How to Use Practice Questions


Friday, February 23, 2024

Part Two of our two-part series on Practice Questions covers how to supplement practice questions, how to use practice questions, and where you can find practice questions. 

How do I supplement practice questions?

  • Look for online resources like video explainers. Always look for specific topics. As you watch these resources, try to engage with them. One way I recommend doing this is by trying to summarize those resources after watching/reading/listening to them. This way you are not just passively listening to information but actively trying testing if you are learning the material.
  • Request a tutor or go to a drop-in tutoring session. Having done practice questions before and knowing your gaps can help as you will have a more specific topic or area to discuss with your tutor. Tutors can sometimes even show you resources they have used in the past both for practice questions as well as supplemental materials.
  • Collaborate with other students in your class. We all have different strengths, so you may find that one of your classmates really understands a topic that you are having difficulty with. Additionally, you may understand a topic better than some in your class and, conversely, you can help them in their challenges. Teaching others is a great way of reviewing material, especially material that you already feel comfortable with.

How do I use practice questions to self-evaluate?

  • Group questions by topic and track your confidence and how easy or difficult the question was.
  • Look at the results. How many questions did you get right and wrong? Are there any patterns that you notice? For example, there may be a topic where you got most questions correctly, but you felt they were difficult and maybe it took you a long time to complete them. This can indicate that you want to do more practice on that problem not because you are not getting the answer right but because you want to be able to get through those questions faster during the exam.
  • Track your progress. Once you start improving on a topic make sure to shift your efforts accordingly. You may feel that you need to continue to spend a lot of time on a topic because, at first, you didn’t do well. However, you should evaluate if this is the case as you could be using this time to work on another difficult topic. Practice questions can give us a more objective lens in this area.

Where can I find practice questions?

  • Your professor may give practice quizzes and questions on their canvas shell. Please note that you should be doing more questions than what your professor provides.
  • Most textbooks include practice questions at the end of the chapter.
  • Penn Libraries has a Supplemental Resources Guide that features books that provide practice problems for most STEM courses.
  • Ask your professor or TA for any resources they think are good for practice questions.

 

Written by Oscar Escudero, STEM Learning Specialist, Weingarten Center

Why Use Practice Questions?


Friday, February 23, 2024

Part One of our two-part series on Practice Questions covers why to use practice questions, when should you start using practice questions, and what is an efficient way of using practice questions.

Why use practice questions?

  • Professors tell us that, in STEM courses, practice questions are one of the most effective strategies to learn the material.
  • Practice questions can help us in two ways.
    • One, they can show us if we understand the material from lectures.
    • Two, they can help us identify any gaps we may have. If you consistently get practice problems wrong in a particular topic that you feel you understand, this is an indication that you may need to return to the material. Conversely, if you consistently get practice problems right this shows that you have a solid understanding of the material.
  • The best way to prepare for a test where you will be asked to solve or answer questions is to practice what will be given in the exam. You wouldn’t train for a marathon by just walking a few times before it.

When should I start practicing questions?

  • You should start to practice questions as early as possible. Starting to practice questions after lectures can give you a sense of what you need to study next.
  • You should do practice questions as many times as possible before an exam.

What is an efficient way of using practice questions?

  • Start with an equal number of questions per topic so you can gauge where your gaps are. Don’t worry about how much time you spend on each question but do set an amount of study time you will be spending studying overall. I recommend an hour to two hours per lecture as a good rule of thumb.
  • As you work on questions keep track of your confidence. If you notice that you are confident about a topic but are not getting the expected results, maybe you are making small mistakes and just need to pay closer attention, or you may be overestimating your understanding and may need to revisit that topic. If you find the opposite, try to assess what is happening. Are you guessing and being lucky or are you understanding the topic and underestimating your ability?
  • Avoid looking for the right answer immediately instead try to get to the answer by retrieving prior knowledge.
  • Once you identify your gaps go back to those topics and revise them again (we’ll discuss this further in part two).
  • Now that you know where your gaps are, try adjusting the number of questions. Do more questions on the topics that you did not do well on in the first round. This doesn’t mean avoiding questions on the other topics. You are just shifting your efforts where they are most needed.

