Bigger Pictures & Study Strategies: Try a Little Reading

21960325121_3db7892c7b_b.jpg“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”
~  P.J. O’Rourke

Reading lists give students heartburn. Not all reading lists, and certainly not all students, but enough. For students who look at reading on a continuum ranging from mild dislike to complete detestation, any required reading gets the old stomach acids churning. For today’s purposes, we don’t need to get into the “why”.

I wish I could say that when I started out as an educator, oh so many years ago, this reading avoidance came as a shock. But that would be a lie, and according to the Blogger’s Code, one should never lie when committing bloggery.

I discovered a harsh truth of reading when I was a kid. I had a few friends who read as much as I did – a lot, and constantly – and many other friends who never cracked a book outside of school, if ever.

Not liking to read doesn’t mean that a given student won’t read. But it does make the whole endeavor…well, problematic.

The reading-avoidant do have a tendency to avoid any and all reading, often. If you happen to number yourself among this group, don’t despair.

What I like to tell people when dealing with the dreaded reading list is that something is always better than nothing. Be selective. You can pick one article out of the pack, or just read one section from each of the assigned. No, you will not have encyclopedic knowledge of the paper, but you’ll have something to think about, or maybe even something to add to a discussion just because you did something.

Getting through assigned books can be trickier, but you can always read them selectively as well. How? What you can do is use the Table of Contents to find a chapter or two that looks interesting. Can’t make yourself read a whole chapter? Use the Appendix to find topics that seem to be important to the class. Consult the syllabus or rely on class notes to give you a clue as to what seems to be most important. Still can’t get started? Make an appointment at your friendly learning center and one of us will help you.

Alas, you may never grow to love reading, but that doesn’t mean you have to make yourself sick over it.

By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Bigger Pictures: Let’s Try Again, Shall We?

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Oh, dear. Winter break ended. Now what?

If you’re among those lucky souls who looked up their Fall ’18 grades with a sense of pride in accomplishment, an almost giddy feeling of work well done, then congratulations. That’s no easy feat here at Fun Times on the Schuylkill.

But what if your semester went awry?

What if your best laid academic plans of late August transmogrified into the second act of a low budget horror movie?

What if looking at that grade report made you relive the whole ordeal in all its gory detail?

What if you’re sitting there now, watching the horror unfold yet again, screaming at your past self, “Don’t skip the practice exam! Don’t skip the practice exam!” but there you go again, skipping the practice exam like that kid who just has to play with the Ouija board just one last time, thus opening the Hell Mouth and setting loose the demons who run amok in the second act of a low budget horror movie? Then what?

Even worse: what if it’s all happened before?

Let’s face it, you don’t want to be the recurring protagonist in a lousy horror franchise. You’ll wind up getting type cast and then you’ll find yourself telling people things like, “What I really want to do is direct,” while you read through the script for Schuylkill Terror 3: It Came From Under The Button. The academic equivalent of that goes something like, “I’m going to work really, really hard, and this semester is going to be totally different.” And then you promptly double down on doing things roughly the same way you tried to do them last semester, but with a “serious” and unyielding approach doomed for failure after about three and a half weeks. Lots of times it’s not about working harder.

It is amazing how often people take the same approach over and over, expecting different results, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. And if your Fall ’18 grade report felt like the trailer for Insidious 4, then you DO NOT want to do things the same way in Spring ’19.

So yes, this is a shameless plug for ambling over to your learning center and meeting with one of the friendly Weingarten Learning Instructors. We can help you figure out where things broke bad. Yes, it will be time well spent.

In the meantime, put away the Ouija board.

By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Sadly, this quote, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”, is at best apocryphal. But it so sounds like something Mark Twain would say that no one really wants to change the attribution.

Study Strategies: Dos and Don’ts for Reading Days

How many times have you said, “I’ll get this done during Reading Days?” I know I have said it at least ten times this semester. This semester’s reading days are Thursday, April 26 and Friday, April 27. Reading days (and the weekend before finals) are a great time to get prepared for your final exams and papers, but those two days go by very quickly. In this post, I’ll share some dos and don’ts for Reading Days success.

