Psychology is one of the most widely-studied sciences around the world. Research shows that every year, nearly 1.5 million undergraduates take introductory psychology courses. In addition, as of 2017, psychology is the fourth most popular college major.
Studying psychology provides a deep and unique understanding of human behavior. Depending on your goals, it can also open doors to several professional career paths. That said, it’s important to know how to study this science correctly. Here are some tips.
Effective studying requires having an effective plan. You want to give yourself enough time to understand the material and prepare for assignments accordingly.
It’s important to develop some kind of organizational system. Some people prefer using a traditional paper planner or notebook. Others favor digital methods, like synced calendars or specific apps.
Whatever method you decide to use, commitment is key. You need to discipline yourself to consistently write down tasks and deadlines. This isn’t just important for your psychology coursework- it’s crucial for all appointments and requirements in your life.
If you have a jam-packed schedule (as so many students do), knowing what each day and week will bring can help you feel more prepared.
Take Effective Notes
Even if you have an excellent memory, it’s often necessary to document what you learn in class as you learn it in real-time. This is especially true if you have a full course load or if your professor gives frequent exams.
First, pinpoint your strategy. Will you be typing notes on your laptop or tablet? Or will you be writing them down in a designated notebook? Like with most study strategies, committing to your method is often more important than the method itself.
Ideally, you should keep your notes concise and meaningful. If your professor repeats something, that probably means it’s important. If they specify that something will be on the exam, make sure to highlight or otherwise mark its significance.
Before classes begin, you might consider asking your instructor if you can record their lectures. This method tends to be helpful for revisiting important information. If you feel confused about a topic, listening to it again may offer more clarity.
Although many people consider themselves excellent multitaskers, we aren’t wired this way. We learn and retain information far more effectively when we eliminate distractions.
When you’re in class (or just studying), try to take this mindset to heart. Put your phone in the other room or turn it on silent. Avoid studying in a crowded area where you might be easily distracted by different stimuli. Turn off the TV or radio.
When you’re in class, try to stay fully present during lectures. Many students find that sitting in the front of the classroom helps them achieve this goal.
Psychology is all about curiosity. Human behavior is complex, and psychology experts constantly challenge, evaluate, and reassess theories to better understand how people work.
Ideally, this curious mindset starts from the beginning. No matter where you are in your learning journey, don’t assume you know everything. In addition, just because one book or theorist postulates an idea, don’t take it at total face value. As you will learn, nearly everything can be analyzed!
More importantly, curiosity tends to lend a hand to critical thinking. Critical thinking refers to intentional and skillful conceptualization. It means integrating data from a variety of sources to form intelligent conclusions.
Psychology experts use critical thinking in nearly every part of their work. By laying the foundation for this practice now, you’ll feel more prepared for your future endeavors.
Embrace Non-Classroom Learning
Most psychology is interactive and hands-on. Textbooks and lectures are important, but truly integrating this information into your life (or career) requires actual practice.
You can embrace non-classroom learning methods in numerous ways. For example, you might start working part-time in a helping profession. Or, you could consider seeing if you’re eligible for any psychology-related internships.
Likewise, many students gain practical experience through specific fieldwork or research. If you’re studying at a major university, there’s a good chance you can sign up for these opportunities under supervision. You may even be eligible for course credits.
Finally, don’t overlook the importance of your own psychology. Seeking individual therapy is a great way to learn more about yourself and your patterns. It can also help you feel more confident as you navigate your education.
Avoid Simply Memorizing
As mentioned, psychology is all about curiosity and critical thinking. While memorizing some concepts may be important, only memorizing will seriously limit your retention.
Instead, aim to think about how concepts connect and why they are relevant. Many psychological themes have patterns. Understanding them- and reviewing why they exist- can help you identify important areas of interest.
In other words, instead of just memorizing a concept, keep asking yourself, why do I need to learn this concept? The “why” often reveals other crucial themes relevant to the topic.
Teach What You Learn
Research shows that teaching (or even pretending to teach) is one of the most effective ways to retain information. This phenomenon is known as the protégé effect, and engaging in it can help you study psychology better.
The premise is simple. Explaining new concepts to others cements the knowledge to yourself. Furthermore, if you know you have to teach something, you may be more present and engaged when learning the information. You will likely feel more motivated to understand and integrate it.
You can engage in the protégé effect by:
- Teaching the concepts to other class members or friends
- Offering to tutor other students
- Simply explaining a concept aloud to yourself
- Writing down how a concept works as if you are presenting an article to someone else
Limit or Avoid Cramming
If you’ve ever crammed an entire semester’s worth of material into one night, you’re not alone. Most students are guilty of this procrastination, and a one-off, all-nighter may be necessary for acing an exam.
