November 24, 2020

How to Study Psychology Effectively

by | Nov 24, 2020 | Other

Psychology is one of the most common and most rewarding majors in America. However, the course load can feel overwhelming, so it’s crucial to effectively use your time when you’re studying. The good news is that you have more than four years to find the best way to learn.

There’s no need to perfect your studying habits right away. Your studying habits will likely evolve as you advance into higher-level psychology classes. There is plenty of time for trial and error, but these tips will help you get into a routine of studying psychology productively.

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The Pomodoro Technique for Studying

Take Interesting Electives

If you’re in a psychology program, you’ll have the option to choose electives. Usually, it’s easier to perform better in school when you’re doing something you enjoy, so choose a diverse range of subjects. Not only does this help you have a well-rounded education, but it also enables you to avoid feeling burnt out in psychology classes. 

Some electives that might benefit you include:

  • Foreign Languages.
  • Human Development.
  • Health Sciences.
  • Sex, Evolution, and Human Behavior.
  • Communications.
  • Criminal Justice.
  • Social Work.
  • Public Affairs.
  • Women’s and Gender Studies. 
  • Anthropology. 

As a psychology major, you’ll be helping people from all different walks of life. Taking diverse classes can help you understand these types of people and the systems that are already in place to help them.

Be an Active Listener in Class

While you’re in class, it might be easy to zone out or doze off during a lecture. This can happen if you’re feeling tired or bored. It can also occur if an instructor doesn’t engage well with the class. 

No matter the issue, it will help you substantially more to participate in class as an active listener. Have a designated folder for your class notes, and keep it organized so all the subjects are easy to navigate. Organized notes are an essential facet of effective studying. 

A good rule of thumb is that if the instructor writes something down on the board or slides, it will probably appear on a test later. Make sure you write those things down. You don’t need to write down everything they say, but keeping your notes organized helps with memorization. Write down key points and write legibly so you can use your notes to study. 

During class, make sure you pay attention. If there’s a group discussion, get involved by offering your thoughts and adding to the conversation. Sitting in the front or center of the room encourages active listening and participation. This strategy also helps the professor recognize you and your efforts to be an active listener. If you’re confused or unsure about a topic, write your question down until it’s appropriate to ask. 

Form Study Groups

Study groups have academic and social benefits. Reach out to other people in your classes and form a small group. Typically, an effective study group consists of three and six people. Too many people can become distracting and cause you to lose focus. 

In a study group, you can exchange notes, quiz each other, and share study material. This method is a great way to continue challenging yourself and to review topics discussed in class. With a group, you can also hold each other accountable for attending class and studying the material.

Aside from the obvious academic benefits, forming a study group also has social benefits. As you talk about the subjects you’re studying, you can form friendships. You’re surrounded by like-minded students. This can help build your professional network. 

Balancing a healthy social life is an integral part of your education. It positively affects your mental health to have a support system and social circle, especially with people in the same life stage as you.

If you don’t want to form your own study group, see if the professor or teacher’s assistant hosts study sessions or review sessions. No matter what, participation in group discussions will help you effectively retain knowledge. 

Ask Critical Questions

In your psychology classes, you’ll likely need to become comfortable with asking questions. If you’re confused about a topic, don’t be nervous to ask for clarity. Your professors want you to understand the material and likely appreciate your participation and efforts to succeed. 

As questions arise during class, jot them down in your notes. If there isn’t an appropriate time to ask questions during the class, approach the teacher afterward. Asking questions will help you and your classmates retain the information. It also demonstrates that you pay attention to detail.

As you do your homework and study the material in between classes, be mindful of any confusing topics you come across. If you are unsure about something in your coursework, mark that in your notes. Then reach out to your professor through email or before the next class. 

Asking questions helps you avoid simply memorizing the information. You retain knowledge better if you process and understand the material. This mindset will also help you apply the information as your psychology career advances. 

Gain Real-World Experience

While focusing on your psychology classes should be your priority, it’s also essential to gain real-world experience. You can obtain these opportunities through internships, shadowing, and volunteering. These experiences will help you get a more well-rounded education. 

Sometimes, clinical experience is necessary for grad school applications. Schools want to know that you have applied your psychology study to good use. They also desire competitive candidates that will succeed in their rigorous programs. Having ample experience can set you apart from other applicants.

In regards to your psychology courses, the real-world experience will help you academically succeed. You can actively apply the information you’re studying in class, which will help you retain the knowledge. 

Your experience can also help you perform better on tests. Sometimes in psychology classes, the tests will prompt you to give real-world examples. If you have the first-hand experience with some of those examples, you’ll be able to draw upon it. 

