East Carolina University
Department of Psychology


Study Tips for Students in PSYC 1000


    Why do so many students in PSYC 1000 perform poorly on course examinations? This question has been discussed at length by professors in the Department of Psychology. Among the answers proposed are the following:

    I shall address, in this document, the topic of how to study efficiently. My recommendations are based in large part on my own personal experiences as a student.

    Distributed Practice. Your study time should be distributed rather than massed. Suppose that you have four exams in a course that meets 42 times, one hour per meeting (as is the case in PSYC 1000 when taught on a MWF schedule in a 14 week semester). If the exams are spaced at equal intervals, and allowing for class meetings used to administer the exams, each exam will be based on about ten hours of class meetings. Each student should spend about 20 hours studying for each exam. The most efficient way to deploy those 20 hours would be to distribute them evenly across time -- that is, for 20 hours spread out across three weeks, six hours of study the first week, six hours the second week, and eight hours of study the week of the exam. Many students study little if any until the time of the exam nears and then they try to "cram" in all of their study in the last few days before the exam. This is grossly inefficient.

    Active and Constructive Studying.  New information is not easily acquired passively, like sponge soaking up water.  To promote better learning you need to be actively involved in your learning.  Do not just come to class and expect the professor's wisdom to magically be transferred to you without your becoming actively involved in your learning.  There are many ways to become an active learner.  Here I shall describe the general technique that has worked well for me.

    Between each class meeting and the next, the student should spend a couple of hours reading the text, going over lecture notes, and then organizing that material in a newly written document. I recommend that the student pretend that she has been called on to present a lecture on the topics that were covered in her last class. She then uses the text book, online lecture notes, and any notes taken in class to prepare the lecture that she would give. This activity can greatly help the student organize the material in her mind in a way that is understandable to her.

    Write Out Questions to Ask the Professor. While constructing your lectures for the course, you will probably have difficulty with some concepts that you feel you do not completely understand. When this happens, you should write out questions about the concepts that are giving you trouble and bring the written list of questions to the next class meeting. Most professors are more than happy to entertain well-asked questions in class. I recommend asking such questions at the beginning of the class period, before the professor has launched into the day's lecture. Don't be shy about asking a good question in a public setting -- the professor's response to your question will probably help not only you but the other students in the class too.

    The Night Before the Exam. If you have followed the advice above, you will have done almost all of the studying prior to the day before the exam. Any questions you had about the material will have already been addressed in class and you will have a well-constructed set of your own lecture notes. These notes can serve as a night-before-exam study guide. Read over your lecture notes the night before the exam, but do not stay up late cramming -- that will only result in your raising your anxiety level and shortening and disturbing your sleep, and you do not want to be taking an exam in a state of high anxiety and sleep deprivation. Do not be thinking that you can borrow another student's notes and study them the night before the exam instead of having made your own notes -- the primary value of these notes is that constructing them helps you organize the material in your own mind.

    Make Your Own Exam. It might be helpful to try writing exam questions yourself, in the same format used by your professor. If you can get a classmate or small group of classmates to join you in this exercise, you can exchange questions, answer them, and then grade yourself.

    Text Publisher Study Materials. Your textbook comes with a CD that includes a variety of exercises designed to help you learn the material. Additional materials are located on the publisher's web page for the text. Take advantage of these materials.

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This page most recently revised on 8. July 2011.