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Guide: How To Set Up Ultimate Brain For School & University

Learn how to adapt UB to your student needs.

Last updated on August 24, 2022

In this guide, we’ll talk about using Ultimate Brain as a student. We’ll go over the most common student-related use cases, like taking class notes, tracking assignments, and achieving your designated goals. This is not a fully exhaustive guide – Ultimate Brain is a very flexible system, and so there’s so much more that can be done beyond what’s included here. I need to mention that this guide assumes basic & intermediate Notion knowledge. If any of the steps described here are difficult for you, it’s best to refer to Notion’s own help center & Thomas’s Notion Fundamentals Course. Also, you don’t need to implement every part of this guide. Feel free to grab some inspiration, and only apply some of the tips & processes described here. Some parts of this guide are videos. All of them have auto-generated captions, click on the CC button in the bottom-right corner of the video embed to turn them on!

Keep in mind, this guide is subjective, and the author has included tips that worked from his own experience. If there’s something you prefer to do a different way, all power to you! Feel free to grab inspiration only for parts you feel are useful for your own setup.

Lastly, feel free to pop into our Circle community, there are a bunch of super helpful folks there! You’ll also get official support from members of our staff.

 

Written by Alex Antoszek.


First steps in Ultimate Brain

If you’ve just duplicated Ultimate Brain to your Notion workspace, there are a couple of things to do first. We’ve made a very comprehensive Beginner’s Tutorial: Start Here!, which features over a dozen in-depth video tutorials on all parts of Ultimate Brain. It’s definitely a good start, unless you feel comfortable with Notion overall, and would prefer to explore the template on your own. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the basics, we’ll dive in and start creating our student setup.

 
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Before we start the full set-up, I’ll put up a brief reminder: always back up your data, and the same goes for Notion & Ultimate Brain. Although Notion has a few handy features, like Page History & the Trash, it’s always best to also have a manual backup.

 

Ultimate Brain structure

There are six core databases that make up Ultimate Brain. They power all the Dashboards, Productivity Views & Special Views. You will rarely interact directly with these databases, rather with their Linked Views. (A Linked View is a neat feature that allows us to interact with a database’s entries outside of that core database itself. Linked Views can also have their own filters, sorts, and layouts). If you’re curious, you can always access these databases from the 🔦 Archive, where they’re nicely hidden in a toggle at the bottom.

 
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We’ve made a diagram describing Ultimate Brain’s data model. It might be a useful resource for better understanding the connections and relationships between these databases.

This preview shows the levels of organization within UB:

 
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Understanding this data model and organization levels is crucial for deciding what content should go where. You can, of course, decide this on your own. One user, for example, might prefer a singular Area called University, and then have classes as Projects within that Area. This will very much depend on the structure your university imposes, and the implications that has. In this guide, however, we will follow this model:

 
Our data model for a university setup. Click to enlarge.
Our data model for a university setup. Click to enlarge.
 

This might look confusing at first. Why use ✅ All Tasks for Classes, when we have 🏗 Projects, which is a higher-level database? I’ve settled on this model because ✅ All Tasks is based on dates and times, while other databases are not. 🏗 Projects, on the other hand, are very much about completing a specific thing, which is precisely what Assignments are.

Now that I’ve explained the basics & the core principles of using Ultimate Brain for school & university, let’s dive into building a full-fledged setup.

 

Adding your stuff

Setting up your Courses

I’ll need to make a clear distinction here. In this setup, we have two different elements: Classes and Courses. Courses are top-level, and they are the actual courses you’re taking at your university, or subjects you are taught at school. In this system, Courses will provide us with a bird's-eye view of everything that’s going on within our school life.

Classes, on the other hand, are the actual lectures, seminars & other events we partake in as students. They are a separate, lower-level type of entry. Classes can be (and very often are) part of a Course.

First, let’s start by adding our Courses to 🗃 Areas/Resources as Areas:

 
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When adding these, remember to use the Area Template, to generate the full-page view:

 
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Additionally, if you’d like to also utilize Areas for other parts of your life (like work, business, personal etc.), then ideally we’d like to be able to “group” all of our classes into one high-level School area. Thankfully, that’s easily doable with the Root Area property.

See the instructions for that here

Creating Your Weekly Class Schedule

Now that we have your Courses added, let’s move down a level in our model, and set up our weekly class schedule.

 

Set up a Class Template

💡
Before we set up our schedule, I’d like to share a special 📔 Class Template I’ve made to accompany this guide. Below, you’ll find a video on how to add it yourself to the vanilla version of UB. (To turn on captions, click play, and then you’ll find a “CC” button in the bottom bar).
 
 

 
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There are two different ways of adding our weekly class schedule, and they differ significantly. Choosing either one of the two is completely up to you. I’ll explain how to use both, and their pros and cons. Your choice here won’t impact the rest of the system significantly. However, I strongly recommend reading the guide in full before you decide to set up one method over the other. Going back and changing everything up always takes more time than doing things slowly now.
 

