Studying and Psych 101

(Section 1) Study Habits and Grades: Some Advice

(Section 2) Some Guidelines/Tips on Reading
the Textbook


Section 1: Study Habits and Grades: Some Advice

I would like every student in our class to learn the material well, be engaged, and get a good grade in the course. That's why I'm providing you with the information below. Please take a few minutes to read it.

1. So, What Else is New? Psych 101 is a 5-credit science course. The general rule at the U.W. is that for each credit a course is worth, the workload (e.g., reading, studying) outside of class should be approximately 2 hours per week for the average student. So, for a 5-credit, course, this translates to 10 hours a week outside of class-time for the "typical" student. Of course, doing well is not just a matter of putting in hours. It involves understanding what you read and learning it. For example, in addition to material from lectures, the first exam will cover about 130 pages from the textbook (i.e., actual content pages). These pages contain explanations of key terms and concepts, descriptions of theories and research studies, factual conclusions about behavior, and applications of psychological knowledge. To learn this material well I strongly suggest that you:
a) get ahead on the readings. Try to have all your readings finished 3 to 4 days before each exam. This reduces the time pressure, anxiety, and mental fatigue that results from last minute "cramming."
b) read carefully, highlight or underline key information, and focus on understanding it. Don't skim or "speed read" -- your textbook isn't a novel!. Also, the first time you read a chapter, don't try to memorize the key information. Once again, at this stage read to identify and understand the key material.
c) study the material for several days prior to the exam by going back to each chapter. Focus especially on the information you've highlighted: convert it into organized handwritten notes and then study from these notes. Again, focus on understanding it, not just memorizing it, and don't forget to study your class notes carefully.

For additional information on study skills, see the "study skill" section of your syllabus.

2. No Way, Dude! Many students have great study habits. Obviously, I don't know you personally, but I hope you are in this group. Unfortunately, in talking with students quarter after quarter, it is clear that most students greatly underestimate the amount of work required to do well in this class. Even worse, when told that doing well in Intro Psych requires a lot of studying, too many students have a belief which goes something like this: "No Way, Dude, I've heard Psych 101 is easy and hey, I know a lot about people, so it's all common sense anyway." In case you hold this belief, all I can tell you is.........carefully read on. And if this isn't your belief, read on anyway. You'll find it interesting.

3. Great Expectations: Almost nobody expects to do poorly in this course. Even students who skip readings and miss many lectures expect to get a decent grade (just think of the "We're All Better Than Average Bias" I discussed in class the first day). Unfortunately, over the years the average grade on Exam 1 typically has been somewhere between a 1.5 and 2.0 (D+ to C) with 20% to 25% of the class failing. By the end of the course most students do better: the average grade in my course typically is about a 2.5 to 2.7 (Not including the extra-credit for being a research subject, which typically adds about .2 to the class average). But clearly, many students could do a lot better, especially if they got off to a better start.

4. Why are Initial Test Scores so Low? You may find this hard to believe, but the reason many students do much more poorly than they expect to is not because the exam questions are hard. In fact, based on the analysis of my tests from the Educational Assessment Center on campus, almost all of the test questions individually come out to be either easy (85% or more of the class gets it correct) or moderate in difficulty (50% to 84% of the class gets the particular question correct). Usually, only a few items get classified as hard. The low test scores occur because many students miss a lot of moderately difficult (and some easy) questions. And this occurs because those students typically report spending less than half as much time studying outside of class as they should. On top of that, many students who do poorly simply don't do all the readings and wait until the last minute to "cram" in those readings they actually get to. Yet, they still expect to get B's and A's, but in reality they tend to get C's, D's, and F's. Overall, as you'll see below, students with good study habits clearly do better in the course.

Several years ago I added a few questions to the back of Exam 1, asking my class about their study habits. Then I correlated their Exam 1 grades with their study habits. The results were interesting. I gave that class the following feedback and I'm giving you this information now because I think you will find it useful.




Grade Students Expected


Entire Class

181 Students Who
Attended All Lectures
and Did All Readings

216 Students Who Missed Lectures and/or Readings

A to A- (4.0--3.4)





B+ to B- (3.3--2.7)





C+ to C- (2.3--1.7)





D+ to D-(1.3--0.7)





F (0.0)





Grade Feedback

The mean grade point for Exam 1(mathematical average) was 1.5 (a C-/D+). The median grade point was 1.7. (a C-). (Note: the "median" represents the middle score in the class.). The grade distribution is shown in Table 1. Also shown are the grade distributions for those students who reported that they a) did all the readings and came to all lectures, and b) missed something (i.e., missed one or more lectures, didn't finish all the readings, or both). As you can see, those students who did everything performed substantially better overall than those students who didn't.

