Before our Classes Begin: A Checklist

A quick checklist to prepare for the upcoming semester.


1. Office supplies.

The most important step of all (probably not, but why can’t it be?). Go out and get yourself some cute stationery! Journals, pens, pencils, highlighters, extra paper, sticky notes, etc.

2. A planner.

I don’t know about you, but a few weeks into any quarter I stop using my planner completely. I feel confident enough in my memory, despite the numerous times I’ve forgotten to turn in assignments. A new year is the best! time to go out and get a new planner. Some posts: Free printable weekly to-do templateplanners online, filofax love, chronodex planner, bullet journal.

3. Check the classes
Make sure to take a look at the class websites and read the syllabi (syllabuses? that sounds weird). Take a look at the textbooks and see if there are any assignments that need to be completed prior to the first day. See some reviews on, get an idea of what to expect from a class.

4. Have some note-taking options

Note Taking Methods
This is my favorite part of all. Lately I’ve been using my iPad to take notes. I must say I’m very pleased with how it turned out, although you definitely can’t do this for every class. There is no need to decide on a note-taking method right away – it would make sense to attend the first one or two classes to get the feel for the way it’s taught. However, once you do decide on a method, try to stick to it. There is nothing worse than having to figure out disorganized notes on the night before an exam.

Good luck to everyone in this coming quarter!

The stars in the spotlight this week:

Mostly Morgan
Nitty-Gritty English
By Hannah Joy


Where to Buy Textbooks

Buy Textbooks

It’s no secret that college textbook costs makeup a significant amount of money every quarter – the maximum I’ve paid was about $500 per quarter for all new textbooks. Well, that was dumb, but that was also the first quarter of my freshman year in college, so no judging please. Since then I’ve rented, borrowed, bought and sold over 30 books, so here are some good websites I’ve used to do that.

Format Variety

2. New Textbooks: buying books new deliciously shiny textbook is always nice, but also expensive. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it if you’re buying a custom-made book, but I’ve always been able to find used copies for more generic textbooks.

3. Used Textbooks: the textbook can be lightly (or heavily!) used by someone before you, but that means that it costs much cheaper now. I’ve owned used textbooks and saved tons of money, but found that there’s no guarantee as to what you’ll get, how much writing will be in it, and which pages will be all highlighted. Risky, but if you’re trying to save money – perfect!

4. Renting Textbooks: similar to purchasing a used textbook, but much, much cheaper. Rentals can cost up to $40 dollars a quarter, but most of mine have cost me about $19. Really nice, but again, no guarantees that every single line won’t be highlighted already.

5. eBooks: alternatives to paper copies, these will save you a ton of space in you bag. Most of the time you’d be able to download these on your tablet or reading device (like a Kindle) and take it anywhere with you. Highlight by tapping on the words and add notes between the lines. Everything is great about these, except they cost about the same the new textbooks and you don’t get the advantage of writing in your own hand.

In terms of paper textbooks, I’ve found that using a looseleaf book is sooo much easier than a hardbound one. It comes with three holes to put into a binder, and you’d be able to pick out as many pages as you want and take them with you. I’m sticking to these in the future.

Now, the Websites

1. Chegg

They mail you your purchased textbook in a box with a return label in the box. All you have to do is get through the quarter, put the books back in the same box and drop it off at the post office! Super easy.

2. Amazon

Amazon is very similar to Chegg in terms of purchases, rentals and eBooks. If you have Prime Membership, you’d be able to receive your orders within two days (by the way, if you are a University student, you can get Free Prime Membership!!). In addition to that, purchasing an eBook on Kindle may be easier, as you can get free trials and fast downloads.

3. by Ebay

This is not the same as eBay, but the site is run by eBay. I’ve found all of my textbooks for next quarter on it, so give it a try!

4. Barnes and Noble

A bit on a higher end here, but very similar to Amazon. Delivery could be cheaper as you could order the textbooks to the closest store. Haven’t quite used it myself, but will definitely look into it!

5. BookScouter

Made specifically for college and high school students. You can buy books from various vendors through book scouter, much like Amazon.

5. Facebook groups

If you are in college, there most likely is a “Textbook Exchange” group, where people post their used textbooks or seek to purchase some. Ask around and/or look it up, this can save you so much money!

Where do you purchase your textbooks? Share in the comments!

How to Take Notes from a Textbook

Textbook readings

Hey guys! I’ve received so many questions about reading textbooks and taking notes on that, so I am going to share with you how I do it.

I like to write on the margins. Not highlight. I don’t use a special color coding technique to separate my comments from key terms from titles from definitions.

My system is very simple and makes sense to me. All I use are:

  • A pencil
  • An eraser
  • Small (not tiny) sticky notes

To start, I think it’s important to read actively. This means to think through the material, note things you don’t understand, complete little practice problems at the end of each section and connect new concepts with each other and the old ones.

The margins of my textbook are pretty thick – so thick I can fit a small 2 x 1.5 inch sticky note.