DO create an action plan. As soon as you can, look at all of your syllabi to get a better understanding of what exactly you have to do for your final assessment for each class. Do you have a final paper? How long is it? What kind of outside research does this paper require? Do you have to do a presentation about your paper in class? Do you have a final exam? Is it cumulative? Is there a study guide? Create fake deadlines for yourself before the actual deadline by bringing your paper or study plan to the Weingarten Center or by taking your paper to the Marks Family Writing Center. Making an appointment will create an accountability measure for yourself.

DON’T start the day before. The worst time to start looking at exam material is a few hours before you take the test. If you create a plan and familiarize yourself with your professor’s expectations for the final, then you will know how much time you must devote to studying for that particular exam. Similarly, starting your paper the day before the deadline won’t yield the best result. You may need to get books from the library or interview someone to complete your assignment, so advanced planning is critical when completing these papers.

Do prioritize. The end of the year comes with lots of fun activities that may get in the way of your exam and paper preparation. You are encouraged to balance work and fun, and the best way to do this is by putting all of your activities, fun or not, onto a calendar. We have April-May calendars in the Weingarten Center that are perfect for this activity. Once you see when everything will be taking place, you can make some choices. Perhaps choose one fun activity to do during the weekend before finals, and sandwich it between study/work sessions for your exams and papers.

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Don’t try to cram. Depending on how much time you have to study before your exam, you will have to make some choices about what you study. If you are short on time, focus on reinforcing the material that you know well and reviewing the topics that you can easily learn, rather than getting held up on the most complicated parts of your coursework. This strategy is the best way to get through as much as possible in a short amount of time.

For more tips on making the most of your Reading Days, visit us at the Weingarten Center! We’ll be holding two “Study Hacks for Reading Days” workshops on 4/23 and 4/24. Additionally, we are open for 50-minute appointments or shorter walk-ins if you would like to consult with a learning instructor individually.

Best of luck on your final exams and papers!

By Staff Writer: Cassie Lo, Learning Instructor and Research Fellow

Study Strategies: What does this problem want me to do?

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Solving problems in STEM courses often requires identifying the correct procedure for solving a problem. If, under the time pressure and stress of an exam, you jump right at a problem, you may choose the wrong procedure to solve it.

To train yourself to look before you leap, when working on problem sets, ask and answer the questions, “What does this problem want me to do? How will I give it what it wants?” for each problem.

Rashmi Kumar, Ed. D., STEM Specialist at the Weingarten Center, consistently teaches her undergraduate and medical students to ask these questions before they jump at the problem, so they are more likely to pair it with the right procedure:

What does this problem want me to do?

Define the goal of the problem

It might make the work a little more fun, and you will be faster and better at problem-procedure pairing on the midterm:

How will I give the problem what it wants?”

Identify the procedure that should be paired with the problem

Imagine…

Susana is about to solve a STEM problem. She asks herself,

What does this problem want me to do?

She answers,

Hmm, it wants me to calculate the torque at a perpendicular force.

Then she asks,

How will I give it what it wants?

And answers,

First I have to convert the units into the expected format. Next, I’ll need to identify the right equation. Then I’ll be ready solve the equation.

Simple and easy, right?

Practice it until it is an automatic habit and you will do it under pressure.

And for added fun, try saying “problem-procedure pairing” ten times fast!

By Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor

Study Strategies: The Problem-Solving Sandwich

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Take-away:

When you go to do your homework (reading & problem-set)…
  1. Start with a homework problem first, not the reading.
  2. Read only if you need to. Read only what you need.
  3. Then get back to the problem and solve it.
PART 1: WHAT IS THE PROBLEM-SOLVING SANDWICH?
Read-Then-Solve: A Bad Idea

Unfortunately, many students do their homework using the read-then-solve strategy—they read the entire assigned reading, then start on the problem set.  This may make for reading more than you need and likely zoning out while you’re reading. Read-then-solve is often wasteful and boring. You may ask, “But don’t I need to understand the concepts first?” I ask in reply, “Do you read-then-solve in real life?”