Read More Than the Recommended Textbooks

Your psychology professors will require certain textbooks for a class, but you should also read more than those books. If a particular topic interests you, take the time to engage in your own research. With information being so readily accessible, there is no shortage of opportunities to learn. 


You can find helpful videos about psychology on YouTube. Some popular options are Crash Course or TED talks. The Khan Academy or Clips for Class are also vast resources of psychology study material. 

Mainstream streaming services also offer plenty of videos related to psychology. Check out Netflix, Hulu, or your other favorite service. 


Podcasts are an excellent option for people who are auditory learners. There are dozens of podcasts online that you can download on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Stitcher. Podcasts are great if you have a long commute to campus or need something to listen to while you work out.

Psychology podcast topics include forensic psychology, mental health, neuroscience, history of psychology, and general psychology. Some popular shows include Personality Hacker, Brain Science, or This Week in the History of Psychology.

Textbook Resources

Additionally, look into the study resources that accompany the required reading. Textbooks often come with study resources like extra reading, practice exam questions, online lab activities, real-life examples, and practice exercises. These resources are helpful for people who prefer hands-on learning. 

Doing your own research will help you study and give you other perspectives outside of the class textbook. If you’re not the kind of person who learns well by reading, these ideas could help you process and learn new information more efficiently. 

Get Enough Sleep

Even though this happens outside of class, it’s still an essential part of studying psychology effectively. Getting enough sleep ensures you’re rested and have the energy to learn. It also improves your cognitive functioning, ensuring you’re at your best. Professionals suggest anywhere from six to nine hours per night. 

A good night’s sleep keeps you sharp and focused. It relieves stress and allows your body time to heal. As you sleep, your brain consolidates and processes your memories, including the studying you did that day.

If you struggle to sleep, try putting away your electronics at least an hour before bed. Limit your caffeine intake during the day, but especially during the afternoons and evenings. If you struggle with falling asleep, try a relaxation technique beforehand like yoga or meditation.

It may also help to have a consistent nighttime routine or use a weighted blanket. If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, try to reduce your liquid intake before bed. 

Practice a Healthy Lifestyle

If you want to study well, you should practice an overall healthy lifestyle. Make a schedule for yourself to allow yourself time for studying, classes, extracurricular, and self-care. 

Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and protein. When possible, try to avoid fast food or junk food. You can do this by meal prepping at the beginning of every week. Planning this ahead of time means there’s less to worry about during your busy week, so you’re less likely to cave and get something sugary that slows you down. 

If you feel bored or overwhelmed by cooking, try new recipes to spark creativity. You could also turn it into a social event by cooking with your friends. Socializing relieves stress and is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle.

Outside of nutrition, physical activity is also vital to your mental and physical health. If you’re in the middle of a study break, take a walk around the block or do some yoga stretches. Look into your campus recreation center to see if they have any group fitness classes or personal trainers. Participating in physical activities can also be a great social outlet. 

Remember, you’re studying psychology to help people with their health. If you’re not practicing a healthy lifestyle, you might feel burnt out when assisting others with theirs. Start healthy habits now so you can do well in your psychology career. 

Don’t Cram

In your psychology program, you might feel tempted to procrastinate your homework and studying, but this will only hurt your progress. Your long-term memory works best when you process small chunks of information at a time. Start studying and reviewing your material each day- rather than all at once. 

Stay organized by using a planner or an app on your phone. Designate specific times during the week to focus on certain subjects. Spread these times out to avoid fatigue and to avoid cramming the night before a test or quiz. Instead, use the day before to review and rest.

There are several different ways to organize your study routine. It depends on how comfortable you already are with the material and how heavy the workload is. 

Most schools suggest one to two hours of studying per hour that you spend in class, but this could vary on the subject matter. You could organize your studying by topic and choose a certain amount to review each day. Establish a routine and stick to it. Don’t forget to build in some extra time to spend on more difficult topics. 

Once you determine your routine, decide how you will study. You can make flashcards, study guides, and practice tests. Bring these materials to your study group sessions and quiz each other.

When sitting down to study, make a list of topics or chapters you need to cover. Study the most challenging material first so your mind is fresh, and you have enough energy to tackle the subject.

Keep a Positive Attitude 

Mindset is vital, especially while you’re in school to study psychology. If you struggle with negative thoughts or feeling overwhelmed, be sure to practice self-care and compassion. Keep a gratitude journal, speak to a loved one, and use your time wisely. 

Be proud of yourself and the work you’re doing to make the world a better place.

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Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

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