I hate looking through notes, and I hate looking things up. In what I do, there are two books that have consistently (especially today) helped me minimize both of these activities when I'm stumped.
1) Langenscheidt's Pocket Dictionary: Chinese (Langenscheidt Publishers, Inc. Available at Amazon for fourteen bucks)
This sucker is literally pocket-sized (maybe not for girls' pants), and has a radical chart with all of the characters in the book at the beginning. The next two (larger) parts are Chinese-English and English-Chinese, by pinyin. It uses context and sample sentences to help differentiate multiple meanings and usages, and is the darn easiest way I have used to look up Chinese.
2) Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science, by Steven Van Evera (Cornell University Press, available at Amazon for twelve bucks.)
This book is a must-have for anyone writing or reading political science papers. It helps structure one's argument, thinking, and methods to be more clear, precise, and accurate. It helps one analyze the strength of the thesis, predictions, and tests in a paper, and form strong ones when writing one's own.
I recommend both of these books. They've given me enough very wonderful mileage that I don't mind plugging for the authors at all.
Also, get the Van Evera book new. It's probably a few bucks cheaper, but the guy's a poor professor, and should be rewarded for his work.