Study Strategies: We’re Open for the Summer!
Congratulations! You made it through the Spring semester. For some, Summer classes will be starting up in a few weeks. For others, class is a distant memory until the Fall semester begins in August. Regardless of your course situation, we wanted to let you know that we are open for the summer! The Weingarten Learning Resources Center is staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday all summer long and we’re able to meet in person or over the Bluejeans online platform if you are not on campus. While your next set of courses may seem far away, we are always here for you to get a head start on planning or to help tie up any loose ends from the semester. Here are some ways we can support you this summer:
- Resolve incompletes:
Work with a learning instructor to create a plan to finish any incompletes you may have. We can make a schedule with realistic, manageable goals that you can accomplish during your summer vacation. We can also discuss how to communicate your action plan with professors.
- Time management/exam preparation strategies for summer courses:
Summer courses are unique because they meet several times a week for many hours at a time. Midterms and finals are also closer together due to the short timeframe of the summer session. Because of the time demands for each summer course, it is helpful to set up a study/work schedule in order to get everything accomplished. We have summer planning calendars available at the office!
- Prepare for the upcoming Fall semester:
Spend some time reflecting on what went well during this past semester while setting goals for the upcoming semester. You can also discuss new study strategies that you hope to try, or new time management tools that may work for you.
Once you’re back on campus in the Fall, be sure to reach out to us for an appointment ASAP. We are excited to help you prepare for the new academic year. Have a great summer!
Staff Writer: Cassie Lo
Wellness: Get Moving with Some Brain Breaks!
With finals just around the corner, it is important to set up “brain breaks” in order to increase productivity. Studying is most effective when done in relatively short chunks of time to ensure focus. Once you’re feeling distracted or have been studying for a decent amount of time, consider taking a brain break. Since the weather is finally warming up (hello, Spring!), now is a great time to get outside during your study breaks and enjoy the weather. Here are three ideas that will get your body moving and give your brain a break.
Meditation is a perfect study break because it can be done anywhere for any duration of time. For guided meditation, check out three weekly offerings from Campus Health. On Mondays, meditation is offered at the Office of the Chaplain from 12-1 p.m. and on Thursdays meditation is held at the Graduate Student Center from 12-1 p.m. and in the Mayer Seminar Room at Stouffer College House from 6-7 p.m. These free meditation sessions end on May 8, so be sure to stop by a session before they’re gone!
- Walk/Run the Schuylkill River Trail
The Schuylkill River Trail is a beautiful path that spans over 60 miles. You can pick up the trail right on Spruce Street and stroll north to see some beautiful Philadelphia sights. Additionally, Campus Health has developed 1, 2 and 3 mile walking/jogging loops around campus. Check it, and other valuable information, out here.
- Visit the Morris Arboretum
Visit this beautiful garden for a quick break from city living! It is free for Penn students and you can hop on a shuttle at the Penn Bookstore to get there. Some highlights include the rose garden (pictured here) and an amazing rock wall garden. The Morris Arboretum is open year round and offers seasonal specials, including a Cherry Blossom festival in the Spring and Fall foliage events.
Staff Writer: Cassie Lo
Time Management: The Tomato Method
With readings days fast approaching and finals week close behind, we are all struggling at the end of the semester to find motivation for this last push before the summer break. Ugh, why can’t it be here already? If you’re like me right now, who is so close to feeling burned out, finding the patience and determination to stay focused on small or large tasks seem daunting and unrealistic. One method that I have heard and used as a great strategy for those with short attention spans or low drive would include The Pomodoro Technique, also more simply and commonly known as The Tomato Method.
This time management technique was developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. It’s super easy to implement and can increase productivity when doing tasks. Look at it this way: it’s like you have to run miles and miles to get to your destination, but with the Tomato Method, you accomplish this by doing many sprints with short breaks in between. That way you don’t just procrastinate and give up at the beginning of the line. There are tasks when we can just fly through them, but others times, its just such a drag. In a way, this technique is a lot like chunking your time and task. Check out this short 2 minute video that explains how to get started. Here is a quick summary on how to it all works:
If you want to use some other websites or other apps on your tech besides a simple time keeper, here’s a list from LifeHacker.com that might be useful as well:
- Marinara Timer (Web) is a webapp we’ve highlighted before that you can keep open in a pinned tab. You can select your timer alerts so you know when to take a break, or reconfigure the work times and break times to suit you. It’s remarkably flexible, and you don’t have to install anything.
- Tomighty (Win/Mac/Linux) is a cross-platform desktop Pomodoro timer that you can fire and forget, following the traditional Pomodoro rules, or use to customize your own work and break periods.