Try to do a couple of practice exams before the real thing. I recommend you do one a week before the exam and one a couple of days before. This will help you get a feel of not only how you are doing with the material but also how to tackle questions in an exam format. You can visit the Penn Libraries’ Guide on Practice Problems in Math and Science for a quick tutorial on how to use practice exams.

Written by Oscar Escudero, STEM Learning Specialist, Weingarten Center

Notion: A Game-Changer for Penn Students


Friday, February 9, 2024

Notion is an all-in-one workspace that allows users to create a personalized digital environment to enhance productivity and organize their academic journey. In this blog post, we will discuss how Penn students can be successful by using Notion. We have even included a sample Notion page! You can duplicate this Notion template and begin customizing to make it your own. We have also included useful YouTube videos, links, and add-ons to make your Notion personalized for you.

Feature #1: Customizable Task Management

One of the key features that makes Notion stand out is its customizable task management system. As a Penn student, you have multiple courses and responsibilities to juggle, both academic and non-academic. Notion allows you to create individual pages for each course, where you can organize your lecture notes, readings, and deadlines.

Not only can you manage your tasks efficiently, but you can also prioritize them based on importance and deadlines. Notion allows you to set up a kanban-style board where you can move tasks from “To-Do” to “In Progress” and finally to “Completed”. This visual representation of your tasks helps you stay focused and motivated, as you can see your progress in real-time. By having a clear overview of your tasks, you can allocate your time effectively and avoid procrastination.

Feature #2: Note-taking and Organization

Notion offers robust note-taking capabilities. With Notion, you can create organized and structured notes for your classes. You can use headings, bullet points, and checkboxes to structure your notes and make them easier to review and revise. Additionally, you can embed images, files, and even audio recordings into your notes for a more comprehensive and interactive studying experience, helping you keep everything in one place. With Notion’s search function, you can quickly find specific information within your notes, saving you valuable time when studying.

Feature #3: Time Management and Productivity

Notion offers various features to help Penn students effectively manage their time and boost productivity. You can create a personalized calendar to track your classes, assignments, and extracurricular activities. By visualizing your schedule and setting priorities, you can optimize your time and accomplish more with less stress.

In Conclusion!

Notion is a powerful tool that can revolutionize the way Penn students manage their academic journey. By leveraging Notion, you can stay on top of your academic goals while staying true to your personal ones. Please use the template we have included in this blog post to help you get the most out of Notion – you can just duplicate the template and begin using Notion!

Some other resources:

Active Reading


Thursday, November 30, 2023

One of the most frequently asked questions at the Weingarten Center by undergraduate, doctoral, and professional students alike is: “How do I manage the ungodly amounts of reading I am assigned?” Many of us have internalized the narrative about ourselves as a “slow reader” while others seem to have somehow unlocked the secrets to “speed reading,” as if human processing speeds can be adjusted like the dials of an audiobook app. And so, we trudge along, berating ourselves for our perceived deficiencies in reading speed.

We suggest reframing those narratives you hold about yourself.

Many of us have been socialized to believe that reading should happen the same way regardless of genre, whether it’s the latest young adult romance novel or an academic research paper: start from the first word on the first page and continue in a linear fashion until you’ve soldiered through to the last word on the last page.  This is not only time consuming and inefficient, but also a very passive way of reading.

The problem is not your natural reading speed but how you’ve been socialized to read. 

A revelation about reading at the collegiate or graduate level: you are not expected to read every word of every assigned reading (really). However, we do recommend re-reading that sentence again, word-for-word, until it really sinks in. Some of the skills you are expected to build in college and graduate school is to read selectively and to develop the skills to quickly, and efficiently distill a large amount of content into useful takeaways for further application or analysis. In other words: how you approach academic readings should be different from how you approach reading for pleasure.

Below are some tips to help you reframe how you approach your academic reading to both maximize efficiency and learning:

    • Preview the reading: Start by taking a look at the headings, titles, sections or chapters, relative lengths of parts, and prioritize your reading accordingly. You don’t have to read the sections in order, and you might choose to skip entire areas altogether.

