6-Hours per Week for Solving Problem Sets

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Take-Away:

For better grades and more intellectual growth, consider spending at least 6 hours across a week cracking your brain on your p-sets before the TA explains it all at recitation.

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The 6-Hour Minimum

  • Unfortunately, many students give up to soon on their problem sets before getting the answers at recitation.
  • By putting in sufficient hours trying to solve problems, you will be engaged in active learning of the concepts the professor has identified as key to the course.
  • For most students, 1-2 hours a week of this kind of active learning won’t cut it. Even 4-5 probably won’t.
  • 6 hours is a minimum that is also likely to fit with the other demands on your time.

So try 6 hours a week, in 60-90 minute chunks.

  • For example:
Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Relax! 11-12:30PM: 7-9:30PM: 7-9:30PM: 7-9:30PM: 10-11:00AM:
  Problem-solving Problem-Solving   Problem-Solving Problem-Solving Recitation

Why a Minimum of 6 Hours?

  • Some learning instructors recommend at least 6 hours a week to their students because, for many students, this represents an increase in time that substantially improves conceptual grasp of key course ideas.
  • The idea of improving your learning by spending more time on problems is consistent with a robust literature on expertise.1 The superiority of some performers over others is a predictable result of more hours on deliberate practice.1 This is true in athletic, musical, and intellectual pursuits. 1
  • Deliberate practice is working hard on difficult skills that are central to your area of mastery. 1
  • What fits the definition of deliberate practice better—working problems, or listening to answers?

What’s the point of working for 6 hours on problems I’m not solving?

  • The point is that you are still learning when working on the problem, even when you are not solving it!2

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But the TA will explain it clearly. Why not wait?

  • No doubt difficult concepts make more sense as or after they are explained. However, the instructor’s question will not be, “Do you understand these ideas as they are explained?”
  • The question will be, “When I give you a new and more complex problem than you’ve seen so far, can you solve it? Under time pressure?”
  • Can you confidently answer, “yes!”?
  • If you want to be more confident that you can answer “yes” to that question, try putting in six hours across a week on your p-sets before recitation. See if the conceptual learning you attain gives you reason for greater confidence.

But what if I don’t have 6 hours?

  • Then spend as many hours as you can before seeking help.  And maybe consult with a Learning Instructor to explore your use of time.

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References:

  1. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363.
  2. Richland, L. E., Kornell, N., & Kao, L. S. (2009). The pretesting effect: Do unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance learning? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 15(3), 243–257. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0016496

By WLRC Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor

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Super-Secret Study Spots: Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center Edition

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I know what you’re thinking. Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center is not a secret study spot. I’m here to let you in on a little VP secret: there are two new spaces within our beloved library that opened this fall. The hours for these new rooms are the same as most of the rest of VP:

  • Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to midnight
  • Friday 8:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
  • Saturday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
  • Sunday 10 a.m. – midnight

Read on to find out more about these great new spaces!

Moelis Family Grand Reading Room (first floor)

  • Noise level: Silent
  • Perks: The swivel recliners in the front of the room are perfect for study breaks.
    • This room truly is grand. A beautiful cloth tapestry lines one wall, with floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the other sides of the room.
    • This room also features plush blue chairs at every table to make your study time a comfortable experience.
  • The Moelis Family Grand Reading Room is sound-proof and totally silent. If you’re looking for a space to really buckle down and focus, this is your spot.

The Class of 1937 Memorial Reading Room (fifth floor)

  • Noise level: Quiet
  • Perks: Comfortable seating in front, study carrels in back. Perfect for any occasion!
  • The Class of 1937 Memorial Reading room is now a card-access room designed to meet the needs of graduate students.
  • This newly redesigned room features space for both independent and group study, and there is a lactation room available as well.
  • In addition to the new features, this room is also home of football memorabilia from the class of ’37. The glass display case features three footballs and several uniforms that give a feel for what live at Penn was like 80 years ago.

Class of 37

While you’re over at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center checking out the new spaces, don’t forget about our other favorite VP spots including:

Each separate space at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center has different advantages, so make sure to check them all out to decide which one works best for you.

Staff Writer: Cassie Lo, WLRC Learning Instructor

 

Schedule Your Semester to Ensure Success!

Perhaps you are a new undergraduate, professional, or graduate student at PENN, and you want to make sure you are starting off strong at the beginning of the semester. Or, maybe you are a returning student who wants to make this year better than the last. Whatever your status or motivation is, the Weingarten Learning Resources Center is here to help!

