Certain approaches to studying may be of special help to the student of psychology.
Check yourself: Are you practicing the skills on this page?
Bring a notebook to each class and take notes. Do not try to write down everything that is said. Instead, write down what seem to you to be the crucial points. Because definitions and terms are crucial for learning the subject matter of psychology, write these down.
Remember to think about what is said. Study, rewrite, and reorganize your notes as soon after class as possible. A photograph of the board does not equal taking good notes. You are better than a camera.
Participate. Ask and answer questions. Check to make sure you understand. Give examples. Think of applications and implications, and talk about these. Active learning is superior to passive learning.
Learning the subject matter of psychology requires learning the vocabulary of the field. Know definitions for terms: neuron, hypothalamus, libido, unconscious, ego, schema, cognitive map, operant, respondent, archetype, operational definition, or dependent variable.
After you have finished reading a chapter, make 3x5 flash cards for testing yourself, with a term on one side of the card and its definition and comments about it on the reverse side. Test yourself with these cards.
1. Use mnemonics for memorizing. A mnemonic is a shortcut that helps you store and retrieve a memory. One mnemonic, for example, uses the initials of important concepts to make a word or sentence to remind you of the concepts.
Example. Memorize “FPOT" to remember the four lobes of the cerebral cortex—
Example. Make up a word such as “EaSieR" to remember the three processes of memory—
2. Use the word roots of English words for memorizing. Learn the difference between conscious, preconscious, and unconscious, for example, by knowing that pre = before and un = not.
Example. If soma means body then—
- What part of a cell is the cell's soma?
- What does the somatosensory cortex of the brain control?
- What do the mental disorders called "somatoform disorders" have in common?
1. Read each chapter of the textbook. Then re-read it. Scanning a page with your eyeballs is not the same as processing the information. Don't use shortcuts, such as surfing the Web, as a substitute for reading and studying. Read, read, read.
2. Read according to the reading schedule. Much research in psychology shows that distributed practice (spreading out your study) is superior to massed practice (cramming).
3. As you read, underline, highlight, or mark important words, concepts, and principles. Look for terms (especially those in bold or italic print) and circle them. Don't be satisfied with clean, white pages of a chapter after you have studied it.
4. Make your own notes in the margins of the textbook. The principle you want to practice is this: Active learning is superior to passive learning.
5. After you have finished reading a chapter, make your own outline of it. Begin with the Outline found at the front of the chapter in the textbook, and elaborate on this by adding greater detail.
6. After you have finished reading a chapter, review it by reading the Outline at the front of the chapter and the Summary at the end (if your text has these). Check off each item that you understand. Re-read what you do not understand or remember well.
7. If your textbook has a Study Guide to accompany it, use it. Read and underline or mark it. Fill in the blanks in the exercises—actually write in the answers rather than simply thinking that you know them. Answer the test questions on each chapter.
A common reaction among Psychology 120 students is this: “This text contains a huge amount of material. Which will I be tested on?” Though I understand feeling overwhelmed by the quantity of material in an Introductory Psychology text, the short answer to this question is, “You are responsible for everything in the text.” To cope with the large amount of material to be learned, I recommend that you develop your own system for marking the text. In this section I describe a marking system I have found helpful.
Think of yourself as trying to develop two skills:
1. Rank the importance of the ideas from most important to least important. You are far more likely to be tested on highly important ideas than less important ideas. To rank ideas, you cannot casually read the text. You must study it. I recommend using a felt tip highlighter and an ink pen.
2. Organize the material you are reading.
How do you decide what is most important? Use the following guidelines:
1. Vocabulary is most important. The text identifies the most important vocabulary in two ways—
- Terms are marked in bold print;
- Terms are listed and defined in a running glossary in the margin of each page.
2. Less important terms or ideas are marked in italics.
3. Mark ideas this way:
- Mark highly important ideas with the broad edge of the highlighter;
- When the idea is a vocabulary term, in addition to highlighting it with the broad edge of the highlighter, circle the term and underline its definition with your pen;
- Mark less important ideas with the narrow edge of the highlighter;
- Mark least important ideas by underlining them with the pen alone.
4. Now when you review the chapter after marking it, your eyes will be drawn to vocabulary and definitions first, highly important material second, less important material third, and least important material last.
Use the following guidelines in organizing the material:
1. When the text lists material (especially under headings), number each item.
2. Study the Tables in each chapter. When a Table is a review, number each item in the Table.
3. Study the Outline at the beginning of each chapter.
4. Study the Summary and the Review of Key Terms at the end of each chapter.
5. Test yourself by taking the Multiple Choice Quiz at the end of each chapter. Check your answers (they are found at the end of the text).
The video below illustrates how I mark a psychology textbook. Note that this takes time and effort. It is not casual “reading.” With each new use of the highlighter or pen you are making yourself re-read the material. Ranking the importance of the material forces you to think about it.