Resolutions for a Fresh Start

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“And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

            And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught

            For auld lang syne.”

~  Robert Burns

Have you ever wondered why, when the ball drops at midnight, nobody seems to know all the words to the song, other than the pressing question of whether or not the auld acquaintance should  be forgot, and that bit about the auld lang syne?  Well, now you know.  Above is the 5th verse (yes, really, there are five verses) in all of its Scots glory, which now allows you to feel better about New Year’s Eve, and which now allows me to type the phrase “right gude-willie waught” one more time and drive spell check into wiggly red underscore frenzy.

Go ahead:  sing the 5th verse.  You know the melody.  Give it spin.  I’ll wait here.

Fun, huh?

Anyway, now that we got the melody looping in your head for the rest of the day, let’s talk Resolutions.

The problem with most resolutions, especially those of the improving-my-academic-performance variety, is that our planning can be overly ambitious.  It’s like resolving to whip yourself into shape by adopting a plan where you work out three hours a day, seven days a week and, falling short of the lofty goal, abandon the initial resolution for yet another shameful period of slothful anti-health.  It’s supposed to be a resolution, not a guise for self-punishment.

If you’re looking to post better grades and/or learn more, start with small, simple strategies.  Let’s get back to basics:

  • Review your lecture notes after class within 24 hours. This needn’t require a massive amount of time; 20 to 30 minutes max.  Couldn’t get to the notes in 24 hours?  Don’t abandon the resolution, adjust the plan and get to them in 48.
  • Go to class.   Even if you think you don’t get anything out of lecture because A) I hate the professor  B) The lecture makes no sense and I just get more confused  C) Life is so much better in bed  –  lecture is still three hours a week with the course material.  At the very least, if you’re not replacing missed class time with study time, you’re falling further behind.
  • Read more, especially if it seems like you don’t read at all. I’m not saying read everything.  Remember the whip yourself into shape thing earlier?  Same principle.  Start with Power Point slides, or chapter summaries.  And don’t just read for the sake of reading, think about what you’re reading.
  • Come to Weingarten. Our friendly learning instructors know their way around all kinds of academics-related resolutions.  At least one of us knows what a right gude-willie waught is.

Now sing the fifth verse of Auld Lang Syne one more time.

 

Pete Kimchuk

Senior Learning Instructor

Tech Tuesday: Zotero

This Tech Tuesday we are highlighting Zotero which is a browser extension and stand-alone desktop application for Windows and MacOS. Zotero is most commonly known as a citation manager similar to EasyBib or Mendeley. While Zotero is excellent at managing citations, it is capable of so much more. This article will provide an overview of its most useful features. Future blog posts will expand on Zotero with in-depth how-to guides. I like Zotero because it is feature rich and can help students keep readings and citations well organized. Another huge perk is that Zotero is open source software. Not only is it free, but it also has a number of useful plug-ins and add-ons.
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Managing Citations and Outputting References:

As mentioned, Zotero is an excellent citation manager. The base install of the desktop application comes with a variety of standard citation styles including MLA, APA, Chicago and others. Have an obscure citation style only used by a specific discipline, don’t fret, chances are you can find it in the Zotero style repository here.

Outputting in-text citations in Zotero couldn’t be easier. Select the reference or references you want a citation for, right-click and select “Create bibliography from item” choose in-text citation, your chosen style, and copy to clipboard. Then, simply past the citation where needed in your document. You can create full reference pages in much the same way. Simply choose bibliography in the output section.

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Add, Organize and Manage Citations

Zotero has feature rich folder options to keep your citations organized. You can create a folder for a given class or project and then store all your citations in the folder. Adding citations is easy. If you’re using Google Scholar, you can simply download an RIS file (RefMan) using cite function in Google Scholar and open it with Zotero. Books can be added using the wand button (zotero button.jpg) and then adding the ISBN for the book. Zotero will handle the rest. Using add-ons Zotero can even scan PDF’s of journal articles and collect all the citation and metadata info directly from the article. A how-to blog outlining just how to do this will be available soon.

Have a class with a heavy reading load? Zotero is great for keeping all your readings organized. Add them all to a folder for that specific class and then you can write summaries or outlines for each with the built-in note taking function.

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Alternatively, or in-addition, you can also add any attachment you want to a given reference. For STEM students, this could be particularly useful if you draw diagrams in your notes and you want to keep them together with a specific reading. As mentioned, Zotero is free you can download it here. Check back soon for specific how-to guides that will expand in-depth on the various features and options Zotero has to offer.

Staff Writer: Randall Perez

 

Friday Feature: Favorite Study Spots

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Address: 220 S 34th St. (Just on the other side of Locust Walk from Van Pelt, adjacent to College Hall)

Hours: 9am-5pm (Summer) 8:30am-12am (Starting Fall Term 2016)

Noise Level: Very low

Perks: Some of the prettiest architecture on campus. Has been compared to Hogwarts. Access is open to all Penn students.