Class schedule method #1 - Automated Recurring Tasks

In the first method, we’ll utilize the Automated Recurring Tasks method. Our classes will be singular entries in the ✅ All Tasks database, where they’ll get moved over every week after we check them off.

 
Learn how to set this up (click the triangle to expand)

Follow the steps from this guide to set up an automation in Make.com.

After your automation is all connected and set up, add your weekly schedule. Do that by adding entries to the ✅ All Tasks database using the previously created Class Template. One entry = one event. I prefer to do that from the Calendar view. Remember to set every task to repeat every week:

Notion image
 

Pros of this method:

  • Have all notes related to a single class connected to a singular database entry.
  • Have a setup similar to Google Calendar.
  • Because we each class is a singular entry, it’s easier to keep additional info about that class—i.e., it stays the same every week.
  • Keeps the ✅ All Tasks database less cluttered.
 

Cons of this method:

  • Requires an external automation (Make.com).
  • If the actual dates of your classes (and the notes you took during them) are important to you, you’ll have to keep this information in the Note titles or a new property in 🗒 All Notes. This is because the date of each of your classes will get overwritten each time the automation runs.
  • Whenever you’ll want to connect your class to an Assignment (which live in the 🏗 Projects database), you’ll need to update that as your Assignments get completed, and you start doing new ones. (The relation will stay the same because we have a single entry all the time).
 

Class schedule method #2 - Database Template with Subtasks

This second method includes creating a Database Template that will include our weekly class schedule as its sub-tasks. We’ll then duplicate this template (with the sub-tasks) each week, to create a new weekly schedule. This method is definitely more tedious and requires manual input every week. However, it has certain benefits over the first one.

 
Learn how to set this up (click the triangle to expand)
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I’m still polishing all the elements of this method: there are quite a few extra properties and views required to make it all work well. In the meantime, you can safely start with the first one, and then transition to this other one in the future.
 

Pros of this method:

  • Have a unique entry for each class occurrence.
  • Have a clear record of what notes you took during a specific class, what assignments were given out then.
  • Basically, this method gives you a clearer way of going through your past school activities and connecting them with other parts of the system.
 

Cons of this method:

  • It’s trickier to include classes that repeat less frequently, for example every 2 weeks. In such cases, we’ll need to create a second copy of the database template that would get copied every second week. Or, you’d have to remember to add these classes manually.
  • You will have numerous records in the All Tasks database - which might slow down performing larger operations over time. For example, filtering and sorting might be slower than in a smaller database. (This can be prevented by archiving class entries no longer relevant).
 

Extra step - Adding your Professors

In this optional step, we talk about adding a new Professors database, where we’ll keep info about the professors we work with. This might be useful, as it gives you a different way of viewing all your data - Courses, Assignments, etc. I heavily recommend this for anyone who often has multiple classes with the same professor.

 
Open the toggle to watch the tutorial video
 

Adding Assignments

In this setup, we utilize the 🏗 Projects database to store our assignments. The reasoning here is that assignments (and all other things a student has to do other than attending classes) often are multistep and have lots of moving parts. The 🏗 Projects database is perfect for this, as it has multiple useful properties, including Target Deadline and Progress Bar.

 

There aren’t any modifications required - however, I do recommend renaming the Projects ↔ Areas relation to Course Assignments ↔ Courses. And, I’ve also added a Linked View of the 🗃 Areas/Resources database in the 📊 Project Template to give us some more info about the course itself. I show all of these in this video:

 
 

Extra note here: while we already keep our weekly Class schedule in the ✅ All Tasks database, there is nothing preventing us from also adding regular tasks to it! I think it’s actually quite useful because it allows us to view all the stuff we have to do in a single week - both the classes we have to attend, and the tasks we have to do on our own.

 

Some notes about Notes

Now, let’s dive into the next element - Notes! In general, I don’t like to advocate for one style of note-taking over any other, as everyone seems to have their preferences, and different styles work for different folks. I really like free-form hand-drawn notes for scoping a topic and first understanding it (and I use the terrific Muse app for that). Only later do I start typing my notes, as I start working on a topic on my own. And that goes into Notion.

 

There are lots of excellent YouTube videos about making good notes. Hey, some were even made by someone you may know. Additionally, there are also many Notion templates that cater to different note-taking styles (not an entire note-taking system, we don’t need those! - I’m rather talking about one-page templates that we can incorporate into our 🗒 All Notes database).

 

For example, Notion themselves have created this useful Cornell Notes template that you can easily integrate into 🗒 All Notes.

 

One thing I found useful is pulling in the Status of our Assignments (Projects) into the Notes database, so I can have a bit of context about what I have to do with the note itself. I do that by adding a Rollup property that pulls in the Status property from 🏗 Projects.

 
Notion image
 

Notes Review dashboard

One thing that I found useful is having a dedicated Notes Review dashboard, where I can periodically go through and review my Notes. Though there are a lot of various revision methods, the one I found to work the best for me was the one Ali Abdaal featured in this video. So, I’ve decided to incorporate a basic version of it into my Notes system.

