How to Organize School Papers

posted in: Organizing 2

Image of a chalkboard and the phrase, How to Organize School PapersDo you dread the sea of paper that comes with back-to-school season?

Wondering how you can organize papers and find what you need, whenever you need it?

In this post, I offer two methods to organize and keep school papers under control.

These tips are good for any level of school, be it grade school, high school, college, or university.

The Binder Method

This method is a great way to keep class syllabi, reference papers, and materials handy.

A good choice for older students, such as those in high school or college.

What you’ll need:

  • A three-ring binder (Choose whatever size you like best, for example 1-inch, 2-inch, or 3-inch, etc.)
  • Clear plastic binder sleeves   
  • A three hole puncher
  • Binder dividers, tabs, and pockets

What to do:

Gather papers from a single class or course. This may include: syllabus, course requirements, checklists, administrative papers, handouts, assignments, and so on.   

Create binder tabs. You can label the tabs by hand, or print them out on the computer. Create the following sections:

  • Class Information. This will hold the syllabus, course requirements, administrative details, etc.
  • Handouts. Any and all handouts related to the course or class.
  • Exams. A place to store completed quizzes, tests, and exams.
  • In-Progress Assignments. Create as many tabs as you need for different assignments throughout the semester or year. This will hold notes, research, drafts, and so on.
  • Final Assignments. This is a place to hold hard copies of your finished work.

Compile the binder. Assemble tabs in the binder per the above. Use the three hole puncher freely, or slide papers into clear plastic binder sleeves. Create a binder for each class or course, as necessary.

The Manila File Method

A convenient way to keep papers organized, neat, and tidy. A good idea for grade school students, or students who won’t be referring to materials on an all-too frequent basis.

What you’ll need:

  • Filing cabinet or storage container
  • Manila file folders
  • Hanging folders
  • Pen, pencil, or marker

What to do:

Gather papers from a single class or course. Again, this may include: course requirements, checklists, administrative papers, handouts, assignments, artwork, and so on.   

Label hanging and manila folders. Create folders as needed. Here’s some folder ideas to get you started:

  • Administration. Good for class details including information sheets, checklists, report cards, and so on.
  • Homework Assignments. A good way to store homework assignments.
  • Tests. A place to put quizzes, tests, and exams.
  • Class Handouts. You can create a folder for each class or subject as necessary.
  • Final Assignments. This is a place to hold hard copies of finished reports, book reports, group projects, or just larger projects other than normal homework.
  • Artwork. A space for artwork.

Place papers in folders. Go ahead and drop in papers into their files. Take care to place related folders next to one another in your filing cabinet or container. You may want to use similar color hanging files to make it easy to spot a single class or course.

Lastly, here are some quick tips to help you keep things organized:

File papers on a regular basis.

Preferably, you should file items the same day you receive them. This limits the chance the item will get lost in transit, at home, or school. Plus, your mind will be fresh; you’ll have a better idea as to where an item should be filed.

Have a centralized storage area.

Make it easy for you to find and retrieve papers. Carve out an area on a shelf to store reference binders or accordion folders, designate a drawer or section of a filing cabinet, or create space on your desk to store papers.

Create an inbox for papers.

Pressed for time? Make an inbox to temporarily hold papers to be filed. You can clean out your backpack, bag, or folders, drop items in, and go about your day. Stay on top of your inbox by filing items at the end of each day.

Date items freely.

Make sure items have the day, month, and year on them before you file them. If they don’t, take two seconds to date the item.

Avoid haphazard filing.

Take care to file items from newest to oldest, or oldest to newest. This makes it easy to retrieve materials when you need them.

Review and recycle frequently.

Who says you have to wait until the end of the semester or school year to do some cleaning? Pare down papers on a regular basis to prevent bulging folders and binders. Once a project or assignment is complete, you can get rid of all the initial drafts, and just keep a final copy of the item in question. You can also dispose of scratch notes, brainstorm ideas, and other items that are no longer needed.

How about you? What do you think is the most difficult thing about organizing school papers? Subject matter, the sheer amount of paper involved, or is it something else entirely? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!

Follow Rashelle:
Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 3 Smart Steps to Organizing Your Home, by clicking here.

2 Responses

  1. Betty Winslow

    I like to save brainstorming ideas in their own file, for possible future projects.

    • Rashelle

      That’s a great idea, Betty. It’s a one-stop, idea shop!