1.  Studying is not the same as reading!   
Studying and reading are not the same. We read novels, but we have to study textbooks. Textbooks are dense and introduce a lot of new material - without having great plots or characters. Thus, while reading is an important first step, it won't usually transfer the new information into your long-term memory. To do that, you have to apply ACTIVE strategies to learn the material in the book. We've listed several sample strategies below. Your friends or classmates might have others they can share with you.  


  • Take Notes on the Text:  Taking notes is a much more active strategy than highlighting or underlining the text. However, do not make the mistake of writing down too much - this undermines the whole point. One good strategy is to jot down ONE or TWO main points for each "section" of the chapter. By the end of the chapter, you will have about a page - two at the most - of notes. Try not to write down things that "stick" - the ideas and concepts that you understand easily and don't really need to study (the ones that click right away and you just "get" them). Instead, jot down the concepts you have a hard time grasping or remembering. Then, study these notes along with your class-notes, rather than re-reading the whole chapter as a "study" strategy.
  • Test Yourself: Another active strategy is to test yourself by making up questions about the section you just read - and seeing if you can answer these questions without looking. You can also team up with a friend and ask each other questions about the chapter. If you do not have a friend in the class, let your instructor know that you're looking for a "study buddy." Many will try to find one for you. Also, the publishers of most course textbooks have a book website which contains sample questions, as well as study guides and other supporting information. You shouldn't rely on these exclusively to prepare for exams, but it's a good way to test your familiarity with the material.
  • Apply Concepts to Your Life: If you can apply the concepts you are learning to your life or to someone you care about (e.g., friends, family members) you are much more likely to remember them. Try to think of an example that illustrates a theory or research finding, especially one that does not "stick" very well. For instance, when learning about the bystander effect, you may think of a situation you were in when a large group of people stood by and did not help someone in need. Or, you can think of a story in the news when this happened.
  • Start with the Summary: Many textbooks provide a summary either at the beginning or at the end of the chapter. Many students find it helpful to read this summary first, before they begin the chapter. This structures the chapter for them and alerts them to main ideas and critical points.
  • Compare and Contrast: Creating a compare/contrast chart is helpful in studying complex theories and models, as well as for studying multiple theories within one chapter. There is a sample chart at the end of this document.


2. Study for RECALL rather than RECOGNITION

When you take a “fill in the blank” or essay exam, you are recalling information that you learned - or pulling it out of your memory with no assistance. When you are given “multiple choices” to choose from, you are trying to recognize the correct answer among several possibilities. Most people study differently for these types of exams, thinking they need to only familiarize themselves with information for multiple choice exams. However, professors know this and create choices that all look “familiar.” Don’t fall for this trap! Study for RECALL every time. This means that you should be able to know the answers without any prompts or hints - right "off the top of your head". When taking the exam, to prevent the other choices from misleading you, jot down the correct answer BEFORE you look at the available choices. Then, you can MATCH your answer with the closest one provided by the multiple choices.

3.  During class, write down more than meets the eye

During the lecture, you should be writing down more than what the professor shows on the Powerpoint or writes down on the whiteboard. The content in Powerpoint slides is frequently just the "skeleton outline" of the material you will need to know. You should write something in your own words about each piece of information visually provided by the professor - and jot down any examples the professor gives. It is also good practice, within 24 hrs of the lecture, to quickly look over your notes and expand on anything that you wrote down in haste that might not make sense when you look at it two weeks later.

4.  Consider taking class notes on paper rather a machine

Empirical studies show that students who have access to their laptops spend a significant part of the class period focusing on activities not related to the class. Moreover, laboratory studies show that, even when the study is set up so that students are on-task the entire time, those who take notes on laptops do not retain information as well as those who hand-write their notes. Since you are paying to take this course and presumably are invested in learning the course content, you might as well try to create conditions that will maximize your learning.  You can read more here and here.

