Preparing for Online Finals

The Weingarten Center collaborated this week with students on the FGLI Dean’s Advisory Board in the College of Arts and Sciences to offer three workshops that integrated exam preparation strategies with content tutoring for Math 104, Economics 001, and Chemistry 101. Our expert tutors shared phenomenal insights into their approaches to creating a finals prep plan, finding accountability and support through study groups, and proactively managing the stress and anxiety of taking high-stakes exams.

In the following videos, Gabe, Valerie, and Ryan ask our tutors to share their unique approaches to Math, Economics, and Chemistry finals, but many of their key insights could be applied to any course at Penn.

Thank you to FGLI DAB and our fabulous tutors for creating this resource! We also want to encourage all students to schedule appointments with our learning specialists by visiting MyWLRC and selecting “Learning Resources Appointments.” Creating a study plan for each of your courses is a great way to ensure a successful end to the fall semester.

Multiple Choice Exams: How to Prep

The Moment of Truth

As a sophomore at Penn, and after two unfortunate biology midterms, I knew I had to change my study habits. For other classes, like philosophy and chemistry, I prepared for the tasks I would perform on the exam. I wrote outlines for philosophy and solved problems for chemistry, so I thought that answering a ton of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) before the final exam would work just fine. I mean, how many different ways could I possibly be asked about the content?

Turns out there were enough ways for me to be very confused on that exam. In fact, there are several types of MCQs: single-correct answer, best answer, negative, multiple true-false, and multiple response. Each of them can be used to test a variety of thinking skills from rote memorization to critical evaluation (Burton et. al., 1990).

To Prepare Well, Train your Thinking Skills

Aside from understanding the content, in order to prepare well, we need to develop the skills necessary to perform well. In the case of multiple-choice exams at the university level, these skills are application, analysis, and evaluation, primarily (see Figure 1). We can train those skills by getting creative with the study activities we engage in! Let’s get to know multiple choice questions a little better first, however.

This image depicts the the 6 thinking skills found in Bloom's taxonomy and emphasizes application, analysis, and evaluation.
Figure 1: Thinking skills at the University level. Adapted from “Bloom’s Taxonomy” by the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

The Primary Objective: Analyze and Evaluate

Multiple choice questions (MCQs) are composed of a stem (prompt), a correct answer and two or more incorrect statements. The primary objective for many types of MCQs is to analyze and evaluate each statement (Burton et. al., 1990). Part of our studying, then, should be focused on training our ability to analyze information in the stem and alternatives and to evaluate the correctness or relevance of each choice.

Easy, right? Well, not quite. Without test questions and some guidance or structure for how to think, it can be challenging to analyze information in an engaging way. This is why I suggest using a browser-based digital flashcard maker called, Quizlet!

With Quizlet, you and your study group—if you have one—can import content from Google Docs, Word, or Excel and turn them into flashcards. Quizlet, then, allows you to self-test in 4 different ways and there is even a mobile app called, Quizlet Learn! I think the Matching and True/False question types are particularly helpful because each type of question helps you train your ability to analyze possible answers. If you plan to use the Multiple-Choice question type, just make sure that you insert questions as your terms instead of a single word or phrase.

Just One Disclaimer

With that said, I have to make one disclaimer. Because Quizlet uses a computer program to generate these questions, it may be easier to choose the correct answer than on an exam. The mobile app claims to modify the difficulty of questions as you go, but I think this can only take you so far. Go to the next level by identifying any decent questions and modify the statements, the stems (the prompts at the top) or the distractors (incorrect answers) to make them more challenging. This process of modifying and improving questions will help you to train your ability to analyze and evaluate as well.

Other Great Alternatives

Even if you decide that Quizlet does not fit your specific needs, transform your study sessions by taking the time to apply, analyze, and evaluate your course content! Other methods include:

  • Making concept maps to identify the connections between the big ideas in your lectures
  • Creating flow charts to think through the steps in a pathway or process
  • Annotating important representations like pathways, graphs, and diagrams
  • Explaining your problem-solving process in words

Learning instructors would be happy to discuss multiple choice exam prepartation with you more in a virtual appointment! Call us at 215-573-9235 today!

By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Instructor

References:

Burton, J. S., Sudweeks, R. R., Merrill, P. F., & Wood, B. (1991). How to prepare better multiple-choice test items: Guidelines for university faculty. Department of Instructional Science, Brigham Young University Testing Services. Retrieved April 17, 2020 from http://testing.byu.edu/info/handbooks/betterItems.pdf.

Armstrong, P. (2015). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University. Center for Teaching. Retrieved April 17, 2020 from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/.

Working with Penn Tutoring

The Tutoring Center at the University of Pennsylvania offers undergraduate students a variety of options to supplement their learning experiences. As the tutors employed by the Center demonstrate a diverse array of knowledge and skills, they are also continually looking for ways to maximize the impact of their engagement with students in terms of learning outcomes for tutees. As part of that effort, Donna Brown, the Center’s director, has developed an ongoing working relationship with the Weingarten Learning Resources Center to facilitate collaboration across fields and areas of expertise, particularly in helping tutors to appreciate students’ learning styles and how to respond to them accordingly. She recently contacted Dr. Rashmi Kumar and James Arrington for a workshop for the tutors to help deepen their understandings for tutoring in the STEM fields.

Picture1.pngDr. Rashmi Kumar asks the tutors about their learning styles

            The workshop was designed to engage the tutors’ knowledge of learning the STEM subjects. After recalling various experiences and challenges encountered by students and tutors, Dr. Kumar connected these narratives to Bloom’s Taxonomy of knowledge, focusing in particular on instances of declarative, procedural, and critical knowledge work. This demonstrated what one tutor described as moving “from basic understanding to higher level understanding.” The two WLRC staff then reviewed what one tutor called a “variety of strategies that can be used to help students,” including concept mapping, constructing hypothetical test questions, and syllabus analysis. Overall, the tutors found the workshop “engaging and useful” for their work, and the activity further deepened the ongoing collaboration between the Tutoring Center and the WLRC.