  • On the sticky note, I write definitions and very important concepts that go with the definition. This means that I have anywhere from 2 to 6 sticky notes per page.
  • I underline important explanations and quotes in pencil. Whatever I think is super important, I underline. I choose not to highlight in order to avoid stupid highlight-every-word-what-if-I-need-to-see-it-later kind of thing.
  • I write small comments in pencil on the margins, near the sticky notes. Usually these are longer explanations of the sticky notes, a little map of the concepts (how what I’ve just read connects to each other), and, most importantly, my own connects that I make while reading. This seems to help a lot, because if I look at this text in a few weeks, I’ll be able to remember my train of thought at the moment of reading.


That’s it.

It sounds like a lot, but come test time, I will only use the margins and skim the text part of the book for any underlined parts.

I’ll let you guys know how that goes for me this quarter: I’m taking two Psych classes (4 chapters a week, 30 pages each…..) and a Math class.

Scholarships and Financial Aid Websites

*Credit goes to the Bellevue High School Counseling Office*

Database for scholarships and purchase/rental of textbooks. Very helpful for college students!

Find scholarships, colleges, financial aid information, etc. here.

Over 400,000 scholarships, fellowships, grants and loans. Customized search based on your personal information and achievements.

Athletic Aid:
Sports scholarships for student athletes

Careers and Colleges:
General search for scholarships

College Success Foundation:
Scholarships and mentoring to low-income students in Washington state

Colleges, College Scholarships, and Financial Aid page:
Links to helpful information about colleges and scholarships

College Board:
Scholarships, loans, internships and the CSS Financial Aid Profile.

College Planning Network:
Information on financial aid and scholarships.

FAFSA on the Web: (MAKE SURE THE URL ENDS WITH “.gov”!!)
3+ million scholarships and grants. Search by eligibility, major, college and more.

Go College:
Different Funding Sources.

Provided by CollegeNET, a databse of 600,000 scholarships. Also creates a letter to send to scholarship coordinators.

A directory of merit-based scholarships

National Collegiate Athletic Association:
Official website of NCAA
Free search and info about student loands, the FAFSA, even scholarship scams.


Small Things That Affect Your Concentration


Humans can’t pay full attention to two things at once: it’s a fact! (Source 1, 2, 3). While we think we can do two things at the same time, like doing homework and watching a TV show- we’re actually doing neither.

Thus, when there are distractions around us, we cannot fully focus on our work no matter how hard we try. Small things that we usually don’t think about affect our concentration, but are easy to control:

1. Cell Phone
-put it on silent, out of reach and check only once an hour. It can totally wait and whoever texted you can wait a few minutes.

2. Mess
-It sets the mood. The messier your room, the less organized YOU are! Clean and organize your desk, make your bed, and make a schedule everyday.

3. People
-I’ve found that if I study at home, everyone always bothers and distracts me because they know I’m home and can answer a question, clean something, drive, etc. To avoid the same fate, go to the library! Bring a snack, some tea or coffee and focus!

4. Too many pens
-For those of us who like to color code….let’s use up to 3 colors. The more pens and pencils, staplers and little stickers we have around us, the more distracting they are. Three colors are sufficient enough to mark 1) important terms, 2) explanations, 3)titles (that’s an example, you can do it differently). When there are purple, orange, blue, green, red, yellow, etc. colors, the point of highlighting gets lost- your notebook becomes a rainbow.


Remember Better: Active Recall

To remember new information better, we have to look at studying at a more biopsychological level.

When new information enters our brain, it is first processed in the working memory. This type of memory is not very big- with it we only remember things for about 30 seconds. Example: when you do a math problem, you think about the numbers you’re working with. However, when the problem is solved and you move on to the next one, the numbers are forgotten immediately.

In some cases, the information (now a memory) moves to the short-term memory (STM), where it is kept for a few minutes longer. However, if this memory is not recalled enough times, it will be forgotten. That’s why when we procrastinate and leave the memorizing and studying until the last minute, we don’t remember that information after the exam.

Now for the final part, to transfer the new memory from STM to Long term memory (LTM), we have to use something called active recall. Basically, it’s like quizzing yourself: the more times you remember/recall something, the better you’ll remember it in the future. Like finding your dorm room- the first few times you get lost, but eventually you remember it and have no trouble finding it.

“How to Win at College” by Cal Newport

Hello everyone!

I’ve been reading a very interesting book by Cal Newport (he has a website called Study Hacks, haha, but we’re not the same people): How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country’s Top Students.


Honestly, this book has been the most helpful guide to studying that I’ve ever read.

Read More

How to Remember Your Lecture

  1. Listen actively- think about what you’re hearing, connect new and old information and write things down in your own words
  2. Pay attention and ask questions: it helps if you understand what’s going on.
  3. Review your notes after class (in the evening)
  4. Study a little every weekend– it’s better than studying for 12 hours in 1 day.