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One of the biggest ways that you can ensure success as a graduate or undergraduate student is to make sure that you are planning strategically for your long-term course requirements this semester. Some of our handy tools are our SEMESTER CALENDARS, which are available in BLUE for Undergraduate students and GREEN for Graduate students:

Even if you can’t stop in for a walk-in or full-hour appointment, make sure you stop by our offices to pick up one of our coveted semester long calendars!

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Helpful strategies for using Weingarten’s Semester Calendars:

  1. During these first two weeks of school, take time to review your syllabi. Using your syllabi, write in all the dates for your papers, projects, and exams on your large semester calendar. This large overview calendar should be reserved for big projects, papers, and exams (not everyday homework and class times). Even if you already use a calendar system like iCalendar or have a paper planner, it is important and helpful for you to write everything for the semester in one place. Having a visual outline of the semester will help you plan and make sure you are keeping up to date with your assignments and obligations.
  2. Next, fill in any personal obligations, celebrations, or events for this semester. If you have friends visiting, mark it on the calendar. Planning any trips or getaways? Make sure to put it on your calendar!
  3. Add in events like extra-curricular obligations, long-term work assignment due dates, campus performances, and athletic events to your calendar. Now, you should have an outline of everything you have coming up this semester.
  4. Now you can go to your personal planner and schedule out your assignments and worktime week by week. The long-term semester calendar is important, because it can help you avoid potential conflicts. For example, “I see that I have a book critique and presentation due at the end of October, but I am also going to be out of town two weekends in a row for personal obligations. Now, I know that when I am scheduling out my time during the first two weeks of October, I need to make time to complete the book review. I can’t push it off until right before it’s due because I will be out of town (and that isn’t a great way to get work done anyway). If I hadn’t taken the time to layout my semester, I might have missed that.” Here’s an example:

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We hope that this helps you start your semester off on the right foot!

If you have more questions about how to structure your time to ensure success, be sure to call the Weingarten Learning Resources Center to set up an appointment to meet with a Learning Instructor to help you develop a personalized plan. You can come in for a first-come, first-serve Walk-In Session or make an Individual 1-Hour Appointment with one of our Learning Consultants by calling (215) 573-9235. We’re conveniently located at Stouffer Commons, behind the Wawa on 38th and Spruce. Click here for Location and Hours.

Good luck this semester! Happy Studying!

 

By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center. “I just began my first year as a doctoral student in the Reading/Writing/Literacy program in the Graduate School of Education. Prior to returning to school here, I was a high school English teacher and instructional coach in Detroit, Michigan.

How to make the most of the “Lazy Days of Summer”

We’re deep into summer now. Last semester feels like a distant memory and we’re still a month out from the new school year. I’m sure the last thing you want to be thinking about right now is getting back into coursework, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin preparing for your return to campus.

1. Check out Canvas. Some professors already have their Canvas pages live for the Fall semester. You may be able to see the syllabus or get a head start on some of the early readings. It’s always good to know when the big assignments are due ahead of time so you can start planning around them. Plus, if you’ve registered for more classes than you plan on taking, you might be able to decide ahead of time based on the available syllabi.

2. Spend some time reflecting. What went well in previous semesters? What didn’t go well? Think back to your last round of finals and how you prepared for them. What would you want to do again in the upcoming semester? Accruing exam preparation techniques over the summer will put you in a better place when the first round of exams happens.

3. Have fun! Now is the time to catch up on sleep and activities that you enjoy but might not get a chance to partake in during the school year. Go for a hike or catch up on that science fiction book you’ve been wanting to read. Binge on a new Netflix series. Spend time with friends and loved ones. This way, you’ll come back to campus refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of a new school year.

Remember, if you are in the area this summer or want to do an online appointment, we are open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and we’d love to work with you! We are also already accepting appointments for the Fall, so give us a call once you know your class schedule!

Staff Writer: Cassie Lo

Welcome Boot Campers

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“Writing begins when our fear of doing nothing at all outweighs our fear of doing it badly.”

     ~  Louis de Bernieres

So, how about a hearty shout-out to all the members of the Spring ’17 cohort of Dissertation Boot Camp.  Whether you are at the stage of proposing, or data crunching or actually dissertating, congratulations – you’ve made it this far, and like we’d say back in the day, that ain’t nuthin’.

