Rak studied VCE Psych in 2017, and achieved a 45 raw study score. Rak wrote this article shortly before their own VCE Psych exam.

If you want to save time before the exam, check out our Complete Course Notes and Topic Tests for VCE Psych!

Since Psychology is a super content-heavy subject, it’s quite easy to forget (due to the lack of a correct retrieval cue, for those on top of Unit 3) some of the content. But fear not – you actually probably know a lot more than you are letting yourself believe.

And through relearning and elaborative rehearsal, you can be ready to face the wrath of the VCE Psych exam. Here are some methods I’m using before the exam.

Research Methods:

Let’s start off with the basic key knowledge for VCE Psych: research methods.

I like to think of an extraneous variable like this: it’s a variable other than the independent variable that may have an effect on the dependent variable. As for the confounding variable, I think of it as a variable that has had an unwanted effect on the dependent variable.

As for writing a research hypothesis, my teacher introduced us to his rapping stage name: PID DC.

Mention the population first up. Then the independent variable. Follow this by stating the direction (higher, lower, less, more etc.) that the independent variable would have on the dependent variable. And, finally, state a comparison group (usually the control group).

Nervous System:

Knowing all the divisions of the nervous system (NS) can be strenuous, but it’s something you just have to know.

However, you can make it easier for yourself through elaborative rehearsal.

So, there are two major divisions of the NS: the central nervous system (CNS), and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS only contains two sub-systems: the spinal cord and the brain. The PNS, meanwhile, contains the autonomic NS (ANS) and the somatic NS (SNS).

When you think of the ANS, just think of automatic, since the basic function of the ANS is to regulate visceral muscles, organs and glands.

If the ANS is automatic, then the SNS must be responsible for voluntary movement. Within the ANS, there are again two sub-divisions: the sympathetic nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system.

I think of the sympathetic nervous system as our body being sympathetic to the stressor we face, and increasing activity in order to respond to that stressor. The parasympathetic nervous system, comparatively, does the opposite function: it decreases activity in order to maintain homeostasis.

A handy tip for remembering neuron types is SAME. Sensory neurons = afferent neurons; motor neurons = efferent neurons.


A confusing element I found was the distinction between a major stressor and a catastrophe. I remember them by thinking that a major stressor is stressful for all those involved, whilst a catastrophe is a notch up: it’s stressful for a whole community.

When a stressor is encountered, the fight-flight-freeze response is activated, as the sympathetic nervous system is dominant. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are both released into the bloodstream.

When a threat is perceived, the HPA axis gets triggered. The hypothalamus is activated, which stimulates the pituitary gland to release the hormone ACTH. This then stimulate the adrenal gland to secrete stress hormones, including cortisol.

Something that took me a while to wrap my head around was Lazarus and Folkman’s Transactional Model of Stress and Coping.

There are two appraisals made in the primary appraisal. First, whether the situation is stressful, benign-positive or irrelevant. Then, if it’s seen as stressful, the type of stress is determined: challenge, harm/loss or threat.

The secondary appraisal comprises an analysis of the coping resources available to us. However, it’s important to remember that the secondary appraisal can occur concurrently with the primary appraisal.



Classical conditioning is best remembered through Pavlov’s experiment on his dogs; it’s easy to comprehend through the use of this example.

The neutral stimulus, which was the bell, initially elicited no response. The unconditioned stimulus (the meat powder) elicited the unconditioned response (salivating). Over time, the neutral stimulus (bell) was associated with the unconditioned stimulus (meat powder) to produce the conditioned stimulus (bell). And this led to the conditioned response (salivating).

A key tip is to always mention why the response happens. So, the unconditioned response was salivating due to the meat powder; however, the conditioned response was salivating due to the bell.

Something that may be confusing in operant conditioning is types of consequences.

There are four types of consequences: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment (response cost). Here, I think of “positive” as the addition of a stimulus, whereas “negative” refers to the removal of a stimulus.

So in essence, positive reinforcement includes the addition of a desired stimulus to strengthen behaviour (see the rat in Skinner’s Box pressing the lever to receive food). Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, removes an unpleasant stimulus, which makes behaviour more likely to occur in the future (for example, taking Panadol to remove a headache).

The five stages of observational learning can be remembered through the mnemonic ARR, MR. Just imagine a pirate saying that to aid your elaborative rehearsal. for attention, for retention, for reproduction, for motivation, and the final for reinforcement.



Knowing the distinction between explicit and implicit memories is crucial, as well as knowing where they are stored.

The hippocampus is responsible for the consolidation of explicit memories, and transfers memories to relevant areas of the cerebral cortex for storage. The amygdala is responsible for consolidating emotional information in memory, especially relating to fear and anger.

Context-dependent cues originate in the external environment, whilst state-dependent cues originate in the internal environment. 



I like to remember the different physiological measures like this. The middle M in EMG refers to muscles. The middle O in EOG refers to the orbital eye muscles – and also looks a bit like an eye! And that leaves EEG for brainwaves.

This allows you to easily define their function if asked.

Mental Health:

Many risk factors influence mental health and specific phobias. They can be classified using the 4P factor model and the biopsychosocial model, and it’s important to know which category each factor falls into.

The distinction between phobia, anxiety and stress is also helpful to know.

Stress is the response to a threat in a situation, while anxiety is a reaction to the stress experienced. Stress and anxiety can be helpful and adaptive in some situations, whereas phobia is not helpful at all.

The transtheoretical model was very confusing when I saw it initially, and I didn’t think I could remember all the stages. However, a mnemonic I made helps me remember it: PC PAM. for pre-contemplation, for contemplation, P for preparation, A for action, and M for maintenance.

Knowing what each of these stages means is crucial in order to predict what stage a person is at during a behaviour change.

Pre-contemplation is when the person isn’t aware of their problematic behaviour. Contemplation is when the person thinks about changing their behaviour. Preparation occurs when a person intends to change behaviour. Action happens when a person has initiative a behaviour change. And maintenance occurs when a person has sustained a behaviour change for a period of time.


I hope this article has helped you in studying for challenging areas in the VCE Psych study design, and makes your revision for the exam a tad easier!

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