The Best Study Tips for Psychology Students

Students sitting at table studying together.

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Psychology classes are sometimes a struggle for students, especially for those with little or no background in the subject. For this reason, it is extra important to establish good study habits.

Because psychology is such a diverse field, students may occasionally feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on the subject. Students of psychology soon realize that the subject covers a huge range of material. An introductory course alone encompasses discussions of psychology's philosophical background, social statistics, biological influences, experimental methods, and much more.

The diverse topics students might study in the field of psychology include social behavior, personality, research methods, therapeutic techniques, and much more.

Because psychology consists of such a broad range of topics, it is important to develop ways of studying and mastering new theories and concepts.

Study Methods for Psychology Students

Following a few simple study tips can help psychology students effectively learn new concepts and theories. With good study habits, students can achieve academic success in psychology. The best part? Creating good study habits won't just help you in your psych classes. These same skills and routines will pay off in a big way in all of your college courses.

1. Study Regularly

  • The Two Hour Rule: The general rule is that for every hour of time you spend in class, you should spend two hours of your own time studying the material.
  • Plan Your Study Time: The amount of time you need may vary, but you should set aside time each week for reviewing study materials. At the beginning of the week, consider the material you need to cover and estimate how long you will need to complete your assignments, readings, and reviews.
  • Schedule Study Time: Ideally, you should schedule a specific block of time to devote to each subject. Even when you are busy, set aside short periods of time each day to concentrate on your classwork.

2. Study Actively

  • Think Critically About the Material: Effective studying involves more than just reading the assigned text and skimming through your notes. You need to analyze and understand the material.
  • Take Notes: Read through your materials slowly and write down key points. Write down any questions you have about the materials that you can later discuss with your classmates or course instructor.
  • Test Your Understanding: Quiz yourself on the material you have just read. If you struggle with certain questions, make note of these areas for additional study.
  • Summarize the Main Points: Once you have studied the material, see if you can answer these questions: Can you identify the main concepts covered by the material? Can you think of your own examples of each theory, problem, or concept?

3. Be Active in Class

  • Take Effective Class Notes: Your psychology class notes should be a summary of what you learned in class, not a transcription of everything your instructor or classmates discussed. Practice taking brief, effective notes that summarize the key points of what was said.
  • Go to Class Prepared: Read the assigned chapters before class. If you approach each class discussion with a good understanding of the material, you will be better able to participate in class discussions.

4. Study Alone Initially, Then In Groups

  • Individual Study: Your initial study sessions should take place alone. By doing this, you are better able to concentrate on the material.
  • Group Study: Once you have a good grasp on the material, utilize review sessions with classmates or study groups. These sessions are a good way to refresh your knowledge of the material before a quiz or exam.

Last-Minute Study Tips

You have probably been told hundreds of times that cramming is a poor way to study for an exam. Hopefully, you remember to attend your psychology classes and take good psychology class notes.

However, even students with good study habits sometimes find themselves needing to cram the night before a big exam.

While cramming for an exam is definitely not the best way to study (and you certainly shouldn't make a habit of it), you can use a last-minute study session effectively to review notes and organize your thoughts.

Tara Kuther, PhD, a Graduate School Expert, has a handy reference guide with tips for how to cram for an exam. She suggests prioritizing the topics you are going to study, reviewing class notes and required readings, and answering questions about the material in your own words.

Other tips that might come in useful:

  • Create a quick outline of the topics that will most likely be on the exam. Put a star next to the subjects that are giving you the most trouble, and then study these topics first. Next, move on to the material that you are more familiar with for a quick refresher.
  • Don't take on too much. Trying to learn an entire semester's worth of material in one night is an impossible task. Instead of trying to cover every single thing, focus on the material that is most likely to appear on the exam. A quick rule of thumb - if your instructor talked about it in class, it is very likely that it will show up on the test. Use your class notes as a guide for what you should focus on in your cram study session.
  • Get some sleep. It might be tempting to stay up all night to try to learn as much of the material as you possibly can, but this strategy can backfire. In all likelihood, you will just end up so exhausted and burned out that you won't be able to perform your best on the exam. Instead, study what you can during your cram session, but still try to get some uninterrupted sleep the night before your exam. If you really need more study time, wake up early the next morning and go through your review materials one more time.

Final Thoughts

At the start of every new class, sit down and come up with a study plan that will lead to success in the course. A little planning now can save you from a lot of last-minute stress.

2 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.
  1. Cen L, Ruta D, Powell L, Ng J. Learning alone or in a group - an empirical case study of the collaborative learning patterns and their impact on student grades. Proc Int Conf Interact Collab Learn (Dubai, UAE). 2014. doi:10.1109/ICL.2014.7017845

  2. Huang S, Deshpande A, Yeo S-C, Lo JC, Chee MWL, Gooley JJ. Sleep restriction impairs vocabulary learning when adolescents cram for exams: the Need for Sleep Study. Sleep. 2016;39(9):1681-1690. doi:10.5665/sleep.6092

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."