Studying Psychology more effectively

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A-level Psychology By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Psychology » A-level Psychology
Last updated: 18/09/2016
Tags: cramming, language, learning, memory, study

Pacing your revision from the start of your study and testing yourself frequently is the opposite of procrastination and cramming. Cramming as a method of revision at A level just does not work, mainly because there is just so much more information to learn and it is far more complex than GCSE. Not only is the information more complex and dense but the skills that are required to answer the exam questions require sustained practice.

These are just a few strategies to improve your ability to both retain and recall information.

Retrieval practice: Just reading a book is not going to help you retain information. This can only be effectively achieved by a learning protocol

1.  Learn from an expert (this requires your full attention) 

2. Revise - going over the material as soon as practicable

3. Test yourself frequently

Test yourself again and again: The more frequent you test yourself the more consolidated the information is harnessed in your long term memory. If information is solidified in the long term memory it is more readily available to be recalled when you sit your exam.

Justify what you’re learning to yourself: Lecture yourself on the material you will be tested. Ask yourself what skills do I need to answer this question and what do I need to do to gain these skills. Ask your teacher / tutor for help.

Familiarise yourself with what makes psychology distinctive from other subjects: Unlike other scientific subjects, psychology does not sit under a single paradigm and has various approaches which will explain and treat disorders utilising a different approach.  Invariably, the language is very different between approaches such as the psychodynamic and cognitive and they require different skills and methods of investigation. Part of your skills set is knowing the language of the approach and using it when being asked a question on that approach and its application to a particular phenomena.

Personal: Many students can relate psychological phenomena to events that happen in their own life. This not only makes the learning more interesting but also more memorable as they material takes on meaning and is better retained and recalled for the exam.

Be your own task master: Familiarity alone will not help you get better grades. It is only by setting yourself tasks and testing yourself on your mastery that you will know that you are reaching the levels needed to be awarded the higher grades. The bottom line is ' practice something enough and it becomes automatic'.

Find a study buddy: Studying alone can be an isolating experience. Therefore it may be motivating to study with a friend or fellow student who is equally committed to gaining high grades. You can stretch each other, devise competitions and draw on each other strengths and help each other with areas of the syllabus that you may feel that you feel are weak.

Resources on Effective Studying 

  • Hyde, T.S., & Jenkins, J.J. (1969). Differential effects of incidental tasks on the organization of recall of a list of highly associated words. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 82, 472-481. 
  • Level of Processing study: Shallow processing: “Does the word have the letter E?”. Deep processing: “Rate the word on pleasantness.” This forces you to think about the meaning of the word or to relate the word to your life, to other information you already know, or it asks you to create visual imagery.
  • Intent to learn had no effect – it’s good, but if you really want to remember things, you’re going to have to work harder.
  • Deep processing resulted in better recall whether participants intended to learn the words or not.


Carol Denyer A-level Psychology Tutor (Bromley)

About The Author

Formerly a university lecturer and a fully qualified teacher (PGCE). I am currently a junior partner in an educational centre, teaching A level Psychology, GCSE Biology/English and preparation for 11+ and 13+. I have a proven track record of success.

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