The Problem-Solving Sandwich – What You Do in Real Life

In this “real world” scenario, suppose you are writing a report on a Word document, and run into trouble with the formatting. Say it is a problem with making bulleted lists in Word. You have a problem you intend to solve. Here are two strategies you can use. Which is best?

Strategy 1: Read-Then-Solve
  1. Read an entire chapter on formatting in Microsoft Word
  2. Attempt to solve the bulleting problem
Strategy 2: Use the Problem-Solving Sandwich
  1. Attempt to solve the problem with what you know. For example, you might right-click and see if any of the options make sense.
  2. If can’t figure it out, THEN search for a solution to your specific problem. For example, you might google “how to make bullets in word for mac 2011”
  3. As soon as you have what you think you need from whatever reading you find, get back to the Word doc and solve the problem.
It’s a sandwich—see?

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PART 2: WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?
Benefit 1: The Problem-Solving Sandwich is More Efficient

Let’s see how the problem-solving sandwich can save you time. Compare Kim and Susana, both in a class involving problem sets, in this toy example.

Kim uses the read-then-solve strategy:

On Monday, from 4-6pm, she completes the assigned reading. The next day she works on the problem set, also from 4-6pm. Thus, her schedule looks like this:

READ-THEN-SOLVE
  KIM
TIME MONDAY TUESDAY
4:00 PM read SOLVE
  read SOLVE
4:30 PM read SOLVE
  read SOLVE
5:00 PM read SOLVE
  read SOLVE
5:30 PM read SOLVE
  read SOLVE

Remember, this is just a toy example! You will likely want to put in a 6-hour minimum; see previous blog post with that title.

Susana uses the problem-solving sandwich strategy:

She works the same days, but not the same amount of time.

PROBLEM-SOLVING SANDWICH
  SUSANA
TIME MONDAY TUESDAY
4:00 PM SOLVE SOLVE
  read SOLVE
4:30 PM SOLVE read
  SOLVE SOLVE
5:00 PM SOLVE SOLVE
  read SOLVE
5:30 PM
 

As you can see, Susana stopped half an hour earlier than Kim on both days, saving herself an hour. Does this mean she has less mastery of the concepts? Will she do less well on the exam?

Who has greater command of the key ideas?
  • SUSANA > KIM
  • SUSANA < KIM
  • SUSANA = KIM

When I show this to students in my workshops, they generally think that Kim and Susana have equal control of the topic, that is,

  • SUSANA = KIM
But Susana had an hour more to have fun!

Why could she learn as much in less time? First, she only read when she couldn’t solve the problem on her own so she cut straight to the stuff relevant to her specific question with a strong motivation to get the info and get out—her brain was on the hunt.

Benefit 2: The Problem-Solving Sandwich is More Engaging

What do I mean by your brain being “on the hunt”? When you read-as-needed only, your goal is to find a specific answer to a critical question—you’re giving your brain a question mark: “?” J

But when you read-then-solve, your goal is to “get through the chapter.” You’re giving your brain a period: “.” L

Which is more fun? Ready to Try It? So if you have been using the read-then-solve strategy, try out the problem-solving sandwich strategy. If you have any ?s about how to do it, feel free to come chat with a learning instructor—we’re happy to help!

 To your better learning!

Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor

 

Time Management: Studying & The Super Bowl

 

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  • Are you a diehard Eagles fan who has been waiting for a game like this since you were a kid?
  • Maybe you’re a bandwagon fan whose rooting for Philly now that you live here?
  • Or, perhaps you don’t care about football at all, but are planning to watch for the commercials and the halftime show, or maybe you just want to enjoy the snacks?

Whatever your association is with the Eagles, you won’t be able to escape talk of the game in Philadelphia this weekend. The Super Bowl can be a fun game to watch with your friends, especially since the Eagles will be representing this year!

