Simple Study Tips for Psychology Students That Really Work
When you think of studying, do you picture yourself at the library at midnight, cramming for a test while gulping large quantities of caffeine? This is a common outcome for those who let procrastination get the better of them.
There are a lot of effective ways to study, and, believe it or not, they don’t have to be stress-inducing. Here are some ways to avoid those all-nighters and to be the most effective studier you can be.
Schedule Regular Study Sessions
Cramming the night before an exam is actually counterproductive to your learning and your health. Good time management is the key to avoiding those late-night cram sessions.
Start planning your studying at the beginning of the term. First, schedule regular study sessions dedicated to your weekly assignments. You might even add them to your calendar. Then, look ahead at your syllabus to identify exam periods or see when you have papers due, and set longer study sessions aside.
By spreading out your study sessions, building in regular “appointments” with your books, and being disciplined with the schedule you’ve built, you’ll also have more time for fun. Having a healthy work-life balance reduces your stress and is better overall for your long-term learning. Good time management ensures that you have time for it all.
I was really bad at studying during my first year of undergrad. I had a desk in my room but I’d study on my bed instead. I’d get distracted more easily there so it was really not a good setup.
—Em Wright, Psychology Student, UMass Amherst
Studying with a friend or study group is great for multiple reasons. First, scheduling sessions with another person holds you accountable. If you have a regular study buddy or study group, you’ll be less likely to skip it. Second, studying with another person can help you better understand the material. Because everyone learns differently, a study group can provide you with the opportunity to tap into many different learning styles and perspectives. This is especially valuable when studying complex topics that might not have one answer, or that require a thoughtful approach. A discussion among a group of people helps you think more critically by hearing different perspectives. Plus, it’s more fun!
To find your study partner or group, start the term by looking around at your class to see who you might already know. Compare your schedules and build in study sessions together. It might be more difficult to schedule regular study sessions with a group because of competing schedules, but finding a way to do so can be worth the work. Try to find your study partner or group early on in the term, and then schedule sessions at important times, such as a couple of weeks before an exam.
Get Your Feng Shui On
Your optimal study environment will most likely depend on your personality. Think about the places and atmospheres that help you focus the best. Here are some tips for creating the best environment for you:
- Eliminate distractions. At home, it can be easy to find reasons not to study—you have cleaning to do, you need to grab a snack, you have a phone call to return, and so on. Create a space that’s just for study, and make sure it’s calming and free of distraction—even if it’s just a small corner of your room.
- Find your study playlist. For those who like to study with music, find the best playlists and albums that keep you on task. Consider music with instrumentals or music in your non-native language. Here are some recommendations from Pandora to help you focus.
- Don’t combine your study spaces. Keep your study space dedicated to studying. For example, don’t study on your bed—that’s for sleeping. Don’t study in your kitchen if you can help it—that’s for eating. By separating the uses of your living spaces, you are creating different mindsets associated with the spaces you visit.
- Mix up your study spaces. You might benefit from finding both private and public spaces to study. Outside of your own home, your campus library or computer lab are great free options. For social folks, coffee shops are an option if you’re able to purchase a drink or snack.
- Study groups might require more noisy spaces. If your studying requires conversation or discussions with others, public spaces like coffee shops or the non-quiet-floor of the library might work for you.
I started blocking out time to go to the library and do homework and study. I made sure not to do anything else there (read, sketch, play on my phone) so that my brain could develop the habit of ‘when we are here, we are focused.’ It really helped.
Tap Those Resources
When you find yourself confused by course content, there are many resources you can tap into. The following resources may be helpful to you, whether you need to dive deeper into a subject or you’re seeking basic academic help:
- Talk to your professor. This is the first person you can and should go to for help. They want you to succeed just as much as you do. Your professor can be a great sounding board for your ideas or a guide to help you make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
- Find a tutor. One-on-one tutoring can be helpful for long-term success or mastering complex topics. Many campuses offer academic assistance through campus life offices. Check in with your advisor or student life office to see what tutoring resources are available to you.
