03 March 2016

All Stars Guest Post - Using a Filofax for your Academic studies - Emma

As part of the All Stars 2016 blog tour, Mr. Philofaxy himself, Steve Morton wrote a post for my blog about how to take great pictures of your Filofaxes.

In exchange, I am here today to write about how I use a Filofax for my studies. I use two Filofaxes for this so let's begin by discussing the biggest one.

I use an A5 Original in Dark Aqua as my main studies folder. This contains everything that is on Blackboard, if you are unfamiliar with Blackboard it is basically an academic site most English universities sign up to. Lecturers put all their files they want to share with the students on it, it is also what is used for submitting work electronically. So in my folder I have A5 print outs of all my reading lists, my essay questions, my examination preparation, my module guides.

So if an apocalypse happened I'd have everything. My university hardly ever closes, so even if the end of the world came I still think they'd still have my exam paper ready for me. Something I really recommend you putting in here is a style guide that spells out exactly how to write your citations. Citations and citing work is a major part of University life. It is the bane of most student's existence and something they find quite difficult, but it doesn't have to be. When you write an essay hit your footnote (if you use them) and cite the book directly. Don't say you'll do this later, do it straight away.

Have your print out of the style guide out next to your computer in your Filofax. Find the book - write the full cite in.

If you use Ibid...I suggest for the time being not to put it in until you have finished your essay, instead pick an identifiable word for the source you are using. Sometimes you add new sentences in and suddenly without realising it, your Ibids don't match up and you are not sure which book you used. Ibids should be the last words you write in your essay. There is no reason why your citations shouldn't always be scored as Outstanding or be given top marks. If you do it this way, they will be.

I also have my dissertation work in here, I have my essay exploring my topic and some meeting reports about my progress. I also have draft copies of chapters I have done. I only keep my most up to date. So if I read through a chapter, make edits, I print out a new one and throw out at the old one.

This is important to allow me to know exactly which is the most up to date one and save confusion. It also helps as a useful backup because Universities will not accept Laptop being stolen or breaking as an excuse for not submitting your work in on time. So also save it to your home laptop, save it on a university computer with your id login in, back it up to a cloud, email it to yourself and print out a copy, and if you want to keep it on a pen drive. This may sound extreme but if your email is hacked, your pc breaks, your cloud gets deleted, you forget your pen drive on the train - you'd be pretty unfortunate person, but I am sure it wouldn't happen to the same person. Make sure you keep all of the channels of saving things up to date!

As I get close to my exams, my exam revision and timelines will go in here as well.

I keep my German work in here as well. I thought about having a separate folder for it, but I really didn't need one and as I am taking German for my degree it just seemed logical to keep the two together. For those of you in the Filofax community who are native German speakers I am including a photo of my first piece of Hausaufgabe, I got a 'very well written' not sure which bit was well written because it's mostly all been corrected.

I very rarely carry my A5 around with me. Usually it goes to German class on a Wednesday and maybe very rarely to University. Mostly if I am picking up books for an essay. I don't carry it around with my regularly because it is heavy. I am also a historian my degree involves reading...ALOT.

It's not uncommon for me to have 10-20 books with me at one time. Usually this is when I am dropping off one load for one essay and picking up another load for the next one. I do not need the added bulk of an A5 filofax as well. So it rarely comes. You would think that it would be useful for helping me pick out my books for an essay, especially as it has my reading lists in it and you'd be right. I do use my A5 for planning which essay to pick. I look through the essay questions, pick a couple I want to do...find the reading lists and take them out of the planner.

Look through the library and see how many books are there. Place holds on the ones other users have. Then in my personal write down the shelf locations of the books. A great tip I like to do is write these lists down on old personal Filofax diary inserts. It's a great way to use them up, especially if you are not planning on using them for your diary. I just take this list, my library card and a bag to the library. I am fortunate enough to have a locked study room so I can just leave my valuables in there and go to the library with the essentials. Once I have the books I can throw the paper away.

One thing you will notice is that I've yet to mention dates. These don't go into my A5 because I don't always have it with me. I would strongly recommend that you separate you appointments/calendar from your studies. I like to keep my calendar in a personal as I prefer the size and it is easier for me to carry with me. I carry it everywhere. This way where I need to be is always in one planner, so I know not to double book.

My deadlines, my lectures, appointments go in here. Another big thing that goes in here is my to do lists, my bullet journal is great for jotting down things I need to look up or do, including university work. If they are in one place I can manage my time effectively. I also use my personal for taking lecture notes - if the lecture is not important - I go to a lot of extra Seminars that are run by my centre, these go on personal paper as they may be useful in the future. If it was a seminar I had an assessment on, I'd take my A5 along and make notes in that.

