Spring Clean Your Academic Life


Image from UPenn Facilities website

While it might not feel like spring outside yet, it is definitely around the corner. Spring break is over, and this semester is already halfway complete. Before we become busy with spring social commitments, with enjoying the nice weather (it’s coming, I promise!), and with beginning to study for finals, this point in the semester can be a great time to do some academic spring cleaning.

Sound new to you? Often, we often only think of spring cleaning as a chore we complete with our dorms, houses, or apartments, but actually this can be a great point in the semester for taking time to reorganize your academic life. Spending a few hours clearing out old papers and organizing important files can help you feel recharged and ready to take on the rest of the semester.


Image from NewBridge Recovery

So turn on some music, open up the curtains to let some sunlight in, and get ready to get organized. Here are some suggestions for how to spring clean your academic life:

  • Take some time to go through your folders (or the paper crumpled at the bottom of your backpack).
    • Recycle the papers you don’t need anymore.
    • If papers will be useful or helpful later in the semester or in future classes, place them in a labeled folder.
  • Organize the files on your computer.
    • Make sure you have created file folders for each of your courses this semester. Sort your files accordingly. Make sure to add any downloaded files that will be useful.
    • Delete the computer files you no longer need.
    • If you are reading a lot of PDFs, make sure you are keeping them organized for easy reference when you are writing future essays. Tools like OneNote, Notability, or Zotero can be great for helping to keep PDFs organized.
  • Sort out your Inbox!
    • This task can be dreaded, but now can be a good time to take charge of your email if it’s gotten out of hand.
    • Delete unread or unneeded messages.
    • Place important emails in their applicable folders
    • Take yourself email chains that you don’t need or send them directly all an advertisement folder so they aren’t clogging up your main inbox.
  • Take stock of your books and textbooks.
    • If you’re like me and you have too many books, make sure you’ve made any returns to the library.
    • See if you can sell back any books on Amazon or another site.
    • Donate books you no longer need to on-campus donation sites or a local library.
  • Review your planner and/or schedule.
    • Make sure your spring commitments are updated.


Image from Waterford Technologies

What else do you do to recharge and reorganize during the spring? Let us know!

Remember, instructors at Weingarten are here to help with any of your academic needs! Call 215 – 573 – 9235 to make an appointment. Or, stop by Monday thru Friday from 12pm to 3pm and Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 4pm  to 7pm for walk-in appointments.

By: Kelcey Grogan, Weingarten Learning Instructor and Learning Fellow


The Problem-Solving Sandwich



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.
Read-Then-Solve: A Bad Idea

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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

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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?
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:

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.

  read SOLVE
4:30 PM SOLVE read
  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?

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

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!

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 To your better learning!

Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor


Exam Analysis

Often, students spend all their time studying and preparing for exams before they take a test. Did you know though that some of the most important studying and preparation comes after you take exams?

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One of the best ways to prepare for future exams and to ensure that you understand course material is to analyze your exam after you take it! This ensures that you are thinking critically about your learning and preparing the best way possible for your next exam.

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When you receive your test back from your instructor, first examine the questions you answered correctly.

Think about:

  • How did you study for this information?
  • Why did you get this question right?
  • What can you learn from it?

Use this information to help you prepare for your next exam. Identify what strategies worked for you when you were preparing for this test, and be sure to use them again.

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Next, look at the questions you answered incorrectly.

            Identify why you answered incorrectly:

  • Was it a content mistake? Meaning:
    • You never saw the information.
    • You didn’t study the information.
    • You studied the information but learned it incorrectly.
    • You studied the information but could not recall.
      • From these content areas, see if you can identify if your mistakes were coming from the same section.
      • Do you need to go back and review a chapter section?
      • Would it be helpful for you to review this with the professor, a TA, or a tutor?
  • Was your error in the application of the material? Meaning:
    • You studied and recalled the basic information but could not apply it to higher order thinking problems.
  • Did your error have to do with how you approached the tests? Meaning:
    • Did you misread or misinterpret a test question?
    • Were you too impulsive or overconfident on certain tests questions?
    • Was it test fatigue?
    • Was your pacing off for the test? Were you running out of time?