    • Read with a purpose: Before you start reading, identify the piece of information you are expected to glean from the reading, whether that be a new concept, theory, perspective, or answer to a particular question, etc.  You should be able to get a general sense of this by perusing your syllabus. Then read as if you are on a quest searching for that specific piece of information.

    • Synthesize the reading: After you’ve completed the reading, make quick notes to distill the main takeaways in your own words. You will especially want to think about how that particular reading is in conversation with others you’ve been assigned in that class.
        • Pro tip: These notes should be useful in helping you decide whether you want to use that reading as a potential reference in a future essay assignment, so be mindful of that as you take notes.

Some of you may bristle at the idea of not reading every assigned reading to completion; it can be hard to fight that deep socialization and many years of habit. But we challenge you to let go of this notion that there is virtue in word-for-word reading.  We recommend that you try out this selective active reading strategy with your elective classes or other classes that are lower in your priority list. You will quickly find that there is only a marginal benefit to word-for-word reading, and that your overall improved wellness and time is worth the effort of selective, active reading.

Of course, there is nothing stopping you from reading more deeply and closely, especially for topics you find particularly fascinating. We encourage you to follow your intellectual curiosities as they arise.  After all, that is one of the greatest delights of life as a student: discovering entirely new intellectual passions.  But you might find that you do not have the time to pursue these new curiosities if you’re too busy trying to read every word of every reading in every class.

Written by Ayoung Lee, Learning Specialist and Fellow, Weingarten Center

Making a Case for Study Groups: Establish Safety and Value


Friday, May 7, 2021

In the last installment of this series, we addressed 3 of the most common challenges that study groups face:

  • study groups turning into study group socials
  • uneven distribution of work
  • unclear expectations

In this post, we will address these challenges from an asset-based perspective and through this question: what factors contribute to the success of effective study groups?

Interestingly enough, Google was also interested in this question. Already convinced that team effort yields the most productivity, the tech company conducted a large and extensive study to discover what characteristics every successful team had. Find out what Google learned by watching the video below:

Psychological safety. Every successful team figured out how to establish a sense of psychological safety for every member. Google broke this characteristic down into two other components: balance of speaking and social sensitivity. Considering these two components when we think back to the common challenges of study groups, everything starts to make more sense! When everyone does not feel like their contributions are or will be valued, study groups are not as productive. If the team does not practice social sensitivity, does not establish a culture of care, it is unlikely that team members will feel comfortable with making mistakes and troubleshooting challenges.

As we move forward from the social-psychological characteristics of successful study groups, we encourage you to use the Group Contract in your first study group session in order to set clear expectations and maintain a culture of care. Next time, we break into the cognitive ideas of growth mindset and metacognition to help facilitate meaningful interactions between group members and course content.

By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Specialist

Making a Case for Study Groups: Addressing Common Challenges


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

If you’re like me, you’re always asking clarifying questions. In this case, the question is this: if study groups are supposed to be effective, why do many study groups fail to meet that expectation?

While there are a number of reasons why study groups can be unproductive, the focus of this post is to bring attention to the following:

  • study groups turning into social gatherings
  • uneven amounts of work
  • unfavorable communication patterns

If you’ve been in a study group that turned into a social gathering, go back to that moment and think about what contributed to that result? One of the factors you might come up with is that the study group was a little too large. The recommendation is that study groups are kept between 3 and 5 people in order to avoid instances of side-conversations and to help everyone feel like they are being heard (which does not always have to be verbal). Another factor contributing to study group challenges involves unclear expectations.

Unclear expectations (unestablished norms and values) make it challenging to have a successful study group session. When these norms and values are not made explicit, a study group opting for causal conversation could be the least of your worries. If clear expectations about what must be done before and during the agreed-upon study time are not defined, it is likely that a study group will not be as productive as everyone would like. Some students may even feel like they are consistently doing more work and taking more responsibility than others.