- Pomodorable (OS X) is a combination Pomodoro timer and to-do app. It offers more visual cues when your tasks are complete and what you have coming up next, and it integrates nicely with OS X’s Reminders app. Plus, you can estimate how many pomodoros you’ll need to complete a task, and then track your progress.
- Simple Pomodoro (Android) is a free, open-source timer with a minimal aesthetic. Tap to start the timer and get to work, and take your breaks when your phone’s alarm goes off. You can’t do a lot of tweaking to the work and break periods, but you get notifications when to take your breaks and when to go back to work, and you can go back over your day to see how many Pomodoros you’ve accomplished over the day. It even integrates with Google Tasks.
- Focus Timer (iOS) used to be calledPomodoroPro , and is a pretty feature-rich timer for iPhone and iPad. You can customize work and break durations, review your work history to see how your focus is improving, easily see how much time is left in your work session, and the app even offers a star-based rating system to keep you motivated. You can even customize the sounds, and hear the clock ticking when you lock your phone so you stay on task.
Say “bye bye procrastination!” with this technique. Try it out! Or come into Weingarten to try it out with a Learning Instructor.
Staff Writer: Victoria Singh Gill
Scheduling to Reduce Stress Part 2: Google Calendar Edition
As promised, here is part 2 in the scheduling series. This time we will be focusing on the features of Google Calendar to schedule, plan, create and keep track of tasks.
Calculating Hours and Setting up Google Calendar
As in the last article, I recommend starting with a list of your classes and calculated estimated weekly hours needed to maintain academic success. A typical schedule may look like this:
The next step involved is also the same as before with a few extra steps that will save you time in the long run. Create a schedule in Google Calendar on an hour by hour basis starting first with weekly events (such as classes, meals, meetings, etc.) that are consistent from week to week. Set each weekly item to repeat by clicking on “edit event” in the event creation pop up box. Below the time and date you’ll see a checkbox to repeat the event. Once you check the box, you’ll see a pop up that allows you to select different options:
I recommend setting the repeats to automatically end on the last day of classes. This is an important step because when you set up notifications later on, you won’t be left with notifications over the summer that you get used to ignoring.
Once you’ve finished building the schedule, it should look something like this:
Calendar Notifications and How to Use Them
Google calendar has a multitude of notification options and I suggest trying out different ones to see what works for you. There are options for SMS notifications, traditional phone notifications and a daily agenda. The daily agenda is a rarely used and well hidden feature that I highly recommend. The daily agenda is an email agenda sent automatically every morning at 5am to your Gmail account that gives you an hour by hour schedule to follow for the day. You can turn on the daily agenda by clicking the small gear icon at the top right of the screen under your Google avatar then select the following: settings> calendars. Then find your main calendar and on the same row select “edit notifications.” On the next screen you’ll see many options to add notifications but scroll to the bottom to find the “daily agenda” and click the checkbox to activate it. The other options are available for both hourly events and all-day events with distinct options for both including email, SMS and notifications (via phone or browser).
Using Google Tasks with Google Calendar
If you’re using Google Calendar for your scheduling, I highly recommend using the integrated Google Tasks function along with the calendar. It is somewhat limited in that tasks are only available on the desktop version and not the app, but the seamless integration is worth the minor inconvenience. By default, Google Calendar integrates “reminders” in place of tasks. To use tasks to you have to click the small triangle next to the reminders option and choose “switch to tasks” as seen in the screenshot above. Once you switch to tasks you can now add a task either by adding an item to the task list on the left-hand side or to a specific day. To add a task to a specific day, click on the day the same way you would to add an event and you’ll see an option to switch from event to task in the create an event popup widget.
Once you add tasks they will show up on the task list, and on the calendar day if they are added to specific date.
Staff Writer: Randall Perez
Time Management: Scheduling to Reduce Stress
Many of the students I see in the Weingarten Center come in because they feel like they are not using their time efficiently or are studying all the time. When I ask them how they schedule their day and manage their workflow, many students pause then explain that they keep their schedules, deadlines, and assignments in their head, referring to planners or schedules as too rigid. There are many stated reasons that students dislike the rigidity of keeping a planner or calendar, but the most common objection is that the perceived rigidity stresses them out, or they feel they don’t have enough time in their day as it is, so planning daily would be another burden added on to an already stacked plate. The reality is that it takes time to develop new habits and planning sufficiently should reduce feelings of stress over time. There are a variety of resources students can use to fit all working styles such as Google Calendar, Apple iCal, a traditional paper planner and methods of planning referred to as “unscheduling.” This last one tends to resonate with students most hesitant about traditional planning methods. This blog post is the first in a series that will cover each one of these methods in detail. This first post will focus on traditional paper planning with electronic planning (via Google Calendar and iCal) and unscheduling to follow in subsequent posts.