Staff Writers/STEM Workshop Facilitators: Dr. Rashmi Kumar and James Arrington

Finals Feature: Super-Secret Study Spots

Looking for a new place to study for your final exams or write those final papers? Never fear – I’m here to help you find a location for success!

Biddle Law Library

3501 Sansom St.

Hours: 7:30 a.m. – 11:45 p.m. through May 5, 8 a.m.-7:45 p.m. daily through May 10th

Noise level: Low

Perks: Quiet outdoor space with tables and chairs where you can enjoy the warm weather

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If you’re trying to avoid the hustle and bustle of Van Pelt during finals week, you should definitely check out the Biddle Law Library. The Law Library is beautiful, well-lit and extremely quiet. The library itself has two levels, with the main level serving as a more public and collaborative space. Head upstairs for more isolated study time at individual tables and carrels. If the weather is nice, make sure to visit the outside tables and chairs that are a perfect change of scenery from the stacks of books inside.

The Law Library also has an extensive collection of over one million primary and secondary sources. Its archival collection houses personal papers from famous lawyers and judges. This library is an excellent research site for Law students, but also for undergraduate students who are studying Political Science, PPE or History.

The Biddle Law Library is a great destination for Quakers who crave a quiet study atmosphere. If you’re unable to make it over there before the end of the semester, it is certainly a place to check out when you get back to campus in August!

Staff Writer: Cassie Lo

How to Create a Finals Week Study Plan

Want to keep your sanity during finals week? So you have 5 classes this semester with at least 3 final exams and 2 final projects or papers. Need to accomplish them all in 7 days? No problem. There’s a process for you can use to deal with this situation that seems to always sneak up on us every semester.   Here’s a suggested step by step process:

  1. Rank Your classes

Rank your classes according to which one is sooner, which one is more important for your major, and/or which one is harder and needs most of your attention.

2. Break Down the tasks needed to study for each class

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This varies for everyone’s needs and for the subjects being tested. For example, some people need to carve out time to skim their class notes, class lecture slides and then need more time to actually practice their knowledge on old midterms or practice problem sets. Make sure you allocate your time wisely, 30/70 is what we recommend: 30% review and 70% practice.

3. Realistically Assign time for each task for each class

Now that you’ve figured out what you need to do for which class, it is now time to figure out the answer to each task: “for how long?” Some people read slower and may need an hour or two just to skim a chapter or notes, others may require less. The recommendation here is to caution against assigning more than 3 hours per task.

4. Plug in all studying tasks in a hourly schedule

So at this point, you got the which subject, what tasks, for how long, and now you need to know when. Try Google Calendar, iCalendar, or for an old school paper schedule template, you can download from our website here. Tip: avoid burn out by being realistic vs. overly ambitious in scheduling. Make sure to switch up the subjects so you don’t overload and keep breaks and meals in the schedule as well! Make you time as visual as possible.

If you would like more support on how to do this, come into Weingarten and a learning instructor would be happy to help!

Staff writer: Victoria Gill

Tech Tuesday: Coggle, A Mind Mapping App

Mind maps are a great tool for not only organizing your arguments and ideas for a paper or presentation, but also for organizing information you need to know as a way to study for an exam. Consider mind maps as a way to neatly and visually organize all the information you need or want on topics. Coggle is a free website where this can be done. Here are the benefits of using this platform:

  • it’s always free
  • do real-time collaboration on a project with a partner or group. Partners can comment and chat. Track changes are available (like Google Docs)
  • upload PDFs or images to include in your mind map
  • it’s user friendly. You don’t have to know complicated features to use it or to create stunning visual mind maps
  • download the mind maps for studying later,  or include in a paper, or print out for presentations
  • easily share your mind map with others

Check out these sample Coggle mind maps!

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For more information or practice on how to use it, come into the Weingarten Learning and Resources Center anytime!

Staff Writer: Victoria Gill

Tech Tuesday: Quizlet

So you’ve finally got the hang of getting back into “school mode” by having a somewhat cohesive schedule, by doing all the readings (haha! *wink *wink), and staying afloat with all the assignments. But its now that time of the semester…welcome midterm season!

One way you can make your study sessions smarter is by using Quizlet (the website or download the app on your computer/phone/tablet). Quizlet is a free, digital flashcard system that can be used to learn or play games.

Step 1: Create your own study sets. This works for anything from science concepts, mathematical formulas, foreign language, to just plain old vocabulary/terminology studying. Put the term on one side of the card and the definition on the other. There is an “auto-define” feature, and plus you can add images to better help you study. Another option is to just search their site for already made flashcard sets by the millions of their current users.

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Step 2: Study! With this website you have many options for how you want to study your material. Observe the many ways below:

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Bonus: [AUDIO] Everything that you type in can be clicked on and read aloud to you. For those of you taking a language course, there is audio available for 18 languages, from Arabic to Turkish! How awesome is that?!  This helps with pronunciation and also by providing the material in a different way than just reading it visually.

Happy Studying!

Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez

 

Back From Break

Spring break is a one week event in the semester. Academics are a fourteen week event. It’s important to value the time you spend accomplishing academic goals as much as the time you spend outside of the classroom.

studying

Ask yourself:

  • “What do I need to accomplish academically for the second half of the semester?”
    “What strategies were successful?”
  • “Why were these strategies successful?”

Build on your strengths as a scholar to move in the direction wherein you are already succeeding and make an appointment with a learning instructor at WLRC to finish strong.

Staff Blogger: Marty Sullivan

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