The Final Step That Almost No One Takes


Our brains are leaky, cheap, plastic buckets! Sucks, I know. Mine is worse than most, but focused reflection, "debriefing", has been working wonders for me. I wrote this as an exercise for students finishing a semester, but it applies to any life experience. We spend an immense amount of time and energy on things, but in our rush to get to the next, we don't let our learnings sink in. At the end of an experience, invest a bit of time in summarizing the key things you learned, what went well, what didn't, and how you'd improve next time. Write the stuff down, "explain" the concepts to an imaginary audience. You'll have new insights and you'll remember things much better.

An example is reading books (or textbooks, hint hint). I used to read a book and eagerly jump into the next. Info in, never use it, info gone. Was the reading still good for me? For sure, but far less so than it could've been. These days, I underline passages and take margin notes, and a couple weeks after finishing the book, I'll copy those quotes into my own doc. I'll paraphrase each passage, drawing what connections I can to real life ("active learning" like this helps with retention). I legitimately think this 2-3 hours extra doubles the gains I get from a book.

This practice can, and should, be applied everywhere. Do it after traveling to Thailand, after finishing your DIY bookshelf, after your summer internship or leaving your job. After a breakup. Whatever. Spend a bit of time to reflect and you'll see immediate payoff - the experience is wrapped up nicely in your head, you grasp new and interesting takeaways, and perhaps most importantly, you'll do better on similar experiences in the future. 


Sandra's 5 Tips For Finals Victory


I wanted to share some quick tips that Sandra, one of our operations leads + current Ohio State student, sent me for finals. Hope they help you through the chaos!


Make a Plan

I basically live for checking off to-do lists. When dreaded finals season arrives, things can get overwhelming, so I like to create a schedule with specific tasks to check off. These help you know you're on pace. As soon as you can (ideally a week before a test) sit down and map out what material you'll study and how long you'll study it [check out the magic of prioritizing for more convincing]. Start early and you'll thank yourself later - get some planning in.

No Social Media

I am SO bad about this one. The classic "I'll just take 10 quick Instagram minutes" will quickly turn into 35... might as well round up to 40 on Snap... then you're suddenly in the Youtube black hole until morning. What?? Honestly, just lock it all up and throw away the key. Or if you don't have the discipline, get something like the SelfControl app to do it for you. Life saver.

Cheat Sheets to the Resque

Maybe your professor doesn't even allow one, but try making it anyways. I've found it's a quality way to review, forcing you to map out the key bits of knowledge for success.

Study Before You Hit the Hay

I've tested this out myself and I'm a believer. The key is to study literally right before you go to bed. Research has shown that this increases the amount of info you retain. As a side note, make sure to get enough sleep in general. Sleep seems like a time waster, but that's when your brain consolidates info, and sleep is key to performance the next day (test taking or more studying).

Review... While You Review

I tend to forget things pretty quickly. And lot's of you are like me, let's be real. I've found it very helpful to do review sessions within my study period to help cement the knowledge. For example, while reviewing for your math exam, after every 30 minutes or so, review the material you just looked at before continuing on. Extremely useful. [Ben comment: yes yes and yes. Even better, try to summarize the key things you learned on a piece of paper in simple language. If you can't reproduce it 30 minutes after learning it, good luck on your test.]

And most of all, don't freak out! It's not the end of the world if one goes bad. Just keep up the hard work and all will end up fine.

Sandra Aleksova
Operations Lead, Penji


How You Should Deal With Failures


Whenever you try something new or hard, you'll inevitably have some failure along the way. There is no person on earth who doesn't. Most people can't deal... they don't want to go through those tough points. They don't want to feel like they suck. But there is a mental shift that's key to helping you take the dive and make quick progress.

In the end, it's about enjoying and appreciating the failures along the way. Every success comes with failure, wins come with losses, so that means you can view a failure (an awkward interaction, a bombed test, a breakup, a terrible blog post... hehe) as a success in it's own right. Each time you fail, you can say, "Hey, I just took another step towards being good at this". The more failures you rack up, the closer you are to your goal. Measure yourself by the amount of times you've failed. Go out there and mess up. 

Before I started writing this post, I was thinking "I shouldn't write right now because I'm not in a great mood and it will suck." But even if it does suck, that's a sign of progress, that's an acceptable outcome, that helps me to be a better writer. And in this case, I actually don't think it sucked... right? Ha.

So take your lumps. You're going to get beat up by school, jobs, life, but that's part of the process so don't shy away.


Study Tip: The Magic of Prioritizing

You hear it left and right - "hard work pays off"... but there's a missing piece to that statement. How about "hard work pays off... if you're working on the right stuff."

Let's use tests as a very relevant example. Each test will have a percentage breakdown of topics, and there are clues to help you sniff that out (the practice test, the breakdown of lectures, professor's statements). Your first midterm in calculus might be 70% on limits and 30% on derivatives. This breakdown should guide the study time devoted to each topic. In this case, you can accept less confidence on derivatives (30%) in exchange for high confidence on limits (70%). "But derivatives give me nightmares! I need to study these becuase they are new and scary!" Trust me, I get it. But in this 70-30 case, doing a great job on limits and a bad job on derivatives is better than a mediocre job on both. Be rational rather than emotional about the way you spend your time studying.


This comes down to the concept of leverage. Each hour of time spent has a certain leverage, or influence on a desired result. Quite often it can feel like you are being productive because you are working, but those hours spent have little impact on the result, ie low leverage. Studying content which make up a big part of your test has high leverage.

In practice, I recommend that before you embark on any big effort (studying for your calc 1 exam, for example), you devote at least 30 minutes to planning that effort out. That time you invested will be worth it 10 times over. So many people just dive right in, and realize afterward that many hours were wasted on things that didn't end up being important.

Keep it up young penguins.

Ben Holmquist
Penji Socials: Facebook | Instagram

Study Tip: Retaining What You Learn

The way college teaches us to learn is a bit backwards - check out this diagram:


This is based on research by the National Training Laboratory, stating that lecture and other "passive" learning methods lead to low retention, while teaching or actively engaging with material leads to high retention.

There's controversy surrounding this diagram, and rightly so - you can't assign a one-size fits all "retention" metric, and you can't teach something you haven't first learned elsewhere, but I firmly believe the foundation is correct. Teaching encourages deep understanding and ties content to a new brain activity focused on output rather than input. So while you always must start with lecture or a textbook, be conscious to begin actively engaging with the material as quickly as possible. Discuss it with friends, do fresh practice problems with no guidance, or best of all teach others who don't get it.

The Feynman Technique is a practical framework for creating active engagement - it's one of Alex's tips mentioned in our college success handbook. Write the concept on a piece of paper as if you're explaining the concept to a layman. Even better than this is teaching it to another classmate who's struggling. Don't worry if you don't get it fully yourself, just try to help them. The act of putting the content into words will help you retain it in the future. 

Remember this pyramid when you're studying, and try to align with the highest rates of retention! Lecture or a read through alone is definitely not enough. Reproduce the material in various ways, on your own, and you'll see a big impact on grades.