Fisher Fine Arts Library is one of my favorite spots on campus. While Fisher is hardly a secret, it is less frequented than Van Pelt and typically has open study space available. Unlike Van Pelt, which can be brimming with activity and a decent amount of noise at any given time in the semester, Fisher is very quiet. The library is so quiet on most days that you can hear a pin drop. Located just on the other side of Locust Walk from Van Pelt, Fisher is a must see and great study space. It is particularly great for reading and there’s no shortage of tables for study space here. 

Picture2.pngOne thing to be aware of if you’re planning to study in Fisher is to be prepared to charge any devices you might need for studying beforehand. The only drawback to studying in Fisher is that it is so gorgeous, you might be too busy gawking at the architecture to concentrate on your work. If you haven’t been to Fisher yet, definitely check it out.

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If you’ve been to Fisher before and have any thoughts or feedback, or other great study spaces students should know about, feel free to comment below and we may just highlight one of them in the next blog post!

Staff Writer: Randall Perez

 

Notes from a long-time student: Books!

Every semester we all have to buy books. Lots…of…books! Whether they’re for a statistics, literature, or language course they add up, and not just in volume. But that’s usually not the end of the story. You start writing a final paper, you do your research, and you identify the perfect reference book. Most of the time your book is available in the library database–success! But every once in a while you run into the little red minus sign next to the words “Checked out.” E-Z Borrow, Borrow Direct, and Interlibrary Loan (ILL) are three great resources you may consider using. Here are a few scenarios that summarize the benefits of all three systems and provide guidance for using the one most appropriate for you.

I have an assignment due at the end of the month and the book I need is checked out at Penn.
If you’re pressed for time, try using Borrow Direct or E-ZBorrow. Borrow Direct is a rapid book request system that allows you to search a collection of over 60 million volumes through the libraries at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, MIT, Duke, Dartmouth, John Hopkins, Yale and Princeton. If a partnering university has your book it will usually arrive within 3-5 business days. You can also try E-ZBorrow. E-ZBorrow will search for your book in over 60 academic libraries in Pennsylvania and nearby states. If your book is unavailable through both of those mediums, try Interlibrary Loan. ILL takes longer deliver so be sure to adjust the “need by” date on your request to reflect your deadlines.

I need to borrow a book for the semester, should I request it through ILL or Borrow Direct?
Borrow Direct books are loaned out for six weeks at a time, and are non-renewable more than once, a total of 12 weeks. The semester is 14 weeks so this option can leave you in a bit of a crunch, especially at the end of the semester. Try ILL. Most loans range from 2-6 weeks but vary depending on the lending institution and can typically be renewed.

Penn doesn’t own the book I need. I found it on both Borrow Direct and E-ZBorrow but am told that the book is non-requestable. What should I do?
There are some core textbooks that are not available for request on Borrow Direct and E-ZBorrow, such as calculus textbooks. Try placing an ILL request.

Whatever your situation may be, try out these great resources to be connected with your eagerly awaited books. If you know you’ll need a particular book within a specified time frame, plan ahead!

Staff Blogger: Erica Saldivar Garcia

Friday Feature: Super Secret Study Spots

Wondering where you should go this weekend to do your work? I’m here on Fridays to share local study spots that you should definitely check out if you’re on the hunt for that perfect location.

Leon Levy Dental Medicine Library
240 South 40th St.
Hours: Monday-Friday 9-5 p.m. (after hours and weekends are reserved to Dental School students and staff)
Noise level: Low
Perks: They have resources for basic sciences in addition to dental sciences including access to biomedical databases

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At this point in the semester, Van Pelt is filled to the brim with students frantically studying for their midterms. Some people work well in semi-quiet, social spaces, but for those of you who prefer more muted locations, we suggest some of the less-frequented Penn libraries.

For those of you who live around 40th Street, the Leon Levy Dental Medicine Library is the place to be. The library is located within the Robert Schattner Center near the corner of 40th and Locust Streets. Once you show your Penn ID to the security guard at the info desk, ask for someone to point you in the right direction. The library is around several twists and turns within the building, but it is certainly worth the journey!

The library itself is a beautiful sight. The two floors are visible from the entrance, and there are tables on both levels that are perfect for studying by yourself or with a friend. The atmosphere is very calm and you’ll often see Dental students pop in for a quick study session between their classes.

The one downside of this space is that the hours for non-Dental students and staff are very slim, but it is easy to be productive here, even in a small amount of time.

Have a great spot that we should feature on our blog? Comment below and let us know where you study!

Two of Our Ten Best

Last week, we opened our Mastering the Ivy League workshop series for undergrads new to Penn with a session called, 10 Best Study Strategies for Successful Students. Although we cannot reveal all 10 of these wonderful strategies here, we’d like to share two that we think undergraduate, graduate and professional students might all find useful.

Drum roll, please…

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  1. Identify your purpose for reading, preview the text, and read strategically.

This seems like common sense, but when faced with a long list of required readings or a heavy textbook, students often rush toward one of two ends of the reading strategies spectrum: 1.) skimming; 2.) cataloging every minute detail. The former may leave you feeling like you didn’t read anything at all. The latter may be unsustainable, given the demands of your other coursework.

