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Countdown to the Psych Exam – Part 1

By Farween Munaff in Study
13th of October 2016

14 days until the Psych exam. Those six words seem enough to spring your sympathetic nervous system right into action. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. You need to ensure that your focus is on the end goal. And everyone’s goal for the subject is different; whether that be just wanting to get psych over with and never have to analyse a dog salivating again or whether it’s to attain the best study score that you can achieve.

Here’s a basic summary (okay this is probably the complete opposite of a basic summary) of the things you should do in this 2-week lead up to the Psych exam J

Use the Study Design (please!!!)

Throughout the ATARNotes Psychology lectures, I usually ask students how many of them use the study design as a tool to guide their psych revision. It actually breaks my nerdy heart to see how many students don’t use it! Remember that you’re not being assessed on the whole textbook in the exam (especially that one WHOLE page dedicated to some awful psych joke – not that mine are any better :P). The study design sets out (in dot-point form) what ‘key knowledge’ you need to know. It’s basically like a checklist for what topics you have to know for the exam. So make sure you download it from the VCAA Psychology website and actually check off which content/topics you’ve mastered and which ones you’ve still got to work on.

Your revision of content doesn’t need to stop

Don’t feel like your content revision has to come to a complete stop when you start doing practice questions or trial exams. Of course, you should know the content well enough to retrieve it from memory. But if there’s a topic or area of study you’re still a bit uncertain about, then go back and revise it. It’s not a crime nor does it make you a ‘weak’ student. I was still revising topics even after starting practice questions – if you don’t know a topic now, you won’t magically know a lot about it in the exam – so better to revisit those topics now rather than later. In terms of study techniques, I liked to explain topics out loud when revising – if I was able to explain out loud what a topic was about I could almost always definitely write about it when responding to a question (it’s kind of strange at first and everyone will probably think you’re talking to yourself but it worked for me and a lot of other psych students I know!).

Your revision does not have to be solely text-based

While the majority of topics in Psych are very text-based (e.g. definitions, explanations), this doesn’t mean that revising from notes has to be the only way of studying. You can also make concept maps relating to the topics you’re finding difficult or confusing. E.g. create flowcharts that show how a particular theory/model works, create ‘word splashes’ with key terms relating to a particular theory/concept, use cue cards to make flash-cards for definitions you’re struggling with, and watch videos or web clips relating to particular topics you need to further understand. E.g. since the Atkinson-Shiffrin multi-store model of memory is about the flow of information from one store to the other, you might make a flowchart for this topic. Or you might make a ‘word splash’ for the topic of Serial Position Effect – and write key terms around the topic e.g. short term memory, long term memory, rehearsal, primacy effect, recency effect, etc. While these extra strategies are not essential, they can really help to extend your knowledge of content (especially if you’re getting bored of just revising using your notes).

Don’t compare your learning and progress to others

At this stage of exam revision, there will be people around you saying that they did a whole exam in like 30 mins or saying that they completed 4 exams in one night (okay I exaggerate but you probably get the point). The important issue here is that you shouldn’t feel intimidated or dismayed by how others are doing their exam revision. You are the master of your own learning. Students always ask ‘how many practice exams should I do?’ but really, there’s no magic number. I didn’t spam a billion practice exams but what I did do was really work on the questions that I found difficult in the lead up to the exam. E.g. I might do a bunch of 2 mark or 3 mark questions that were related to topics I found difficult – and I would do these under timed conditions i.e. about 1 min per mark. Or I might work exclusively on a Section C question to improve my research methods skills. It’s about working on the types of questions you know you would struggle on in an exam situation – not just doing what everyone else is doing. If you can’t determine what questions you would find difficult, think about the kind of questions you lost marks on in SACs throughout the year or ask your teacher for some feedback on what areas you should be further consolidating.

Doing practice questions and exams

Sometimes if I felt too tired to do full questions and just wanted to sleep, I would at least jot down a few points of what I would include for those responses. Even this, in a way, helps your planning and structuring of answers and is obviously better than not attempting those questions at all. Of course, I did do trial exams as well under timed conditions (this is without a doubt essential for any VCE subject) and you should at least do a few to get familiarised with timing and what it is like to do a full exam. In particular, ensure you do as many VCAA exams as possible – as these are indicative of the kind of difficulty and formatting of questions you’ll get in your exam. On that note, don’t feel like the VCAA exams pre-2013 are totally irrelevant. In fact, the majority of questions are still relevant for you and you’ll know which ones are not. Just remember that exams before 2013 had a different format, duration and slightly different structure – so while you might not be able to do them as full exams in timed conditions, you can still pick and choose questions out of them to attempt J For VCAA exams before 2011, Memory is situated in Unit 4 (so look at the ‘Exam 2’ for questions on Memory).

Be productive in your exam revision

The important thing is that you don’t get into the trap of doing practice exams just ‘for the sake of doing them’ and not learning anything from them. E.g. while defining ‘Mental Health’ was one of my favourite Qs, it wasn’t very helpful when it was something I was doing again and again and again. That’s why you need to do questions that scare you – for the topics you’d usually ignore or worse, stare down angrily when you flip to them in the textbook (Baddeley and Hitch’s Working Memory, I’m looking at you). Your revision should be about quality and productivity, not just quantity. Everyone learns differently and everyone has 24 hours in a day – it’s about maximising the time you have. This is probably something all teachers say but it is truly about ‘studying smart, not hard’. As long as you’re addressing the areas of Psych that you find difficult and doing appropriate questions to build and refine your skills, you shouldn’t feel bad for not smashing out 3983492489 trial exams in one go.

Finally…

At the end of the day, VCE Psychology shouldn’t be a stressor in your life that leads to increased allostatic load. Remember that it’s just like any other subject – get the content down-pat, do practice questions/trial exams and avoid stressing (or should I say distressing…) as much as possible. I know that’s easier said than done, but that is basically all there is to do. If you find things overwhelming, try talking to a friend who’s also doing the subject, jump onto the Psych forum board, or better yet just do something relaxing to calm your mind such as taking numerous snaps with the snapchat dog filter (it’s kind of related to psych right? Pavlov’s dog? Maybe not :P). Or eat chocolate (some study mentioned that it helps to release feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain 😀 ).

On a final note (finally!), be positive, have faith in your efforts, and let the power of eustress motivate you to get things done in the best way you can. You’ve made it this far so this upcoming fortnight will be a piece of cake (and will probably lead you to have a lot of cake – if anyone tries to stop you, tell them it’s for emotion-focused coping 😛 ).

Happy studying and all the best for the two weeks ahead!

– Farween

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