For those not in the know, Dissertation Boot Camp is brought to you by your Graduate Student Center.  The boot campers resolve to arrive on-site every morning for two weeks, turn off their email/social media, and get right down to it and have at it until early afternoon.  They also get the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a Weingarten instructor to discuss their project, timelines and any unique challenges.  Dissertation Boot Camp has become a popular program, and has been running for more semesters than your blogger can count.  I mean, your humble blogger could count semesters, but that would require needless additional research, and procrastinating on the writing of this blog post by engaging in needless additional research would be setting a bad example.

For those of you who couldn’t do boot camp this semester, fret not, here are a few helpful hints from your learning center:

  • Inviolable Writing Time – Essential and non-negotiable, inviolable writing time is the basis for Dissertation Boot Camp and the “secret” to completing any writing project of considerable length. This means you set your weekly writing time and then you guard it ruthlessly.  Nothing and no one gets to intrude on this time.  If something comes up that needs time, steal the time from something else.
  • Log Off, Sign Out – Writing time can never be inviolable if you are obsessively checking email or social media. For three or four or five hours, you must remain out of the loop, away from everything that is not related to your project.  And let’s have none of that nonsense about multitasking; your project demands as much focus as you can muster.   Besides, in your blogger’s humble opinion multitasking is a sinister plot created by rogue elements in the human resources industry to make writers feel insecure about their “efficiency”.  Confirming this notion, however, would require additional needless research, and since we’ve already dismissed needless additional research, I’m moving on.
  • Visit Your Learning Center – Dissertation support is a popular service here at Weingarten. We can help you with managing the project or thinking through research strategies.  We provide you with a totally confidential, non-judgmental space.  Just think of us as the human embodiment of a hot bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – soothing.

 

Pete Kimchuk

Senior Learning Instructor

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

Notes from a Long-Time Student: StayFocusd

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In a previous post I talked about the app SelfControl. The Learning Instructors at Weingarten and I love SelfControl. The only downside to the app is that it is only available for iOS users. However, there are other great apps that work for both Mac and Windows powered computers that serve the purposes of, and may even surpass, SelfControl. One of these innovations is StayFocusd, a Google Chrome add-on that promotes productivity by limiting the amount of time you spend on distracting sites. Ranked at 4.5 stars by 4,048 users as of this week, StayFocusd is a promising feature for anyone looking to–you guessed it– stay focused.

So, how exactly does StayFocusd increase your productivity? In a nutshell, StayFocusd allows you to set usage time caps–weekly and daily–for specific sites. As you can see from the image below, the “Max Time Allowed” function of the program allows you to set a cap for the time you’re allowed to browse the sites you’ve indicated on your Blocked Sites list. This is a great feature for those of us that would like to continue to be social, on social media, for example but would rather not spend any more than 20 minutes per day.

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StayFocusd doesn’t only allow you to limit your time on sites on a daily basis, it also allows you to pre-program those settings for different days of the week. Say you don’t have class on Thursdays and want to allow yourself a little more virtual social time, simply unclick Thursday from your “Active Days.” Now, your blocked site settings will apply every day of the week, except Thursdays.
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If that’s not enough to keep you focused, you can try to limit the time frame during which your pre-allotted time on the sites is available for use with the “Active Hours” function. This function is super easy to set up and is precise up to the minute.

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If you find that your settings are still not quite working the way you’d like them to and you need to stay away from additional sites for even longer periods of time you can use “The Nuclear Option.” This function sounds a lot more intimidating than it is in reality. Independent of your “Active Hours” and “Active Days” settings, The Nuclear Option will block/allow the sites you indicate for a specific amount of time. Once you click “NUCKE ‘EM!” there is no going back, until your timer runs out. This is a great function because you are also able to schedule these blocks/allowances ahead of time.

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Now, all of these functions are great but what if you absolutely have to go back to one of the sites that you’ve blocked? You can request a challenge! Challenges essentially ask you to complete a more or less tedious task in order to change your settings. Below is an example of what you may be asked to complete.

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Perhaps the only downside to StayFocusd is that it is directly linked to Google Chrome. However, this partnership also makes the add-on very accessible; the logo shows up on your browser and is easily available for changes. To test out StayFocusd, I used it to schedule my virtual time online throughout the week, and it worked seamlessly.

Add-ons and apps like StayFocusd and SelfControl are great at promoting efficiency and productivity throughout the school year. However, remember that the internet is only one source of distractions. Be conscious of where you are working, when, with whom, and your study habits. If you would like to discuss how these features can work for you schedule an appointment with a Learning Instructor at Weingarten.

Staff Writer: Erica Saldívar García