- Check out the library. The library isn’t just a place to study; it’s a resource allowing you to dive deeply into the subject you’re researching. Library staff are highly trained and can provide guidance on your research as well as tips for fully utilizing the library to achieve your goals.
- Look online. Resources on the Internet offer infinite information. Common media publications like reputable newspapers, as well as psychology-specific publications like the American Psychological Association (APA) and Psychology Today, can provide real-life context to the topic you’re researching.
Extend Study Beyond Just Reading
Your studying will most certainly start with reading, but by itself, it’s not enough. Even for those who retain information easily through reading, understanding course content requires you to be more active. Here are some ways you can make the reading process more active:
- Highlight and mark up the article or book. By highlighting important passages, you can easily refer back to them later. Notes in the margins can help you remember why it stood out to you.
- Jot your questions down as you go. After reading an entire book or chapter, it can be hard to remember the questions you had. Make sure you’re recording your thoughts and questions as you go.
- Tap into other resources. As ideas or questions emerge from your reading, do some additional research to provide more context. Although you should try not to get too distracted, researching topics that are relevant to your materials can give you a bigger picture and more context to use in your learning process.
- Discuss what you read with others. By discussing course content with others, you’re more apt to remember what you read. Plus, you’ll develop critical thinking skills by hearing how others interpreted the information and responding to their thoughts.
In my later years of undergrad when we were doing more case-based work it helped me to apply real-world examples. I had one professor who had been a psychiatrist for years before turning to teaching. He would share stories about his clients to go with each topic. This really helped the material stick because it got me engaged with it. Stories stick in my head better than facts, which is why this professor was so effective. If you don’t have a professor that will do that, try doing some research on your own about whatever topic it is and see if you can find real-life examples.
Good study habits go beyond the act of studying itself—good habits encourage taking care of yourself. Here are some important ways to do that:
- Get enough sleep. Research shows that a good night’s sleep can actually help you process and retain what you studied.
- Make sure you’re eating and drinking enough. Being hungry or thirsty can prevent you from focusing, so plan your study sessions around meals and have some healthy snacks and water with you.
- Take breaks. Studies show that taking breaks improves creativity and strengthens your problem-solving abilities. So make sure to stand up and stretch, go grab some water, or take a stroll—especially when you’re feeling your eyes cross from too much information.
- Find a comfortable place to study. If your back aches from your old wooden chair, it may be time to invest in a more comfortable and ergonomic study spot. You might consider acquiring better furniture or finding a study space—such as the library—that offers comfortable arrangements.
- Exercise frequently. Outside of your study times, exercise is a proven way to improve your memory. Build in physical activity to your weekly schedule to improve both your physical health and brain activity. Just 22 minutes a day can help!
- Don’t forget your friends. Studying can be isolating, especially during midterms or finals. Make sure you’re still making time to be with your friends. Socializing will help decrease stress and help you focus when you return to studying later.
Everyone is different: for those more extroverted, studying in groups might be helpful; for aural learners, reading notes aloud might work. It’s all about trying things and reevaluating as you go to make sure that whatever method you use is having the biggest positive impact combined with the lowest level of stress.
Know Your Learning Style
Everyone takes in and retains information in distinctly different ways. Knowing your learning style can help you study better and help you communicate with your instructors if you’re having trouble understanding the course material.
The following are the four most common learning styles:
- Visual learners understand material when delivered visually—either through drawings or other multi-media methods.
- Auditory learners process material orally and often respond to opportunities to discuss concepts with others.
- Kinesthetic learners need to engage in movement or activity in their learning process and learn best by doing—either through games or experiential activities.
- Reading/writing learners understand materials through reading and writing. Traditional learning environments work for this learning style because reading and writing are commonly how work is assessed.
I based my [studying] methods off my learning style. Personally, I’m a very visual learner, so making charts and maps of information really works well for me. I also remember things better once I write them down. If there were going to be straight definitions on the test, making flashcards was very useful.