Use this information to help you adjust your studying for the next exam.

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Make an appointment with a learning instructor at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center for more help on how to make the most of your exam analysis. Here is a link on our exam analysis appointment protocol. We are happy to help you think more critically about your class, about what you learned, and about how to prepare for your next exam!

Blog adapted from resources prepared by Dr. Ryan Miller, Executive Director of the WLRC.

By: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor

Studying & The Super Bowl



  • 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!


  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 . . .



 By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor

Making It Stick!

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


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) 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:
1. Concept Map Anywhere!

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

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


3. Try this Free Online Concept Mapping Tool by Google: Coggle


(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


  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
➔  (6) Try problems before being taught solution

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.
Conceptual Problems
Algorithmic Problems

Make It Stick

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, WLRC Learning Instructor

Starting Spring Semester Off Strong!


Welcome back to Philadelphia for the 2018 Spring Semester! We here at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center hope you had a relaxing and rejuvenating break. We also hope you remembered to bring back some warm clothes! It’s been a fairly chilly winter here so far – make sure you stay bundled up for your walks to class, work, and extra-curricular activities. With this weather, some of you may be even more encouraged to stay inside and get a jump start on your class work!

walnut walk

Whether this weather makes you want to head to the library or curl up under a blanket watching Netflix, the learning instructors at Weingarten have five steps to help make this semester the most successful and manageable one yet:

Step 1 – Reflect:

Before you dive into your new coursework, spend some time reflecting on last semester. You can simply mentally reflect, or devote some time to writing your answers down in a notebook or journal. Here are a few questions to guide your thinking:

  • How did you manage your time last semester?
  • How did you prepare for your exams and quizzes?
  • How did you approach long term projects or papers?
  • What worked for you? What didn’t work for you?
  • What would you like to be different this semester?


Step 2 – Set Goals:

Based on your reflections, set 1-3 small goals for yourself this semester. These goals should be manageable (you can achieve them in one semester), measurable (you will know when you achieved them), and reflective of what is most important for you and your studies. Write these goals down on a piece of paper and post them on your bulletin board, or place them in the first page of your planner. Put them somewhere you will see them often to remind yourself of what you are working towards.

goal setting

Step 3 – Make a Plan:

Spend some time in the beginning of the semester writing down all due dates for your exams, quizzes, papers and projects in your calendars and planners. Doing this now will save you time and prevent future headaches later. Remember time management has three components:

  1. Long term (semester) planning
  2. Weekly planner
  3. Daily To-Do Lists/Tasks & Daily Schedule

Make sure your time management plan includes all three of these components.

time to plan

Step 4 – Identify Resources You Can Use for Help:

Before you are crammed with work and crunched for time, spend an afternoon locating different resources on campuses that are here to support you. Make an appointment with a librarian so that you finally understand how to conduct research properly (it’s more than just entering search terms in Google!). Attend office hours with your professors or TAs before they become swamped with students. Make an appointment with us here at the Weingarten Resources Center. Schedule the doctor’s appointment that you have been meaning to go to. Seek out these resources now! Don’t wait until later in the semester. Here are some resources that can be useful for students:

  • The Tutoring Center
  • Weingarten Learning Resources Center
  • Marks Family Writing Center
  • Resource Librarians
  • Professor and TA Office Hours
  • CAPs, Health Center, Women’s Center
  • Campus and Community Houses (La Casa Latina, Makuu, Greenfield Intercultural Center, LGBT Center, etc.)
  • Your college major Advisors

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Step 5 – Attend a Session at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center:

To learn more about these ideas and other strategies, attend a session at the Weingarten Learning Resources Centers so that you work smarter not harder this semester!

fresh start

Whatever you need, Weingarten is here to support your academic growth! Remember we have walk-in hours every weekday from 12PM to 3PM and on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 4PM to 7PM in the Weingarten Learning Resources Center. You can also always call 215-573-9235 and schedule an appointment.

Have a great, happy, and successful spring semester!


By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Fellow & Learning Instructor

6-Hours per Week for Solving Problem Sets

Clock Pic


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.

Geometry Mathematics Cube Body Hexahedron

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
Person problem-solving
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.

Happy face


  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