If I am reading and want to make notes, I usually do this in my personal, because it is to hand. I have made a special insert for this so I can always see my page numbers clearly. There is nothing more annoying than reading something and not knowing where to cite. The other day I wanted a beautiful quote that summed up the Nazi mentality towards Criminals and I hadn't written it down.

My elephant brain just remembered it from last year, fortunately my topic is small and I remembered it was in English - which narrows down even more where I found the information,  so there was only one of a few places it could come from, so I found it. I was lucky. I really should have written it down (but it was pre-Filofax days...).

This is interesting as it is the first ever time I have not punched my paper correctly. I moved one part of my hole punch correctly but not the other side!

My top tips for succeeding in your studies:
1. Write it down. Spend some time before you start your semester writing down your timetable. Whilst it is useful to print it out, writing will help you remember it more. Get a monthly planner and write it in each week. Write the room for every week to help you remember. Do not be obsessed with making your planner look pretty and write it on sticky notes - these fall off or get lost. Write it in Pencil. Pencil means it can be rubbed out if needs be - for when changes happen. If you get any info about changes to this - write it down immediately. It takes less than a minute. Just do it because you will forget. Sit down every Sunday and write your weekly timetable into a weekly section so you can prepare. 

2. Have a to do list - carry this with you. If you are not familiar with Bullet journalling I suggest you have a look at it. Don't just write Do homework...or reading. Write the topic, the book, if you lecturer recommends a book, write it down in class. If you say I'll remember that for later - you won't so write it down. If you Lecturer swaps classes round, write it in your bullet journal. Go through this every night and if you are daunted by it write a to do today list and break it down into manageable chunks.

3. If you are not getting the grades you are hoping for look at your feedback. Lecturers do not write it for fun, they write it to help you improve. Get a blank sheet in your A5, divide it into positives and to improve. Go through each essay and write things your lecturer said you did well in, such as ‘used as wide range of reading’. If he says work on being less descriptive and more analytical write that into your to improve column. When you write your
4. Have a list for just your deadlines - all your deadlines. Across the entire year. You may not have your exam timetable at first but you will have essays and other tasks. Write them down in one place. Keep it at the front of your diary. Check it regularly. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for assignments.
5. Always pack your bag the night before, make sure everything is in there. Mornings can be a stress so making sure you have everything the night before makes for a less stressful day.
I hope this has helped with some inspiration towards organising your academic life. If you have any tips you'd like to share, or questions you want to ask please share them below.

Thank you Emma for sharing this post with us. Don't forget to visit Emma's blog over at: A random English life


  1. This is one of the very best guest posts that I've read in the "All Star" series.
    It would have certainly been helpful to me, back when I attended university, to have had the benefits of these study aids that you have so kindly shared with us today. .
    Thank you Emma, for this well written and informative read!

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely feedback. As a writer and a blogger it is always great to know you are doing a good job. Thank you :)

  2. Thank you Emma for this wonderful post! It gave me the last idea how to manage my PhD which I'll be starting in October. I will so totally buy an A5 for my PhD now! I managed my BA and MA in my Personal Filofax but I was in need for something else for my PhD because I realized that all my reading lists, library lists and so on will not be fitting in my Personal Planer. Using an A5 as a sort of backup and review-tool is an amazing idea! (Although I'm saving my Thesis on USB-Drive, Cloud, Notebook and SD-Card ;-)

    1. Thanks Manuela, Glad I could help...I like the look of the clip books and I think they're lightweight and great. So I may get one of those to carry round with me at some point.

  3. Emma,
    This was a fantastic post! I just gave my daughter, who will be attending university in the fall, her first Filofax and reading how you use yours will be so helpful to her as she begins setting it up!

    1. I'd glad I could help Carina and thanks for the excellent feedback :)

  4. Thank you, I loved this post! I have often thought that I would have benefited so much from using a real planning system in a ring-binder during university. I shared the post with my sister, though she is soon finished with her studies.

    1. You never know though, so of the elements within might be transferable to a work environment especially the recycling old diary inserts.

  5. Great post Emma. This should be very helpful to those aspiring academics. Keep up your good work!

    1. Thanks for the great feedback Crofter. I try to do a filofax related post every Monday on my own blog but who knows maybe I'll write another one for Philofaxy in the future.