables by body system and compare medical conditions within that body system. For example, the table on pediatric neurological conditions compares traumatic brain injury, shaken baby syndrome, seizures, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and hydrocephalus.  I usually make a column for the condition, a description of the condition, clinical manifestations, diagnostic methods, treatment, and nursing considerations.


The first row describes traumatic brain injury, and the second row describes shaken baby syndrome.

For pharmacology concepts, I usually make a table to compare the different classes of medications. To develop a table for antibiotic medications, add a column for each class including penicillins, cephalosporins, tetracyclines, macrolides, aminoglycosides, fluoroquinolones, and sulfonamides. Include examples of common drugs within each class, administration routes, mechanisms of action, indications, adverse effects, and nursing considerations.


I then take the main points from the PowerPoint and my notes and insert them into the table outline.


A ton of words. It is not easy to condense this, but somehow I make it work! Take the crucial information and abbreviate. Size 9 font helps, too!

After I insert all of the content from the PowerPoint and notes, I go back to the textbook and peruse the boxes, tables, and care plans for information that either helps me understand the topic (makes things click in my brain) or information that I think the instructors may include on the test. Do not skip this step! I find that the textbook answers the “why” questions. And when I know the reason why, I can usually work through an exam question even if I know nothing about the specific condition that the question addresses.


Even if you do not know anything about neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), you probably know that there are other neurological disorders that manifest with rigidity, tremors, and altered consciousness. So you can safely assume that a very high temperature is unique to NMS.

There are times when a table is not the best way to outline the information from the lecture and textbook. If something does not work in a table, figure out a way to include the important information in a concise manner that will aid in your studying.

For example, I could not find a way to put level of consciousness descriptors and the Pediatric Glasgow Coma Scale into a table. I knew that questions about these topics could very well show up on an exam, so instead of just throwing them out because I could not fit them into a table, I just listed the information on a separate page. Nothing wrong with that. This is your study tool. Make it work for you.


Now that you know how to make an effective table, it is time to make one for yourself! Make it. Use it. A lot. I find it helpful to bring these to study sessions with classmates, and I’ll add things that my classmates picked up on that I missed while studying.

What is your must-have study tool?


What’s in my bag?

Thank you, Robin at Robin’s Nursing Journey, for the idea to show what I keep in my nursing bag (aka, my lifeline!). You are truly an inspiration to me (and many others)!

Here is a glimpse inside the dark corners of my nursing school existence:

A backpack is a must! I see many of my fellow nursing students hauling around their schoolwork in very cute, very fashionable hand bags, but please be kind to your back (you’re going to need it later when you become a full-fledged RN), and get a good backpack. Thank you. 😉 Mine was free (i.e., it was included in my tuition) from my previous university.


The small zippered area at the bottom of my bag is where I stash all of my pens, pencils, highlighters, my calculator, keys, and my phone (which I use to record class).

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Moving on up to the smallest pouch, located near the top of the bag. This is where I carry my emergency items:  my epi pens (I’m allergic to the cold…yes, it’s a real thing), my DivaCup (something every menstruating woman should be aware of…yep, I just went there), and ibuprofen (because you just never know when you’ll need some)!

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In the smaller of the two large compartments, I store my lab/clinical bag. I keep it in a separate bag so that I can easily transfer it depending on where I’m going. It includes the most basic clinical supplies: stethoscope, pen light, watch, and student ID. If I were heading to clinicals, I would add my handbook for med/surg nursing, some cash for lunch, a water bottle, clinical prep sheets, and my chapstick (cannot live without my chapstick).


Last but not least, the main compartment. It usually only contains a couple things:  the binder for the class I have that day and a snack (usually apples, pretzels, granola bars, or peanuts). I don’t usually bring any books to class unless the instructor tells us to ahead of time. Again, I’m trying to save my back here, and it is just not necessary to carry all of that around!


Now that you know my must have items, what are your necessary gadgets and gizmos?