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Office of Academic Assistance

Medical school is challenging – regardless of your individual talent, background and previous experience, or year in training.

For the first time in your academic career, you may be falling behind and struggling with performance on quizzes or shelf exams.  This may be attributed to various reasons:

  • Limited or no prior knowledge of the course material;
  • Being a non-science undergraduate major with minimal preparation in the basic sciences;
  • Difficulty understanding how knowledge is structured in a particular subject area or identifying relationships between major concepts;
  • Becoming lost in the details – unable “to see the forest for the trees”;
  • Having problems imposing meaningful organization of the material;
  • Test anxiety;
  • Poor test-taking strategies;
  • Little experience with the examination format;
  • Enormous time demands, especially during clinical service;
  • Study strategies successfully used as an undergraduate no longer lead to the same positive results.

 
So what can I do? 

 You can visit the Office of Academic Achievement (OAA), located in the Weill Greenberg Building, 1305 York Avenue, 10th FL (Clinical Skills Center), Room 10.03

 The OAA’s goal is to support student success by providing the resources necessary to improve academic performance. 

 The OAA is directed by an education specialist (Carol Capello, PhD), who is available to any student who would like to improve in study, test-taking, or time-management strategies.  You might simply be interested in creating a study plan for an exam, developing appropriate study strategies that match your preferred learning style, discussing test-taking strategies, or prioritizing tasks to reduce stress. 

 All self-referral visits to the OAA are strictly confidential. The Director of OAA has no influence on or role in the formal assessment of student performance or promotion decisions. The OAA’s primary goal is to provide support and help you succeed.

 How can I make a confidential appointment with the OAA Director?

  • Email Dr. Capello at cfc2002@med.cornell.edu or call her at 646-962-6508.
  • Except for special circumstances, appointments cannot be made that conflict with any course/unit activity (e.g., lectures, labs, small group sessions, etc.).
  • Stop by the OAA Office during scheduled office hours: 
    Wednesdays 2:00pm – 4:00pm
    Fridays 1:00pm – 3:00pm  

 Note: Although these are “open office hours,” you should contact Dr. Capello first to make sure she is not already meeting with another student at the time you are hoping to “drop by.”

 Might I be requested to visit the OAA?

 Course leadership, members of the Student Evaluation Committee (SEC), the Promotion and Graduation (P&G) Committee, the Dean of Academic Affairs, and/or the Dean of Student Affairs may refer students to the OAA for a variety of reasons:

  • Course average more than 1.5 standard deviation below the class mean in a foundational course;
  • Remediation of a unit in a foundational course;
  • Concern for future performance on upcoming shelf or Board exams;
  • Failure of a USMLE exam; or
  • Marginal grade in a clerkship due to failure of a shelf exam or poor clinical skills.

The OAA Director may also directly reach out to you if she notes that your quiz/test scores reflect academic difficulty.

 The OAA Director will then schedule an initial (and possible subsequent follow-up) meeting to assess your needs.  She may provide some basic study, test-taking, and time-management strategies, as appropriate.  She may also offer you the tutoring services of a Student Academic Advisor (SAA) (i.e., peer tutor) or refer you to the Clinical Skills Center for possible assistance in communicating with patients or writing notes and case logs. 

 If the Director identifies possible learning disabilities or other special needs, she will refer you to the Office of Student Affairs for further evaluation.

 How does peer tutoring work?

 The OAA has an extensive pool of available SAAs who are standing by to help you succeed. These peer tutors are either fourth-year students or MD/PhD students currently in their thesis laboratories.  All SAAs are in high academic standing, have a strong interest in teaching and working with other students, and have strong study habits and test-taking and time-management skills.

 SAAs serve as facilitators of the learning process, filling content gaps, as needed, and providing study strategies to help you learn, review and maintain course content; they also can help with time management and test-taking strategies (especially helpful for standardized exam preparation), with clinical reasoning, problem-solving, and communication skills, and with finding appropriate study resources.

 These peer tutors can help if you are either in “academic difficulty” or in generally good academic standing but just would like some help with specific content areas (e.g., doing problem sets in CTCS in EPOM).  Students experiencing greater difficulty in coursework, however, typically receive first priority for tutoring.

 SAAs are expected not to share any information with anyone other the Director of OAA about whom they advise or the content of the advising sessions.  They may reach out to course leadership for advice on specific content areas on which to focus but are not to make reference to the specific student with whom they work.

 The peer-tutoring program is intended to provide an additional level of one-on-one academic support outside the classroom.  You are also encouraged to proactively seek assistance from the unit/course director, faculty, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and/or your mentors/advisors as soon as any academic or non-academic concerns arise.

 SAAs are reimbursed for their time by the medical college; peer tutoring services are provided at no charge to advisees. 

 Peer tutoring sessions or any other contact with the OAA are not recorded on the advisee’s transcript.

 How can I find a peer tutor? 

If you would like to work with a SAA, you first must schedule an appointment with the OAA Director to discuss your academic needs.  She will then make every effort to match you with someone with expertise in the specific content and/or skill area in which you are requesting help and send an introductory email to you both.

 You will then be responsible to contact the assigned SAA via email (cc to the OAA Director) to set up the initial advising session. 

