How to Study for a Psychology Test

Psychology exams can be stress-inducing, but there is no need to panic as test day approaches. While there are no sure-fire shortcuts when studying for a psychology test, there are things that you can do to get the most out of your study time.

Preparation is always the key to doing well on any exam, so by starting early and making the most of the time and resources that are available, you will feel better able to tackle the test and less likely to experience test anxiety. By following these relatively simple strategies, you can be sure that you'll be ready when test day arrives.


Start Studying Early

Woman studying for a psychology exam

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Don't wait until the night before an exam to start hitting the books. From the very first day of class, establish a regular study schedule. Plan to spend at least one hour studying for every hour that you spend in class, but be prepared to set aside more time as you delve deeper into the subject.

It is also important to consider your own abilities, weaknesses, and the subject-matter at hand when creating a study schedule. There might be certain areas where you excel that require less focused attention, while other areas might be much more of a struggle.

Devise a study schedule that allows you to review all of the information covered in class and still spend extra time on those particularly difficult concepts.


Become an Active Listener

Active listening is important during class

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Class lectures are not a time to kick back and let the instructor drone on. Instead, focus on becoming an active listener and participant in psychology lectures and discussions. Read the assigned textbook material before each class session and make note of any questions you may have.

During the lecture, take quality psychology notes that you can review later. Don't worry about writing down everything that the instructor says, but do try to outline major topics, ideas, and questions.

Also remember, if the lecturer feels that something is important enough to write down on the board or overhead slide, then you should definitely include it in your lecture notes.

There is a very strong probability that the information will end up appearing on your next test.


Review Your Class Notes Frequently

Review your class notes

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After taking careful psychology lecture notes, it is time to put them to good use. If you have a little time directly after class, sit down and spend 15 to 20 minutes going over your notes for the day.

In addition to your regular review time, spend a few hours each week studying your notes in greater depth. Consider creating flashcards and practice tests to memorize vocabulary terms and psychological concepts.


Form a Psychology Study Group

Join a study group

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Studying in small groups is a great way to challenge yourself, review important concepts, and discuss the theories you have learned in class. Ideally, you should form a group of about three to five individuals.

Try to get together at least once a week to talk about the material from class lectures and assigned readings. Another option if you are unable to participate in a small study group is to attend study sessions hosted by the class instructor or teaching assistant.


Take Practice Quizzes

Take a practice psychology quiz

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Practice quizzes are a great way to determine which concepts you understand and which ones you still need to work on. In addition to developing your own quizzes, you can often find practice quizzes at the end of every chapter in your textbook. Another option is to look for psychology tests and quizzes on the Internet.


Think of Real World Examples

Woman talking in front of chalkboard

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As you learn about different psychological theories, think about how these concepts might apply in the real world. Consider examples from your own life or in the lives of people you know.

For example, if you were reviewing Piaget's stages of cognitive development you could think of children you know who are at different points of development such as the preoperational and concrete operational stages. 

This type of study exercise is a great way to prepare for psychology tests, which often require students to identify examples of different psychological principles.


Review Material in Multiple Ways

Use many study strategies

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Don't let yourself fall into a study rut. Instead, challenge yourself to learn the material in multiple ways and experiment with different study techniques. Using devices such a mnemonics, flash cards, practice exams, and group discussions helps reinforce the material in your memory.


Use Resources Provided With Your Textbook

Psychology textbooks

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Many psychology textbook publishers also offer textbook websites that features a variety of different study tools for students. Flashcards, practice tests, and discussion boards are just a few of the tools that might be available with your textbook. Don't ignore these valuable resources!

In many cases, your instructor might draw many of the test questions directly from the book publisher's test bank.


Study the Most Difficult Concepts First

Studying difficult concepts

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While it may be tempting to focus on the easiest material, studying the most difficult concepts first is generally the best way to prepare for a psychology test. Tackling difficult material when your mind is fresh and active ensures that you'll have the mental energy and resources to fully focus on the material.

Remember, however, to give yourself regular breaks during study sessions. If you are still struggling to understand certain concepts, make an appointment with your instructor to further discuss the material.


Study for Several Hours Each Week

Spend a lot of time studying

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All the study hints, tips, ​and techniques cannot replace one of the key factors for succeeding on psychology tests – time. Study strategies are a great way to focus your attention and get the most value out of your ​study time, but it is essential to devote several hours each week to studying for each individual class.

The rule of thumb that most universities suggest is that you should spend at least two hours studying for each and every hour you spend in class. While this time commitment may sound daunting, remember that you can break these hours up throughout the week.

Spend some time coming up with a study schedule that works with your own life and personal obligations including school, family, and work.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.