For most students, my preferred approach to planning includes a combination of setting a regular but flexible weekly schedule, combined with making a daily task list. The first step I suggest to students is to make a list of all of their classes and then estimate a total number of hours of study time necessary to maintain academic success in each class. A typical schedule for a Penn student might look like this:
The next step in the process is to map a typical week on an hour by hour basis including class schedule, meals, work study, athletic requirements, sleep, and any other regular weekly meetings other commitments you might have and then fit in study time and self-care/free time in the remaining space. A typical student schedule may look like this:
This approach is also helpful when registering for classes. It is important to consider the demands of each class and how demanding they are of your time. There is only so much time in a day and making time for things such as self-care, exercise, sleep and free time is essential to prevent burnout and promote academic success. You may have noticed that I scheduled in general study time instead of assigning work for specific classes in each of those spaces. This is to allow for the flexibility that is necessary for the changing workloads typical in classes throughout the semester. A heavy week in one class may be paired with a light week in another class. I suggest students spend the first 15 minutes of their study time each day making a task list of work for the day. Make sure to break up assignments into smaller tasks of approximately 45 minutes for each task. This is referred to at Weingarten as “chunking your work” and should help to mitigate the desire to procrastinate. You should also take frequent study breaks of about 5-10 minutes after every 45-60 minute work session. This will help maximize productivity and increase knowledge retention.
Staff Writer: Randall Perez
Pre-finals week planning = The calm before the storm
The final weekend in November was a long one that left us all feeling a bit more relaxed, but, for many of us, our stress returned the minute December 1st arrived. The last day of classes and Reading Days are right around the corner, which is hard to believe since many of you still have midterms to think about. With only three weeks left in the semester, now is a great time to create a plan to get everything done!
Here’s what you can do to make the most of your pre-finals time:
- Attend our Reading Days Study Hacks workshop
Wednesday, December 7, 5:00-6:00 p.m.
Thursday, December 8, 4:00-5:00 p.m.
Weingarten Center Lounge
Register here: goo.gl/3mEMzQ
Staff members from the Weingarten Center will walk you through how to create a realistic study schedule, analyze your professors’ expectations and study actively during Reading Days.
- Make an appointment with a Learning Instructor
If you want more personalized study tips, stop by or call us at (215)573-9235 to make a 50-minute appointment with a Learning Instructor. It’s never too late to come see us! Many of our appointments at this time of the semester focus on planning ahead and preparing for finals week. Making an appointment also helps you get things done earlier. If you have a presentation to do, we can be a practice audience. We can help you brainstorm for an upcoming final paper, days or weeks, in advance or connect you to other resources that may also be able to assist you in the final days of the semester.
- Stop by our extended walk-in hours
In addition to regular appointments, we are offering extended walk-in hours through December 22. These appointments are 25 minutes long and are usually best for a specific question. In addition to hours offered at the Weingarten Center, there are also hours at the ARCH and Grad Student Center.
- Create a master calendar with due dates
While all of your assignment due dates and exam dates are on Canvas or your course syllabi, it is best to put everything in one place so you can have a clear picture of what to expect before the end of the semester. With all of the social events happening in the next few weeks, it is important to put those in as well to create a more realistic schedule for studying. Stop by our office to pick up a December calendar or fill one out with a Learning Instructor!
Staff writer: Cassie Lo
For Returning/Non-Traditional Students
Many students at Penn have returned to school after a break in their formal education. Some programs such as PhD, MBA, executive MBA, Dental, and Medicine have many students that have professional work experience and have not been inside a classroom for years. Below are some tips that will help for a smooth transition to student life.
- Manage your time: Time management is one of the most important aspects of being a successful student. Getting back into “school mode” may be challenging, but if you effectively manage your time, you will maximize your chances of succeeding in the classroom. A few tips for managing a student schedule:
- Being a student most likely is not a “9-5” lifestyle. There will be late night study sessions, group assignments that keep you on campus, and dreaded paper and finals. Student schedules tend to have gaps throughout the day- make these gaps productive! For my scheduled gaps, I like to read for class, catch up with friends or colleagues, or outline a paper that’s due soon.
- Make sure you schedule time for your personal life. Students who are a few years removed from formal education are more likely to have large life commitments, such as partners, children, pets, and jobs. The best way to make sure you are balancing your life well is to schedule time for all your commitments.
- Understand that early on it will take longer to read those articles and write those papers. Budget longer for school assignments until you fully transition into the student lifestyle.