 Note:  If you are offered peer tutoring services, you are under no obligation to use them or may discontinue such services at any time.

 What are my responsibilities as an advisor (i.e., “ tutee”)?

  • Identify specific content areas and/or skills on which you would like to focus.  For example, you might struggle with rote memorization, organizing large amounts of information, understanding concepts, managing your study time, or clinically applying your knowledge base (shelf or Board exams, writing notes, presenting to the team).
  • Be committed to the learning process by coming prepared to each g session (e.g., bringing any assignments, questions, or materials agreed upon by you and the tutor).  Remember, your advisor is a student, too, and also has a busy schedule.
  • Never ask a peer tutor to do your work.
  • Contact the SAA as soon as possible if you anticipate being late for a session or need to cancel/reschedule.
  • Complete an electronic advisee summary within 24 hours following each session (https://weillcornell.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1BKeTNzuYlO3iBf)

 If you find the peer tutoring session(s) are not helpful and wish to discontinue them or be matched with another peer tutor, please contact the OAA Director directly. 

 How many peer tutoring sessions can I have? How long can each session be?

  • Scheduling is arranged between you and your peer tutor. 
  • There is no maximum number of sessions you may schedule nor a maximum time length for a session.

 How are tutors selected?

 The following students may be invited by the OAA Director to apply to be academic tutors:

  • AOA members
  • Other students in high academic standing
  • Clerkship Peer-to-Peer Mentors (CPPMs)
  • MD/PhD students currently in research years recommended by the Director of the Tri-Institutional MD/PhD Program
  • Students currently on research leave in the metropolitan area
  • Students with high performance on USMLE Step I
  • Students recommended by unit/clerkship directors due to their exceptional academic performance in that specific content area (including shelf exams)
  • Students enrolled in the Medical Education AOC
  • Self-referral (on an individual basis)

 

What are the “requirements” for being an SAA/ peer tutor?

  • Strong interest in education and teaching other students
  • Patience, empathy, and understanding
  • Dependability and punctuality
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills (listening, speaking, observing)
  • Good knowledge of the subject area
    • Peer tutors for the foundational courses should have successfully passed units in which they are tutoring;
    • Peer tutors for the clerkships should have received an H or HP in clerkship in which they are tutoring.
    • Before the first session,
      • Completes an application, indicating those courses/clerkships in which he/she would like to peer tutor and his/her monthly availability
      • Meets briefly with the OAA Director for a brief interview and a “basic training” session to reinforce or develop teaching skills and encourage “active learning” during tutoring sessions, as well as discussion of tutoring logistics (e.g., defining meeting time and location; what to discuss during the first session, etc.).
      • Contacts the OAA Director with any concerns that may arise regarding the tutored student’s progress/behavior.
      • Maintains confidentiality:  Does not share any information about whom he/she tutors or the content of the tutoring sessions with anyone other the Director of OAA.  A tutor may reach out to course leadership for advice on specific content areas on which to focus but without reference to the specific student being tutored.
      •  Completes an electronic advisor summary within 24 hours following each tutoring session (https://weillcornell.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bKI5bFwFZzy0NLf)

 

What is the role of an SAA/peer tutor?

  • Provides one-on-one “in-person” learner-centered sessions with the focus on the tutee.  “Digital” tutoring should be used sparingly.
  • Insists on and plans for learner (advisee/tutee) participation in every session.
  • Builds confidence and excitement to learn
  • Promotes independent, active learning (no lecturing of or doing the work for advisees/tutees)
  • Helps refine thinking processes and encourages use of new strategies
  • Shares tips and strategies for reviewing and understanding content, managing time, and preparing for and taking quizzes and/or standardized exams
  • Is supportive, encouraging, and demanding
  • Provides encouraging and constructive feedback
  • Is professional and respectful at all times (e.g., contacts advisee/tutee as soon as possible if anticipating arriving late for a session or needing to cancel/reschedule)

 

What are the benefits of peer tutoring?

  • Making a positive impact on the students you tutor, being instrumental in his/her academic skills and strategies
  • Reinforcing your basic science concepts, mechanisms, and principles and/or your critical thinking skills while helping your colleagues achieve those same goals.
  • Building personal confidence and interpersonal communication
  • Receiving compensation for your time

 

How does tutor reimbursement work?

  • Tutors are reimbursed $25 per each hour of face-to-face tutoring.
  • A small allowance may be paid for tutor preparation time.
  • Payment is processed after receipt of the electronic session summary.

Helpful Hints for Tutors

  • Email your advisee/tutee before the session for a list of topics or strategies he/she would like to cover (or determine this at the end of the previous session)
  • Do not lecture! Let the student lead the session
  • Teach by asking questions – when starting a topic, ask students to explain everything about that topic and then ask questions to guide them to what is relevant to know if they go into too much detail and fill in what they may have left out that is important for them to know.
  • Help your students practice integration and application of knowledge by utilizing MCQ (already published or self-created). Ask students to explain their thinking process as they are going through the question stem and then their reasoning behind their selected answer.  You can also use the other answer options as ways to initiate discussion about other aspects of that topic. 
  • Encourage tutees to conceptualize their understanding of basic science or clinical knowledge on paper or whiteboards 

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