But consistently cramming information is far from ideal. It takes away from truly absorbing crucial information. Likewise, it adds excess stress and sleep deprivation, both of which can affect your performance the next day.
Instead, try to plan well in advance for how and when you will study. It’s much better to schedule smaller study sessions over the course of several days or weeks.
Marathon study sessions may sound impressive, but your good intentions may backfire. We all need breaks to stay rejuvenated and recharged.
In addition, breaks actually help you integrate information better. It’s easier to focus and stay present when you know you get a break coming up. On the contrary, if you’re just studying for hours on end, it’s easy to run on auto-pilot or only focus on basic memorization.
With that in mind, plan for your breaks ahead of time. Consider taking ten minutes off for every hour of studying. And give yourself limits- it probably isn’t realistic to study for more than a few hours each day.
Consider Joining a Study Group
Learning with others may also help you retain information better. The group can support you in better understanding difficult concepts. Furthermore, you can quiz each other and review study habits to ensure greater chances of success.
That said, effective study groups need to stay on track. If meetings center more on socialization than learning, you may feel like you’re wasting your time. Or, it might seem like you need to “double-up” on studying, which can lead to resentment.
If your current group isn’t cutting it, you may need to re-establish boundaries or join a different circle. Likewise, if no attractive options exist, it may be worth forming your own!
Attend Office Hours or Reach Out
Your professors want to see you succeed! Nobody wishes for academic failure.
With that said, psychology classes can be challenging. The material may be advanced, or your instructor may teach in a different way than you’re used to learning.
Regardless of the circumstances, professors are typically eager to collaborate with their students. But it’s your job to take the initiative and reach out appropriately. You can do this by attending office hours, asking questions at the end of class, or sending an email.
In other words, it’s beneficial to make a meaningful effort to get to know the professional teaching you! Chances are, they will be happy to clarify confusing information. Subsequently, if you intend to major in psychology or pursue higher education, building these relationships now can be helpful when you need letters of recommendation, references, or mentorship.
Many of our MedCircle Doctors are also professors. Browse our list of MedCircle Doctors.
Take a Variety of Psychology Classes
It’s no secret that psychology is a broad field. Even if you think you know what you want to specialize in, don’t limit yourself to such preconceived notions. You never know what you may find really interesting! Likewise, you might discover that you don’t really like what you assumed you would!
Knowing this, it’s a good idea to expose yourself to as many psychology classes as possible. And don’t just stick with what’s popular. You will find that some of the lesser-known, nuanced courses can provide an invaluable perspective to your learning experience.
Likewise, embracing a multidisciplinary exposure will help you in the future. Whether you intend to use this information directly on the job or you’re in the process of applying to graduate school, it never hurts to have more learning experience.
Take Classes in Other Disciplines
Although it may seem paradoxical, don’t just limit your studies to specific psychology classes. Psychology is part of nearly every discipline. Subsequently, taking relevant courses in sociology, anthropology, teaching, or business can help you feel more well-rounded in your education.
Psychology experts apply their learning to nearly every part of their work. This mindset applies even if they don’t hold typical psychology jobs.
If you’re currently in college, take advantage of enrolling in electives that sound interesting to you. You never know if you’ll decide to double-major or minor in another concentration. Likewise, having additional coursework can make you more of a competitive employee or graduate school candidate.
Eliminate What Doesn’t Work
All of the mentioned strategies can and should help you become a better student. However, we all study and learn differently. What works well for one person may not be as effective for you.
For example, some people thrive when they take a full course load with a part-time job on the side. Others may need to take a part-time course load and can’t dedicate themselves to any outside jobs while in school. Both options are equally valid.
Moreover, you may find that you study better in the morning. Others might prefer studying in the evenings just after finishing class.
It’s important to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. This applies even if everyone else seems to have success learning one way.
Having insight into your preferences can help you form a proactive study schedule. These preferences may change over time, and you should try to be accepting of yourself if that happens.
If you keep trying different methods and nothing seems to work, you may benefit from speaking to your primary care physician. It’s possible that you have a mental health issue or learning disability impacting your ability to focus. They can direct you to receiving an appropriate assessment and treatment plan.
Studying psychology can be extremely rewarding. Having this educational background can support you in numerous professional endeavors.
However, it can be a difficult subject, and you don’t want to experience burnout. Therefore, it’s important to adopt the right habits for achieving long-term success.
Be intentional, take breaks, and expose yourself to as much material as possible. Remember to think beyond the classroom. And remember that It’s best to remain open to learning, growing, and experimenting with different methods until you find your optimal strategies.