- Use any form of scheduling that makes sense for you! You can purchase a planner at the Penn Bookstore, use Google Calendar or Apple’s Calendar app, or come into Weingarten for a free semester one-page calendar. You want to make this process as smooth as possible, so make your calendar work for you. Check out older posts on this blog on advice for types of planners.
- Seek help and advice: There are many people on the Penn campus who have returned to school after taking a significant break in their studies. Seek help and advice from your classmates, professors, staff, and advisors.
- It is highly recommended that you build a network of friends and classmates while at Penn. These relationships will not only make school more enjoyable, but both parties can benefit from the additional resource.
- Check out the vast services Penn offers; from academic support to health and welfare.
- You can also schedule an appointment or drop in during office hours with a Learning Fellow at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center. We are here to help you with study tips, reading strategies, time management, technology support, essay reviews, and much more!
- Bring your experiences into the classroom: Use your experience to your advantage and fill the classroom with anecdotes that are related to the subject matter. This can help you understand the content more and it will help your classmates see the real-world implications.
Use these tips to start off on the right foot. If you have advice of your own, feel free to leave a comment!
Staff Writer: Victoria Gill
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:
- 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
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
Developing Personal Statements
Creating a Personal Statement is much like what Professor Maureen Moran of Brunel University describes as, “You develop the insight of an artist, the analytical precision of a scientist, and the persuasiveness of a lawyer.” It’s the dreaded piece of any graduate program application where you’re expected to be insightful about what you hope to contribute to a field of study, but be very explicit how you plan on doing it and why you should be the one to receive the opportunity to do it.
It can be overwhelming and daunting even, knowing that even with your grades, resume, testing scores, and letters of recommendation, your Personal Statement will be the “make it or break it” piece. So much of your future rests on how the Personal Statement will be received.
Personally, I know that writing my Personal Statement was a process where I doubted myself over and over, plagued by questions such as: Do I start off with a quote? No, that’s too cheesy. How many times can I use the word “passion”? Oh gees, also cheesy! How much of my personal background is relevant? Should I elaborate on certain accomplishments that I’ve listed in my resume? How do I highlight myself without bragging or lionizing myself? Am I good enough to do this? Am I even doing this right?!
But have no fear! Here are some tips from someone who went through the whole anxious process to help you get started:
- Start early. Good writing is just re-writing. Allow yourself time to have evolving ideas about what you want to accomplish through your discipline, research, and short/long term goals during/after the program.
- Network. Ask current doctoral students in the program you’re applying to give you feedback on your personal statement and don’t be shy about politely asking them for a copy of their own personal statement. We’ve all been through it! We get it. Also, ask your professors who are helping with the letters of rec. to also give you feedback on your statement.
- Do your research. Different institutions have their own style, beliefs, and focuses. Research what those are and you must tailor each personal statement to align with them. The whole point is to let them know how you “fit” with their program and vice versa.
- Attend workshops. Some universities will have events and workshops for prospective students who are interested in applying. Go to those. They help with giving you some background and details on what is expected for the content and formatting. Lastly, there is a workshop you can attend here at UPENN! Register at http://goo.gl/XG2rDJ to attend this Friday, Nov 6th from 12-1pm at GSE Room 200.
Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez
You Have Plenty of Time. Really.
Ah… fall semester. If you’ve lived most of your life on the academic calendar year, like I have, you probably think of the new year as beginning in September. (Okay fine, August, but I find it best not to dwell on such unpleasantness, thank you very much.) In any case, this time of year always feels like new beginnings, an opportunity to do better, think deeper, become a better person. And I’m not alone. We all want to do so much. Students, faculty, administrators, humble blogging learning instructors, we all want to not only accomplish that certain something, but a whole bunch of other things, too. If there’s such a thing as a Penn gene, that’s it, and we all got it.
It’s no secret that here at your learning center, we get lots of early fall students who want to do ALL THE THINGS. So the worry grows: do I have enough time?
Let’s take a moment and consider the Basic Math of Undergraduate Time.
There are 168 hours in the week, and (theoretically) you are asleep for a third of them, leaving 112 hours. A 5cu load should, when accounting for class time, recitations and class-related tasks (you know, all that readin’ and writin’ and figurin’) you’re looking at a 45 hour commitment, leaving 67 hours for non academic stuff. So far, so good. Figure that the average meal should take about 20 minutes to consume and you’re left with 60 hours. Are you an athlete? Even after your 20 hour weekly commitment to the team, you still have 40 hours left. So, yeah, quantitatively speaking, you have plenty of time.
But these are just raw numbers, and when it comes to managing time, raw numbers are only part of the challenge.
But that’s a different post.
Staff Blogger: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor