Study Tips for Psychology
(and other courses)

by Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D. and Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D.

1.  Studying is not the same as reading!   

Studying and reading are not the same. We read novels, but we have to study textbooks and journal articles. Writing assigned for class is often dense and introduces a lot of new material - without having great plots or characters. Thus, while reading is an important first step, it won't usually transfer the new information into your long-term memory. To do that, you have to apply ACTIVE strategies to learn the material in the book. We've listed several sample strategies below. Your friends or classmates might have others they can share with you.


2. Study for RECALL rather than RECOGNITION

When you take a “fill in the blank” or essay exam, you are recalling information that you learned - or pulling it out of your memory with no assistance. When you are given “multiple choices” to choose from, you are trying to recognize the correct answer among several possibilities. Most people study differently for these types of exams, thinking they need to only familiarize themselves with information for multiple choice exams. However, professors know this, and create choices that all look “familiar.” Don’t fall for this trap! Study for RECALL every time. This means that you should be able to know the answers without any prompts or hints - right "off the top of your head". When taking the exam, to prevent the other choices from misleading you, jot down the correct answer BEFORE you look at the available choices. Then, you can MATCH your answer with the closest one provided by the multiple choices.

3.  During class, write down more than meets the eye

During the lecture, you should be writing down more than what you see on the screen. For instance, what I include in my Powerpoint slides is just the "skeleton outline" of the material you will need to know. You should write something in your own words about each piece of information visually provided by the professor - and jot down any examples the professor gives. It is also good practice, within 24 hrs of the lecture, to quickly look over your notes and expand on anything that you wrote down in haste that might not make sense when you look at it two weeks later.

4.  Protect your study-time

Most of us are very good at observing other people’s boundaries. We make appointments to talk to our bosses, visit our professors during office hours, and do not expect office assistants to give back our exams during their lunch time. Yet, we do not give the same respect to ourselves during study time! We allow phone calls, friends, TV shows, noise, and other people’s needs to interfere with one of our most important tasks in college. Protect your study time by making firm and clear “do not disturb” boundaries around it - or by going to a private place where you can concentrate for several hours at a time. Of course, online activities can be just as distracting. Consider disconnecting from the internet or downloading an app that will temporarily shut off internet access so that you can better focus on the task at hand.

5. Study in 45-minute chunks

Research has shown that concentration, comprehension, and memory progressively decreases after 45 minutes of solid studying. If you want to study smarter, take a 15 minute break every 45 minutes, during which time you stretch your muscles by walking around and rest your eyes and mind.

6. Keep up with the text

You can remember and learn a lot more information by reading and reviewing information every week than by cramming before an exam. Our long term memory is enhanced when we think and process information a little bit at a time, rather than shoving in a lot of unfamiliar details at once. Also, reviewing something familiar enhances "relearning", which helps move information into long-term memory storage. Keep up with your readings, even if it's just to skim the main ideas or summary of each chapter before or after the lecture.

7. Feed your brain


The rows of the table are basic questions you design to test your knowledge of major concepts.
The columns are the concepts themselves.

Below is an example of a table you could have used to study two different concepts in Social Psychology. We included only two topics, but your table could have as many columns as you think are relevant. The goal is to spontaneously generate as much information for each cell as you can, without looking at your text or notes. Then, you check your notes and text to see if you forgot anything. This way of studying really helps people learn information well, regardless of how questions are phrased on an exam.

Conformity Bystander Effect
What is it? Define it. When you do what other people are doing, even if you know inside its wrong. It's like peer pressure. When a lot of people witness an emergency and no one helps - like Kitty Genovese!
What increases it? or What makes it happen more often? - everyone else does it (no dissent)
- more people - up to 7
- the situation is ambiguous
- if you have low confidence in yourself
- if you are from a culture that really values it (like Japan)
- Larger amount of witnesses
- When people are confused whether or not its an emergency
- When people don't know what to do or how to help
- When people don't trust their own judgments like lack of confidence
What decreases it? or What makes it happen less often? - if there is even one person dissenting (ally)
- fewer number of people there
- the situation is pretty clearly wrong
- your values are strongly against it
- if you are from a more individualistic culture (like U.S.)
- small amount of witnesses
- you have emergency training
- the situation is totally clear
- you have confidence in your judgment
- you have learned about bystander effect!
Why does it occur? or What makes it happen? - people want to feel like they fit in
- people question themselves (maybe I'm wrong?)
- people are embarrassed to stand out
- people are afraid to make a mistake and look to others for answers
- diffusion of responsibility - like each person thinks someone else will take care of it
- social loafing - like each person feels like they don't have to do as much when there are others around
- fear
- confusion
- they are distracted and don't notice
What are some real-life applications of this research or theory? - helps us understand why people join gangs and even cults
- contributes to understanding of obedience
- helps us understand why individuals do bad things as part of a group (like looting and destroying property)
- helps us understand peer pressure with drugs, sex, and even juries!
- helps us understand and work to prevent people doing nothing in emergency situations
- we can increase awareness in people so they take responsibility and act
- helps us understand that situations are very powerful, not just individuals

Do you have a great study tip you want to share with your classmates?
Send it to and it might get posted on this website.