Expected Grade

Two thirds of the class expected to perform in the B to A range, whereas in reality only one third of the class did. Virtually nobody expected to get a D (5%) or F(1%) , whereas 45% actually did!!. These data suggest some substantial overoptimism by a part of the class (in particular, from students who didn't do all the readings or attend all lectures).

Lectures Missed

55% of the class reported coming to all lectures, 24% missed one lecture, 13% missed two, 5% missed three, and 3% missed between half to most of the lectures.

Readings Completed.

Only 61% of the class reported completing all four chapters. 18% said they read three chapters, 13% read two, 4% read one, and 4% said they didn't do any readings.

Time Spent on Classwork Outside of Lecture (Note: expected time for a 5 credit class = 10 hours/week, or 22 hours based on the 11 lectures prior to the exam that quarter. 21% of students said they spent 16 or more hours doing classwork beyond our daily lecture period. 32% said between 11 to 16 hours, 27% said 7 to 10 hours, 17% said 3 to 6 hours, and 3% said zero to 2 hours. In short, 47% of the class reported doing less than half of the "expected" outside classwork time.


Final Comments:

These data are correlational. They suggest possibilities, but do not "prove" a cause-effect relation between studying and grades. With that caution in mind, here as some final comments. As Table 1 indicates, doing all the readings and attending all lectures does not guarantee a good grade (that's true in any course; similarly, when learning sports, music or other skills, many hours of practice don't guarantee that a high level of skill will be achieved ). However, there is a clear relationship: Almost 55% of students who "did everything" got A's and B's. Only 18% of students who didn't do everything got A's and Bs, but almost 60% of this group received D's and F's . During this quarter, if you're in the "Did it All" group and still do poorly, I urge you to see me or a TA right away to help pinpoint what might have caused your low grade. If you're in the "Didn't do it all" group," then the first step toward getting a better grade is to keep current with the readings and lectures, complete all of them, and give yourself several days to review and study the material prior to each exam.


Section 2: Some Guidelines/Tips on Reading the Textbook

Online Study Questions (Free Online Study Guide)

There is an online study guide that is free to students. On the course home page, click the photo of the textbook or the "Online Study Guide" link below it. In the top left dark blue area there is a window that says "Choose a Chapter." After you select a chapter, you will see links to several resources appear, including a link to "Study Questions."

These study questions, along with the key terms (see below), will help you focus in on most of the key material, but they are not exhaustive. Realize that we could have written 60 or 80 study questions per chapter. The study questions give you an idea of the types of questions that you should be asking yourself as you read through each chapter.  Some questions are broad and cover a lot of content in the book; some are more specific.  You can use these questions to help guide your reading, and/or to test yourself after you have done significant studying for each exam.  HOWEVER, I'd like to caution you to be sure to read and study each assigned reading in its entirety, even if there is no study question that pertains to a particular page or section. Again, the study questions are not exhaustive and some exam items might ask about content not covered by the study questions.

NOTE: The books' co-author (Ronald Smith) and I wrote the online learning objectives and study questions and also the Test Yourself questions that appear in each chapter of the textbook. WE DID NOT WRITE any of the other materials that appear in the online study guide (e.g., the multiple choice, true false, flashcard items). These were written by other people.

Key Terms

Each chapter presents boldfaced key terms (and their accompanying definition, which is italicized) and also presents other important terms and concepts that are italicized for emphasis. You should be familiar with these terms. This does not mean simply memorizing a definition. Rather, you should understand the meaning and/or importance of the term, and any relevant information that the textbook presents about it. Some exam questions may present one of these terms/concepts and simply ask you to identify its proper definition, but other questions will present a little story or scenario and require you to apply these concepts, or will ask you about factual information associated with these key terms. For example, consider the following two sample questions:

Sample Question #1. Eighty female college students participate in an experiment. Using random assignment, each student is placed either in a very hot room or a room of normal temperature. Each student then is given 30 minutes to solve the same set of math problems. The experimenter then calculates the number of problems that each student has solved correctly. In this experiment the independent variable is:
a. the number of participants in the study (80).
b. the temperature of the room (hot or normal)
c. the amount of time each participant has to solve the problems (30 minutes)
d. the number of math problems that each participants solves correctly

Sample Question #2. In an experiment, the factor manipulated by the experimenter is called the:
a. confounding variable.
b. dependent variable
c. independent variable
d. empirical variable

Although both types of questions occur on my exams, question #1 assesses understanding at a deeper level: If all you have done is memorize a definition of "independent variable" (a boldfaced key term in Chapter 2) without really understanding what it means, you will have trouble answering the first type of question.

The Main Portion (the Narrative) of the Text

In addition to key terms your textbook discusses lots of other important information, such as conceptual points, theories (as well as supporting or disconfirming evidence, and criticisms of theories), results of research studies, and other factual information about behavior. You should be looking for the important points throughout. Again, the focus questions in the textbook margins will help you identify many of these important points. As you read, I urge you to UNDERLINE or HIGHLIGHT important information and terms, and after you have finished all the readings go back and actively study and learn the material you've underlined/highlighted.

If you are having difficulty in identifying important concepts or you are uncertain about how specific you have to be, I encourage you to a) use the Focus Questions in the margin of the textbook take a look at a past exam (which will be available starting in Week 3 on the course website), and the Study Guide.

Dates, Names of Researchers, and Names of Cases/Examples

I don't ask questions about historical dates on my tests, and I don't ask about too many names of people either. In each chapter you will find hundreds of names of researchers; many names are mentioned in just a sentence or are presented in parentheses (usually, along with the date of a published research study or book). You don't need to know any of these parenthesized names or briefly-mentioned names or researchers. My only concern is that you know the names of major figures in psychology.

In Chapter 1, for example, the only names of people that I would like you "to know" are Wilhelm Wundt, William James, Sigmund Freud, John Watson, and B. F. Skinner. In Chapter 2 a lot of attention is paid to the work of Darley and Latane, so you should know what they did. Chapter1 also mentions other famous people, but I wouldn't ask you about their names based on Chapter 1 (but I will test your understanding of the various perspectives, e.g., behaviorism, humanism, etc., that these people represent). However, when we get to the particular topic where these psychologists made major contributions, then you should be familiar with their names. For example, when we cover "Learning" in Chapter 6, names such as Pavlov, Thorndike, and Bandura become important.

The textbook presents many major cases and examples to illustrate various points. Some of these receive a lot of attention, for example, the Robbers Cave study and jigsaw groups in Chapter 1, and the Kitty Genovese murder and Hmong sudden death syndrome in Chapter 2. Thus, a test questions might ask about these examples, so these are types of "names" that you do need to know.

Tables and Figures:

1. You should pay attention to Tables and Figures. Many Tables and Figures emphasize or highlight points that are discussed in the text. Example: Table 1.3 ( p. 21) and the Levels of Analysis figure (p. 23) organize and summarize information presented in the main narrative of the text. I would expect you to know this information, much of which you would be learning anyway by carefully studying the main (i.e. narrative) portion of the text anyway.

2. Some Tables & Figures present specific data, usually from research studies, that also are discussed in the main part of the text. I will not ask you about specific percentages or numbers. Rather, use the Table or Figure to reinforce the major point discussed in the text. If it is not discussed in the text, then extract 1 or 2 major points from it. Example 1: Table 1.2 on page 19 emphasizes a point discussed in the text, namely that there is a lot of variability across cultures in whether people believe that being in love with someone is a key prerequisite to marrying that person. Example 2: Page 432 of the book describes "separation anxiety" and briefly mentions in one sentence that separation anxiety displays a similar pattern across many cultures. This point is made so briefly (a sentence) that I likely would not ask you about it unless it was either discussed in class OR the text also presented a table or figure related to this topic. So, look at Figure 12.21 (p 432). This figure illustrates two main points. First, it indicates that the "rise and fall" of separation anxiety is similar across different cultures (also see the Figure caption). Second, it indicates that separation anxiety typically peaks at about 1 to 1.5 years of age. Example 3: Figure 4.15 (p. 115). I certainly don't expect you to memorize the location and order of all the specific areas on the somatosensory cortex and motor cortex, because no attention is given to these individual areas in the text. So what are the major points? Well, as I see it, if you read the caption and look at the figure (these points are also noted in the main narrative of the text) they are: a) each area of the motor/sensory cortex is associated with a specific part of the body, and b) the amount of cortical brain area devoted to each body part is proportional to the sensitivity of each body part's functions, not to the actual size of the body part.

3. Other Figures and Tables present new information that isn't really discussed in the text itself. Look at these Figures and try to extract the major points of each one. Example: Consider Table 4.1 (p. 102). Five of the six major neurotransmitters in this table are discussed in the text in Chapter 4 (on pages 101-103) but one of them, serotonin, isn't. We will cover all six neurotransmitters in class (and I'll add a seventh in class), but suppose we hadn't covered serotonin. In this case, I still might ask a question on serotonin based on its being highlighted in the table.

"Test Yourself" Knowledge Checks

Each chapter contains several "Test Yourself" boxes that present a small number of true-false, matching, or fill-in-the-blank questions. (The publisher did not want multiple-choice questions because of the considerable overall length, and thus cost, they would add to the book). I suggest using these Test Yourself items in one of three ways:

  • when you finish reading a section for the first time, test your initial understanding immediately by trying to answer the questions;
  • OR, don't look at the Test Yourself questions until you finish reading the chapter, then go back and try to answer the questions from all the Test Yourself boxes;
  • OR, don't look at the questions until after you have read all the chapters and have studied for the exam. Then try to answer the questions from all the chapters as a way to see how well you understand the material.

Of course, you can try one approach for one chapter and a different approach for other chapters. You also can switch your strategy for using the Test Yourself questions during the quarter. I can't tell you that one approach is better than another. If I were a student, early in the quarter I might use the first approach to see how well I'm understanding the material immediately. If I found this too easy, then I'd switch to the last approach and test my knowledge after studying to help me gauge how well I'm prepared for an exam.


  • YOU SHOULD KEEP SCORE. Don't just rely on a subjective impression, such as "I got most of them right." If there are 7 questions in a Test Yourself Box, for example, getting 4 or 5 right is "most of them", but would only represent a grade of F or C- (and if they are true-false questions, 4 "right" only equals chance guessing). Likewise, if there are 30 questions in a chapter, keep a record of your total score, and keep in mind that on True-False items 50% correct is no better than chance.
  • DON'T LOOK AT QUESTIONS AHEAD OF TIME. If you look at the questions ahead of time, then you probably won't get accurate feedback (you'll likely do better than you otherwise would have, and thus will overestimate how well you know the material.
  • REALIZE THAT THESE QUESTIONS ONLY COVER A PORTION OF THE MATERIAL YOU NEED TO KNOW. THEY ARE MERELY A "SAMPLE" OF THE MANY POSSIBLE QUESTIONS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN WRITTEN. Therefore, don't just "study to" these particular questions. The same is true for the online practice tests; the questions are merely a sample of many questions that could have been written.  Some of the topics covered by these questions will undoubtedly be included on the exam, but the exam also will cover material not found in the limited number of Test Yourself questions within each chapter.

A Special Note to (Graduating) Seniors: In Case Severe Senioritis Strikes

Many seniors maintain high motivation and good work habits in their final quarter of classes, though some develop a mild case of senioritis. Study habits may regress a tad as they look forward to leaving the hallowed halls of Huskydom. Either way, I hope that you find the course informative and stimulating, and no matter what grade you are striving for, I hope that you accomplish your goal and hit the graduation trail. In a few cases, however, severe senioritis rears its ugly head. Here’s one case.

Several years ago a senior in my spring 101 class came to see me after the last exam. He had failed the course (F’s on all 4 exams) and wanted to know if I would give him a passing grade so that he would graduate, or would at least let him do some extra credit work so that he could graduate. He told me (surprisingly honest, don’t you think) that he rarely came to class, did few of the readings, and — most amazingly — never even bothered to check his exam scores during the quarter because "I figured it was just an intro course, so I just assumed I did well enough on the tests to pass." But, he added, "I have to graduate because I have a job lined up this summer and will be leaving town."

I reminded him of the grading system laid out in the syllabus: I don’t change grades, there is no additional extra credit beyond what is already offered during the quarter, I apply the grading system to all students equally, and if he had bothered to check his scores after each exam he either could have corrected this situation himself (by studying!) or could have come to us during the quarter for assistance in learning the material. The failing grade stood, and whether he finished up in summer school or through distance learning I don’t know. I can only hope that the next time around he at least bothered to check his exam scores throughout the quarter. Please don’t put yourself in the same situation as this student. Check your scores, and please come see us soon if you are having difficulty with the material.


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