In the 10 Best Study Strategies workshop, we ask students to please remember some simple reasons for reading these texts:

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For instance, if you’re reading to say something in class, maybe “taking notes on the reading” means writing down three questions that you could ask in class. Or, if you’re reading to write a paper, you’ll develop a summary for each article or chapter and gather one or two key quotes. Keeping your basic purpose in mind will help you develop a more strategic approach to those very daunting syllabi.

And for your second and final freebee…

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6. Make peer study a weekly routine.

You see your friends all the time. You live, eat, study and recreate in very close proximity. But how often to you actually talk to each other about what your professors discussed in lecture or what you’re reading on a given day?

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Being intentional about having these conversations (on a weekly basis!) makes it easier to stay engaged with your courses, solidify concepts in your head, and prepare for class participation and your many exams. Don’t fall into the trap of waiting until the weekend before the big test to form a study group of 12 people that will only serve to stress you out. Find one or two committed peers (you don’t even have to be friends!) and make these conversations part of your weekly routine.

That’s it! That’s all you get–unless you make the wise decision to CLICK HERE to get more information about attending one of these upcoming workshops:

Mastering the Ivy League Flyer - Fall 2015

Midterm March: Preparing for Midterm Exams

No matter the year, the season, or the semester, a lot of students experience the same feeling: after just beginning to get familiar with your classes and starting to figure out the rhythm between studying and spending time with your friends, even though you’re still wrapping your head around some of the stuff from the textbook and lectures, you’re thrust into the pressure of a midterm. Although studying for these tests can be a source of anxiety, there are some important considerations that can help ease a lot of this stress and help you prepare not only to better understand the content of a course but to demonstrate what you know in the way the exam demands.

1. Know your resources – So we all know to review lecture slides, your notes from class, and assigned pages from the textbook, but we often a lot more resources to use when prepping for our midterms. Reviewing and reworking any prior assignments and problem sets can help figure out how to work the course content into a format you might see on the test. Consulting with classmates in study groups can help clear up some of the less accessible stuff from your studying. Office hours, review sessions, and recitations can also give you a chance to ask questions that come up during studying.

Perhaps the most important thing to do, however, is to complete practice exams or old exams when you start studying. Sure, you may not do perfectly on this practice exam (and you shouldn’t expect yourself to on the first try!), but it can help you figure out what kind of questions you can expect to see on the midterm as well as which parts of the lessons to spend more time on and which you may need to work with a little less.

2. Know as much as you can about the exam – It’s incredibly important to know as much as possible about what the exam will look like when studying. For starters, knowing the format of the exam can help you determine how to practice showing what you know. If you’re taking a multiple choice exam, it can be useful to practice rewording concepts to prep yourself for any new ways of phrasing concepts on the exam. But if you’re taking a bluebook essay exam, you might need to practice putting together an outline quickly and writing for extended periods of time.

In addition to knowing the exam format, it’s important to know what kind of mental work the exam will ask of you. Will you just need to do the same formulas from your problem sets with different values, or will you be asked to identify which formula to use in a given situation? Do you need to know the textbook definition of each organ in a system, or will you need to show how they work together in a sequence, including knowing what happens when things go wrong? Using practice exams or consulting with the TA to determine the kind of mental work you’ll need to show can help you get in the mindset the midterm is asking from you.

3. Do what you can with the time that you have – You’ve probably heard the same thing from tutors, classmates, online sources, and pretty much everyone: avoid cramming, and give yourself plenty of time to study. At Weingarten, we definitely agree with these recommendations, but we also recognize that it’s easy to forget about a midterm while you work through all of your other obligations until suddenly you find yourself needing to study 3 days before the exam. Whether you have 2 weeks or 2 days, it’s important to figure out a study schedule in the time you have and to be realistic about you can accomplish in that time. If you have more time to study, you can offer yourself a chance to deeply review all of the content in a way that reflects the format of the exam. If you don’t have much time, it might be best to focus on developing a deep understanding of high priority content, which could be topics identified by your professor as important or certain important ideas that you need to clarify when you first start studying. Regardless of the time you have available or which material you decide to prioritize, it can be useful to write out a schedule for the time you have available, including any other obligations you need to address as you study, and to set clear, achievable goals to accomplish in the time frame that you have.

4. Do what you need to take care of yourself – Whether you have weeks or days to prepare, it’s important to remember to take care of your needs throughout the entire process. This definitely includes a lot of things you might have already heard about: avoiding all-nighters, getting plenty of rest, eating a healthy diet, and getting exercise when you can. Taking care of these needs can make sure you maintain the energy you’ll need as you study and when you sit down for the exam. But this should also include taking care of your mental and emotional health as you study. If you find yourself becoming mentally fatigued or stressed, take a quick break away from studying. If you’re not feeling very confident about your mastery of all of the content, focus on some small and achievable goals first so you have the chance to build from your accomplishments. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by studying, find someone you can talk with, whether they’re a friend, family member, or a professional.

Guest Blogger: James D. Arrington, Learning Fellow