Transitioning away from the uneven distribution of responsibility, study groups can also become demotivating and uncomfortable spaces if the communication patterns of the group are not monitored and facilitated. There are instances where students can be turned off by the way another student responds to them or even how they react about the activities being done (“this is way too easy!”). Both unfavorable communication patterns and discomfort in the group setting result from unclear expectations.

The success of any study group is dependent on clear expectations and everyone’s commitment to them. That’s why the work of facilitation and the role of the facilitator is so important. A facilitator with appropriate interpersonal skills is able to see, for example, the presence and quality of communication between each combination of individuals and to the whole group. Similarly, a facilitator can monitor the productivity of the study group and bring attention to any consistent patterns of poorly distributed work. From there, they can take the necessary steps to make changes in the moment and in the future!

Stay tuned for the next post in this series as we learn a lesson from Google about the two characteristics that every successful working group has!

By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Specialist

Making a Case for Study Groups: Gather Consistently


Monday, April 5, 2021

“I’ve tried studying with friends and classmates, but we wound up either socializing too much or getting into personality conflicts.”
“Yeah, I always wound up doing most of the work.”
“I prefer studying alone.”

Many students have been socialized to study in solitary ways. They enter college used to studying alone, and they continue to see study as a solitary activity. College students are expected to manage an enormous reading load, work through intricate quantitative problems, and remember complex concepts. Students who gather together consistently to review and actively engage the weeks’ lectures and readings, are more on top of the coursework and better able to remember the material.

Here’s why:

  • Study groups multiply your resources. A combination of observations and ideas means more resources to draw upon.
  • A more effective communicator is a more effective learner. Discussion presses us to clarify ideas, evaluate others’ ideas, and further develop them.
  • When working with a group, you internalize not only facts and concepts, but critical thinking skills as well. These skills become tools for higher order thinking (analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating).

While these are great reasons to start studying with a group, one of the foundations of a strong group study experience is the time spent creating a safe space. Stay tuned for the next installment of this series as we shed light on some common study group challenges!

Adapted from “Making The Most of Your Study Group”, WLRC, 2014

By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Specialist

Online Study Groups: A Quick Guide


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Making the adjustment to remote learning has not been easy. Even though our experiences may differ in significant ways, we all may feel a lack of motivation or loneliness at times. At the Weingarten Center, we are fortunate to have weekly meetings where we can maintain a connection with our colleagues and hold each other accountable. Given the circumstances, I would like to offer some advice for doing something similar: online study groups.

What You Need to Get Started

Before you start a study group session, it’s a good idea to lock down most of the logistics. A strong logistical foundation helps to keep the group moving!

  • Start your online study group with 3-5 people. A group of this size is easier to manage logistically and avoids the intimidation that we may experience in large groups.
  • Identify the online resource you will use for meeting together. You are welcome to use any video conferencing software you’d like, but BlueJeans, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams are popular choices.
  • Get organized virtually. We suggest keeping the contact information of your group members in a shared digital folder (OneDrive, Google Drive, etc.). This folder can also be used to store meeting notes, resources, and any products created in the study session.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of the time, location, and purpose of the study group. Since finals are just around the corner, your study group may decide to discuss practice problems or talk through important diagrams. Just remember to keep the sessions productive!

Now that we’ve covered the logistics, let’s move on to creating a safe space!

Developing a Good Group Dynamic

Part of developing a good group dynamic involves setting clear expectations about how the group interacts. When everyone is on the same page, we often feel more motivated to get to work! Here are a few tips:

  • Take some time to introduce yourselves and lighten the mood with an icebreaker or two. Even if finals are approaching, taking 10-15 minutes to shift the atmosphere can ease everyone’s nerves.
  • In order to create a safe space, spend some time creating a group contract that outlines the values of the group (being helpful, giving constructive feedback, respecting boundaries, etc.) and how to handle potential conflicts.
  • Create buy-in by including everyone on important decisions and through assigning roles. Some important roles are a group coordinator, note-taker, resource organizer, and discussion facilitator. The group coordinator sends emails and meeting invitations out and the resource organizer maintains the shared digital folder. Feel free to rotate these roles once the logstics are in place and allow everyone to pick a role that works for them. The bottom line is this: share responsibility.