 

First, I’ve added a new Status (which will be a Select) property to the new Notes database - that way I can tag the level of familiarity of a particular topic.

 
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Now, while I’ve experimented with various formula setups in the past, but I found that the simplest system works best for me - especially in Notion, where formulas and automations are still quite limited. We’re exploring other more automated setups as well, but for now, the good ol’ trusted Spaced Repetition table should work wonders for your exam prep & learning.

 

So far, I’ve settled on not adding any additional properties, since we already have a Review Date. However, you might want to add a relation to 🏆 Goals, since that’ll be useful in the next step. Also, I think it’s useful to create a new option in the Type property called Class note. Some might want to add a “No. of times reviewed” property, but sadly, you’d have to manually change that number each time. (Notion formulas can’t yet update based on a number of times an action has been performed in a different property).

 

Within the 📒 Notes dashboard, let’s create a Linked View which will be our Review Dashboard. Group it by the newly created Status property, and include any relevant properties you’d like to see there.

 
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Now, for the filter setup. There are a few filters that will be shared across different views within this Dashboard. Let’s add them first.

 
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You might end the process here, but I found it useful to make a bunch of extra views in this case. See the screenshots below to see the filter structure in both of them. (To duplicate the main view we’ve just created, right-click on the view name in the tab bar and click Duplicate).

 
See only exam-related notes.
See only exam-related notes.
The stuff you need to review this week. (Note: there is no real “This Week” filter in Notion, so I use a different setup - still, works great).
The stuff you need to review this week. (Note: there is no real “This Week” filter in Notion, so I use a different setup - still, works great).
Notes that are you do not yet feel good about and need an updated Review Date.
Notes that are you do not yet feel good about and need an updated Review Date.
Just to make sure nothing slips through ;)
Just to make sure nothing slips through ;)
 
 

Lastly, let’s add a simple formula to the 🗒 All Notes database. I’ll call it Is fully reviewed? , and it will simply check whether a note has been fully reviewed.

 
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if(prop("Review Status") == "I feel good about it", true, false)

Prepping for your Exams

Okay - let’s be honest, school can be all fun and pleasant, but almost always there’s an exam at the end. Rather than cramming in all your exam prep two weeks before they actually take place, it’s better to plan it all out well in advance.

 

Thankfully, in UB, we already have a database that’s perfect for planning our exam prep - it’s called 🏆 Goals. Goals are already grouped by Area, and so we can easily group our exams by the Course they’re part of.

 
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In this step, there are a bunch of modifications I think can be done to better utilize the system for students. The first one is:

 

Modifying the Goal Template

By default, the 🏆 Goal Template is mostly focused on Projects. In our student setup, however, we prepare for exams mostly by reviewing & learning from our Notes. That’s why, I’ve included a Note Review dashboard in my copy of the Exam Template. To add it yourself, first duplicate the Goal Template. Later, add a Linked View of the 🗒 All Notes database.

 
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Now, let's add our filters to this Notes Review dashboard. This dashboard is a bit simpler than the one we create for the 📒 Notes dashboard. It is meant to show us only exam-specific notes, regardless of their status.

 
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Lastly, within the the Progress Percentage property, change the Rollup to these settings:

 
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This way, the built-in Progress Bar property will show progress that actually matters to us students 🙌

 

Tracking your grades

In this last element of the setup, we’ll talk about tracking your grades. While different educational institutions treat grades in different ways, most still do use some kind of a grading system.

First, navigate to the 📌 Milestones database, unlock it, and add a new property. Whether it’ll be a number or a text property - that will depend on the grading system your college uses. For example, here in Poland, we have a 1 to 6 scale in K-12, and a 2-5 scale in higher education. So, in my example here, I’ll create my property will be just a regular Number.

 
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Unfortunately, I can’t provide tips for all grading systems out there - you’ll need to figure out the best way to store grade values yourself.

However, I did make a little formula that will help anyone in the U.S., where the letter system is used. You’ll need to change the Grade value property into a Text, and then create a new Numeric value property which will be a Formula.

 
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Here’s the formula to paste:

toNumber(if(prop("Grade value") == "A+", "4.3", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "A", "4", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "A-", "3.7", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "B+", "3.3", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "B", "3", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "B-", "2.7", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "C+", "2.3", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "C", "2", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "C-", "1.7", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "D+", "1.3", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "D", "1", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "D-", "0.7", " ") + if(prop("Grade value") == "F", "0", " "))
 

Keep in mind that the numeric values I’ve used here come from this Wikipedia article. It is noted there that these values may vary by university. You’ll need to change the values in the formula if they are different at your university.

 

Now, for the other modifications, see this short video I’ve recorded:

 
 

What to do next

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this guide, be sure to pop into our Circle community, where you can ask all sorts of questions about Ultimate Brain. If you’re reading this and do not yet have Ultimate Brain, here’s a link to purchase.

If you found this guide useful, click the 🤩 emoji below. If you feel like it could be improved, do let me know by email. All feedback is greatly appreciated 🙌

 
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