Study Tips

Social Psychology
Spring 2003


Here are some ideas that should help you improve your performance in class. They are based on experiences with past classes.

Take good notes during the lecture: You need to make sure that you have a good record of what was discussed in class in order to study. However, you don't need to write down every single word I say. How do you decide what to put in your notes? First, use the outline that I put in class each day to guide you in differentiating major from minor topics. Also, note how long I talk about a topic. More talking = more importance. Finally, if I take the time to put a definition or idea up on an overhead, it is a good hint that it's important.

Engage in elaborative encoding: Research shows that information is more memorable if you make it meaningful. It is especially memorable if you make it personally relevant (the reason for this should become clear when we talk about the self in class). This means you cannot be a passive reader or listener in this class. You have to act on the information you are receiving. One easy way to do this is to put things into your own words. Don't just copy what the book says or copy my overheads. My lecture outlines are telegraphic -- they do not contain all the important details needed for complete understanding. I do this on purpose to prevent people from mindlessly copying down the overheads (and because it would be too overwhelming to put up overheads of long paragraphs of text). You have to listen to what I am saying and put this more detailed information into your own words. Also, recognize that the examples and demonstrations we do in class are opportunities for elaborative encoding because they give you first hand experience with a concept. Don't waste this valuable time talking to a friend in class.

Encode the information in lots of different ways: Psychology studies also show that variability in how the information is encoded makes it more memorable. Each time you study the information, study it from a different perspective. Among the many sources and different perspectives in this class are (a) the textbook, (b) notes you take from the textbook, (c) what you hear and see in lecture, (d) the notes you take from lecture, and (e) the outlines on the web. Working with a study group is another good way to add variety.

Notice that the recommendation to encode information in variable ways implies that you have to study the information more than once. No, you cannot master the material in this class by simply hearing or reading it once. You have to study it multiple times in multiple ways.

Make sure you can explain the difference between similar concepts and ideas. Pay special attention to differing theories that address the same topic. Can you explain the ways in which they are similar and different? Getting confused between similar ideas is the biggest problem students have on the exams.

Recognize that psychology is a science and study accordingly: The empirical nature of psychology means that you will need to understand not just a simple definition of a concept, but also how it is that we came to think this is a good explanation of some phenomenon. Experimentation provides us with this information, so you will need to think about the experiments we go over in class and how they help us to test competing hypotheses and come up with a theory of how something works. In other words, you need to go beyond memorizing definitions and understand how and why the experiments we discuss are relevant. (But, remember that you will not need to know information like the authors, date, or sample size – focus instead on the general idea of what was done, what was found and what this tells about the phenomenon under study.)

Social psychology can "feel" really easy, but this does not you do not have to study! The great thing about social psychology is the applicability to the topics we will discuss. You will all have tons of experience with the topics we study. This can sometimes lead people to think all we're talking about is common sense, and that you do not need to study. But see point 5. You need to understand the research-basis of the ideas we discuss. Also, there will be times for each of you when the results of a study contradict your common sense or personal experience, so you cannot simply rely on personal experience when you take the tests.

Do all the work: I know this is sort of a "duh" item, but it needs to be said. Plan to attend class, do the readings, keep on top of assignments, etc. I know you have other things going on in your life, but in order to get a top grade, you may need to make compromises and put your class work first.

Do not cram!!! Psychology studies consistently show that multiple study sessions that are spaced out (e.g., studying 1 hour on each of 3 days) is much more effective than doing 1 long study session (e.g., 1 study session of 3 hours). Having a regularly scheduled time for studying can help you avoid getting behind and feeling like you have to cram.

Get to know your classmates: Having someone to study with can make the class more fun. Talking over material and studying together is also a good check on whether you are taking accurate notes and understanding the material correctly. Finally, knowing someone is a good way to get notes should you have to miss a class.

Copy down and study the lecture outlines: Use them to organize the information you are learning, to tell you what the main points are, what the sub-points are, what ideas are related to each other, etc.

Reward yourself: Yea, this is a long list of advice, so you need to remember the importance of balance in life. If you work hard, be sure to reward yourself with fun activities that leave you refreshed and better able to approach your work in the future.

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