5.  Protect your study time

Most of us are very good at observing other people’s boundaries. We make appointments to talk to our bosses, visit our professors during office hours, and do not expect office assistants to give back our exams during their lunch time. Yet, we do not give the same respect to ourselves during study time! We allow phone calls, friends, TV shows, noise, and other people’s needs to interfere with one of our most important tasks in college. Protect your study time by making firm and clear “do not disturb” boundaries around it - or by going to a private place where you can concentrate for several hours at a time. This also applies to social media and the internet more broadly. If you know that it's hard for you to resist temptation, find a place to work without wifi and/or use an app that temporarily restricts your internet use


6.  Study in 45-minute chunks

Research has shown that concentration, comprehension, and memory progressively decreases after 45 minutes of solid studying. If you want to study smarter, take a 15 minute break every 45 minutes, during which time you stretch your muscles by walking around and rest your eyes and mind.
7.  Keep up with the text
You can remember and learn a lot more information by reading and reviewing information every week than by cramming before an exam. Our long term memory is enhanced when we think and process information a little bit at a time, rather than shoving in a lot of unfamiliar details at once. Also, reviewing something familiar enhances "relearning", which helps move information into long-term memory storage. Keep up with your readings, even if it's just to skim the main ideas or summary of each chapter before or after the lecture.

8.  Feed your brain

  • Protein: What we eat and drink affects our concentration and memory. For instance, eating something with protein before studying (e.g., turkey sandwich, veggie burger, peanut-butter bar) will make you sharper and more alert. In contrast, going with no food or eating something high in carbohydrates (e.g., mac & cheese, french fries) may slow you down and make your mind more sluggish. This also goes for the exam itself! Make sure you eat something before taking that test.
  • Caffeine and Alcohol:  Caffeine and alcohol are mind altering drugs which have long lasting effects on your brain chemistry. That means that many hours after you ingest these, your concentration and memory (as well as mood) will be affected. If you have an important exam or paper to write, keep this in mind.


The rows of the table are basic questions you design to test your knowledge of major concepts. The columns are the concepts themselves.

Below is an example of a table you could have used to study two different concepts in Social Psychology. We included only two topics, but your table could have as many columns as you think are relevant. The goal is to spontaneously generate as much information for each cell as you can, without looking at your text or notes. Then, you check your notes and text to see if you forgot anything. This way of studying really helps people learn information well, regardless of how questions are phrased on an exam.

Conformity Bystander Effect
What is it? Define it. When you do what other people are doing, even if you know inside its wrong. It's like peer pressure. When a lot of people witness an emergency and no one helps - like Kitty Genovese!
What increases it? or What makes it happen more often? - everyone else does it (no dissent)
- more people - up to 7
- the situation is ambiguous
- if you have low confidence in yourself
- if you are from a culture that really values it (like Japan)
- Larger amout of witnesses
- When people are confused whether or not its an emergency
- When people don't know what to do or how to help
- When people don't trust their own judgments like lack of confidence
What decreases it? or What makes it happen less often? - if there is even one person dissenting (ally)
- fewer number of people there
- the situation is pretty clearly wrong
- your values are strongly against it
- if you are from a more individualistic culture (like U.S.)
- small amount of witnesses
- you have emergency training
- the situtation is totally clear
- you have confidence in your judgment
- you have learned about bystander effect!
Why does it occur? or What makes it happen? - people want to feel like they fit in
- people question themselves (maybe I'm wrong?)
- people are embarrassed to stand out
- people are afraid to make a mistake and look to others for answers
- diffusion of responsibility - like each person thinks someone else will take care of it
- social loafing - like each person feels like they don't have to do as much when there are others around
- fear
- confusion
- they are distracted and don't notice
What are some real-life applications of this research or theory? - helps us understand why people join gangs and even cults
- contributes to understanding of obedience
- helps us understand why individuals do bad things as part of a group (like looting and destroying property)
- helps us understand peer pressure with drugs, sex, and even juries!
- helps us understand and work to prevent people doing nothing in emergency situations
- we can increase awareness in people so they take responsibility and act
- helps us understand that situations are very powerful, not just individuals
Last modified: Friday, 31 January 2020, 4:38 PM