Pavlov's Couch

A Psychology Student's Mental Experience

Study Technique

Studying can be a real bitch. Especially with a reading-heavy course like psychology, and doubly so because you have a mix of facts, dates, names, theories, and more abstract things to remember. So developing a good study technique is key to survival. I am only now starting to get real study technique down, for the first year there really didn’t seem any need since we could wing it and revise hard near exam time.

The biggest change this year is the sheer quantity of reading we have to do. Some modules are worse than others of course, and a stark example of that is that our Developmental Psychology reading for the last lecture amounts to more than almost the entire reading for Individual Differences. When the term started I began by doing all the reading and taking notes on the reading before the lecture, then taking notes in the lecture, then if possible re-reading the relevant parts after the lecture. What I have realised is that although it is still important to work hard, you can also work smart and lighten the load significantly. So this is my current plan:

-Skim the reading. I don’t mean read fast, this is quite literally a skim over the text, just noticing the way it is structured, maybe a few words that jump out, any headings, and possibly vague topics.

-Speed-read the text. There are a lot of pages online that give the basics to speed-reading, but quickly they are: use a finger underneath the line to follow (or lead) where you are reading. This helps you stay focused, maintain speed, and prevent regression or jumping (going back and re-reading things and jumping around the page reading words at random); have a good environment free of distractions; do not worry if you miss something, keep going. There are more but these have been the most useful for me.

-At the end of each section summarise what you have read in your head.

-Take printed slides into the lecture and make notes on the slides.

-Re-read only the relevant parts of the text, this time taking notes and combining that with your notes from the lecture.

-Return later and test yourself then re-read your notes. I have read a study (which I do not have the details of to hand) that found that constant revision of something is less effective at committing it to memory than revising with increasing gaps. I believe it was optimal at something like a day after first learning, a week after that, three weeks after that (don’t quote me on this!). Various studies and theories also claim that it is more effective to study in a small group (obviously not the reading parts) because even explaining things to others helps you remember and understand it better and may highlight weaknesses in your understanding that you were not aware of.

I did look into memory techniques too, but although there are some fantastic techniques for remembering long number sequences, remembering theories, names, and dates remains quite tricky. Having said that some time ago I watched a fantastic video about brain anatomy memnomics (how the hell do you spell that?!) that I will have to post here.

If anyone has any other effective study tips please let me know!

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5 thoughts on “Study Technique

  1. william on said:

    Brain anatomy is much like human development in the amount of information you are required to learn. But in memorizing I think the hypothalamus stores short term information for a few days and then imprints it more permanently upon revision much like what you said. Overall, you can never predict an exam too well but if you are young (fluid intelligence) it helps. Reading before you go to bed can help.

  2. The Bipolar Project on said:

    I never speed read – I simply can’t take anything in if I do that – I am more of a slow, dissecting type. Generally, I make notes in the margins of whatever I am reading as I go through it, and then I write some brief notes on the reading afterward, as well as a general summary. I find I need to do this to digest information, especially if there is a lot of it, and it is complex. If I don’t do this, I cannot recall what I read.

    For lectures, I make notes on the slides (if I have them available), or just as many notes as I can. Immediately following the lecture, or at least on the same day, I write out my notes and any lecturer provided notes in full sentence/paragraph form as if I were writing a textbook from them. I draw in diagrams, graphs etc if necessary. Since I type out all my notes, I write any additional ideas or thoughts I have about how it all ties in with readings etc in italics.

    Basically, those two methods are how I cement information into my mind. If I have to memorise stuff, I condense all my notes together (i.e., make another file that is the super-summy of it all) and then condense those notes down, and down again until they are 5-10 key words on a flash card. Once I have done that, I memorise the key words. Then, I can take each key word and reconstruct the in-depth notes from memory.

    Another good way is to make an audio recording of lectures and transcribe the audio. I have done that in the past (I am a transcription typist as well as a student), and it is even better than the above method. If you can’t transcribe or don’t have the equipment, you can hire someone to do it if you have the means to do so via the internet.

    I always print out my notes as well, and read over them one or two times. I highlight, write questions in the margins and other thoughts that pop into my head – it’s really good to tie what you are learning into other things you have learnt, as well as everyday life.

    It’s a slow process, but incredibly effective.

    • Psychology Student #-55 on said:

      I have to admit I’ve always been the same – the slow dissecting type – but with my studies I’ve realised that a) I don’t have time to read everything thoroughly, and b) Not everything in the textbooks is important or relevant to my studies. The speed reading at the start is to give an overview, and then I go back after the lectures and read the relevant parts thoroughly. But by this time I’ve already got the broad strokes and know which parts I can skip so the whole process works a lot faster 🙂

      Your idea of writing the notes out longhand is great, I’ve done that before and found it very effective although at the time it just took too long (because I was basically copying out an entire textbook plus lecture notes!). Maybe now I’ve made my studying more efficient I can come back to that technique! I’ll give it a go, thanks for reminding me 🙂 Something I didn’t mention in my post is I use Microsoft OneNote for my notes, which allows me to add in pictures, videos, hyperlinks, and all sorts of hilights and tags. I find it a fantastic tool (if a bit clunky at times).

      I used to record lectures but to be honest I found I never had the time to re-listen to them, and transcribing takes me AGES (we did some for our qualitative assignments). I admit that it’d be an effective way to learn the material (I can still remember much of the conversation I transcribed last year) but in terms of the time that it would take me personally it doesn’t quite pay off 😦

      Thanks for posting, you’ve given me some good ideas, and other readers might be better at transcribing than me too 😉

      • The Bipolar Project on said:

        You are right – finding the right balance between time available and depth of study is very difficult. I haven’t used One Note but have heard from friends it is good – might have to give it a go 🙂

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