However, the game does fall at a time in the semester when things start to get busy! Not to fear, Weingarten has some tips on how to manage and balance your time so that you can watch the big game AND stay on top of your school work!

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  1. Make sure you review your schedule for next week as soon as possible. Make sure you note what assignments are due on Monday and Tuesday (not to jinx anything, but if the Eagles win, the parade will supposedly be on Tuesday). If you have any exams, essays, quizzes, or other work due at the end of the week, jot those down as well. Also note any work responsibilities or other commitments you have coming up.
  2. Use this information to create a to-do list for the weekend.
  3. From this to-do list, create a schedule for yourself for this weekend so that you can use your time efficiently before the game begins. Block out time for when you will work on each assignment. Be specific and strategic about what work you will complete when.
  4. Remember often people work best in approximately 1 hour blocks of time. Include a 5-10 minute break in this hour of work time. Also, it can be helpful to alternate assignments or subjects. For example, work for one hour on subject A, then work for one hour on subject B, then you can return to work on subject A for an hour.
  5. Perhaps you take it easy on Friday or Saturday night so that you can get some more work done on the other day and enjoy Sunday.
  6. Include some time in your schedule to learn the Eagles fight song if you haven’t already. Here’s a helpful link https://youtu.be/6SosmpnWET4 ! 
However you decide to spend your time, we hope you have a fun, SAFE, and enjoyable weekend!
And remember . . .

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FLY, EAGLES, FLY!

 By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor

Study Strategies: Making It Stick!

What has Research about the Science of Successful Learning taught us about Making It Stick?

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Brown, Roediger & McDaniel (2014) identified 6 Research-based Principles and Strategies for committing information to long-term memory and increasing the probability of retrieving it as applicable knowledge:

➔  (1) Rereading text and massed practice are ineffective.
➔  (2) Instead, active retrieval interrupts forgetting.
➔  (3) Create a mental model for new knowledge that connects to larger context and prior knowledge:

A conceptual approach to active information processing and retrieval helps interrupt forgetting and deepen your understanding. Conceptual Mapping helps you:

  1. Synthesize the big picture,
  2. Do a deep dive where you need to be more granular,
  3. Establish simple-complex relationships and hierarchies,
  4. Identify gaps, and
  5. Try a variety of Conceptual Mapping tools:
Concept Map Anywhere!

All you need is any blank “canvas”: scrap paper, notebook, white board, etc.

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Concept Map Online: Search for a Variety of Free and Subscription Software Apps

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Try this Free Online Concept Mapping Tool by Google: Coggle

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(Click icon above to watch introductory video)
➔  (4) Space out practice and interleave subjects

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There is a minimum of 3 levels of time management for the semester:

  1. Semester: Major Deadlines
  2. Week: Logistical
  3. Daily: Individual Tasks
Think strategically before, during and after coursework

Include:

  1. Office Hours: Professor and Teaching Assistant
  2. Sleep
  3. Meals and Snacks
  4. Breaks
  5. Self-Care Activities (e.g. exercise, therapy/counseling, health care, etc.)
  6. Extra-curricular, volunteer and social activities
➔  (5) Extract underlying principles that differentiate problem types to prepare for unfamiliar problems/situations

As you prepare weekly problem sets for class, recitation or online submission, OR before you compare your sample prior exam answers, step back and take time to:

  • Evaluate and differentiate types of problem by concept categories: 1) Conceptual Problems or 2) Algorithmic Problems.
  • Try problems before being taught solution
  • Allot an equivalent/appropriate amount of time by rigor/complexity level.
  • Pin point conditional problem scenario terms, such as: ALL, NOT, EXCEPT, BUT, AND, IN ALL CASES, etc.
  • Review ETS’ GRE Problem-Solving Strategies 
  • Review our prior Blog on 6-Hours Per Week for Solving Problem Sets

Make It Stick

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow & Instructor