Creating a Space for Learning

Once you all are clear on the expectations you have for each other, it’s time to create a space where learning can thrive! In a virtual environment, you may decide to get a little creative by using online applications like Coggle, BitPaper, and YouTube, but our advice below is still applicable:

  • Work with your group to develop a growth mindset toward your course material. The mindset of your study group is important for maintaining motivation as you work through course content. Even amidst the challenges, it’s important to think constructively about your course material.
  • Identify material that makes for good discussion. One of the benefits of study groups is the opportunity to check your understanding by talking to each other. Take some time to identify the concepts, relationships, or important equations in your course and discuss them together.
  • Choose study activities that will train higher order critical thinking skills. It’s likely that you will have to apply, analyze, and evaluate ideas on your exam, so practice these same thinking skills with your group. Annotating diagrams, explaining solutions, drawing concept maps, and creating study guides are great ways to improve your critical thinking skills! Feel free to get a little creative as well!

Final Thought: Social Accountability is Key

Aside from the opportunity you have to multiply your resources, develop higher order thinking skills, and become a more effective learner, study groups are great for maintaining a sense of connection with peers and for improving motivation. As long as the goals and expectations of the group are clear, every student is likely to achieve because they are heard, valued, and held accountable.

Feel free to talk with any of our learning instructors about how to get a study group started and work collaboratively toward your learning goals by calling us at 215-573-9235!

By Staff Writer: Gabriel Angrand, STEM Learning Instructor

Multiple Choice Exams: How to Prep


Sunday, April 19, 2020

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/.

Refresh Your Semester Plan and Stay Motivated


Friday, April 17, 2020

With the end of the Spring semester in sight for many Penn students, we’ve been hearing from a lot of you that it is hard to keep motivation high. First, the good news…you’re almost there! 

Even though graduation and other end-of-year celebrations won’t be in person this year, that doesn’t make your achievements any less remarkable. Repeat after me…I am doing an amazing job at a really tough time. 

On the other hand, the semester is not over. We know the last mile of any race can be the hardest. As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get through. You’ve got this.

When we are tired, burned out, and stressed, those steps turn into baby steps. And that’s okay. Pause for a minute, put both feet on the floor, and take three deep breaths. Next, take a moment to notice what’s around you. Is there a pile of papers or a collection of old coffee cups? Is your computer’s desktop cluttered with documents? Take a moment to organize your physical or digital learning space.

Once you are feeling a little more focused, it’s time to make a plan. Think about everything you need to get done by the end of the semester. During these times of transition, it can be helpful to make a little chart to keep track of how things are different. It feels good to have everything in one place. Yours could look something like this:

Now it’s time to take all of those larger assignments and break them into smaller pieces. Using a visual organizer tool like this one can be helpful. Don’t be afraid to break out the colored pens and pencils. You can find an electronic version of the planner along with some of our other favorite resources here.

“Focus on what you can control. Let go of what you cannot”

This is one of our favorite sayings, and it’s especially relevant right now. Anytime a thought pops up like “when will we return to normal,” or “I can’t study very well at home,” just say to yourself “can’t control,” and try to let it go. Going for walks and getting into a regular sleep routine also helps. Managing stress is a big part of productivity. If you’d like to check in about your stress or anxiety, CAPS is open for telehealth appointments.

Thinking about what you can control, what about…how you spend your days? You’ve broken down your big assignments. Now put them into your schedule. You can find our weekly planner here.

Remember, what worked for you before may not work now. Or, like going out to study, it might not be possible. You can do this. You are a living, breathing, human work in progress. Every day is a new day. Don’t forget: you’ve got this.

“Keep what’s working. Let go of what’s not. Adjust where you need to.”

Want to learn more about effective planning and preparation? Register for our upcoming virtual workshop, Succeeding with Final Exams, Papers, & Projects at Home:

Image of flyer for Succeeding with Final Exams, Papers, and Projects at Home virtual workshop

By Staff Writer: Jennifer Kobrin, Learning Fellow and current Ed.D. student in Reading/Writing/Literacy at PennGSE