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How to learn and revise better for psychology exams and interviews

by Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist

This article has been amended from Episode 65 of The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast. If you'd prefer to listen to it then you can here.. You can also watch it on YouTube here.

Hi, welcome along to the Aspiring Psychologist blog. I am Dr. Marianne Trent and I'm a qualified clinical psychologist. Thank you so much for coming back regularly to read what I've got to say and what my guests have got to say too. Or this might be your first ever read. If it is, then welcome along. I'd love it after you've finished this article you took a moment to share it with friends, rate the podcast on Apple and subscribe to the YouTube channel. If you really like the podcast / blog series and you think it's useful, I'd love it If you consider buying me a cup Herbal tea, which you can do by going to my link tree here.

It does cost me a few hundred pounds a month to produce the podcast series. So if you do find the content helpful and you can afford to buy me a cup of herbal tea I'd be so very grateful.

So, I know, because many of you have been in contact, that you are all at different stages of your career. Some of you are doing GCSE's, some of you are doing A levels, some of you are doing your degree, some of you are doing or have already done your master's, some of you are doing your doctorate or your PhD. Some of you are even already qualified. So we've got a really big broad area. Some of you are even working in an unrelated career considering coming across and jumping ship to the good ship psychology. So I try to create content that's going to be useful for you, whatever level you are at, and I will make sure that I'm trying where possible to reference how this can be relevant for you wherever you are at right now.

So obviously interviews can come up at any time of the year. Exams tend to be sort of summer-ish, but if you're doing modular courses, they might be all year long as well. Right now as I record this we, this, this is going out in March but I'm recording this in February, 2023. We are in the swing of interview season for educational psychology and clinical psychology. We are starting to hear whether people have got interviews. So I thought it'd be really useful cos I know we all have busy, busy lives to think about some of the revision or learning techniques that don't work as well as we might think they do. And then come in and talk to you about the ones that evidence has shown us. We love a bit of evidence, don't we? The evidence has shown us does work. I'm not gonna leave you high and dry though as ever.

We do have our compassionate Q&A sessions. So if you do need or want some extra support with the application or interview process, regardless of what you are at right now, where you're at you can come along to the sessions and ask me questions. They're all free and they're across my socials. A great place to hang out, to make sure you catch it is in the free Facebook group, which is The Aspiring Psychologist community with Dr. Marianne Trent (Free Group). You can also catch it live on YouTube. I'm basically Dr. Marianne Trent in all of the social media places. So the first session will be happening on Monday, the 13th of March, 2023 at 7:30 PM And if, if when you are reading this, you're like, "Well that date's already past Marianne!" Then you'll be able to catch it on replay on my YouTube channel, Dr. Marianne Trent, like, subscribe, do all those good things whilst you are there. And our second session of this year will be on Monday the 17th of April, 2023 at 7:30 PM and our third will be Tuesday cos of the little bank holiday on the Monday the 2nd of May, 2023 at 7:30 PM And if you are reading this and it's totally the wrong time of year for you and you are thinking, well actually I'm applying for stuff, I'm not preparing for interviews, then we've got your bases covered there as well on Dr. Marianne Trent channel. You can access all of the replays for previous Q&A sessions for application season, not just interview season too. So let's get on with the content for today's article and I do hope you find it useful.

So the first of the techniques for preparing for exams and interviews, that doesn't really work that well but evidence suggests we think it works quite well is: rereading.

So rereading chapters or notes you've made or, you know, summary things doesn't work as well as other strategies. So this research was put together by a psychologist called Dunlosky and they found that there was some limited evidence that it does work, but the, because it's a passive learning technique that it sort of works, but it's not the most effective. So yeah, I was, to be honest, blown away because I always thought that was the thing to do that rereading you're just rereading a whole book or you know, particular chapters on topics was gonna, was gonna blow things out of the park. So if you are also like what then? Read on, because I need to tell you more about the other stuff that doesn't work as well as we might think it does.

Okay, so the second thing that might well blow your mind is highlighting and underlining! That is one of the things that was absolutely my go-to! Lining up the desk, getting all the highlighters ready, getting the little tab markers to mark stuff that was my bag baby. But actually there's been evidence to suggest that not only does it not help with our performance, that sometimes it can hinder our performance because it means that we are learning things in too narrow a sphere really. And what it doesn't help us to do is to make inferences. And of course in psychology, being able to link things to other areas can be really, really important. Whereas if we've boiled it all down to, you know, one or two lines, then really our knowledge is not super dense, is it? You know, it's surface level at best. So don't worry, I'm not gonna leave you high and dry. I'm not gonna leave you with all the stuff that doesn't work and then not tell you about the stuff that does. So read on......! There's more great things coming too.

Now when people are asked again about whether they feel that highlighting is gonna be a useful strategy, they absolutely think it is. And even when they're told that it's not that helpful, they might still like to engage in it because it feels kind of comforting, like a safety blanket. So absolutely carry on doing it if you would like to, but do bear in mind there's other techniques that that can skyrocket your performance in interviews and tests too.

Okay. So the third thing that isn't working as well as we think it might is summarising or making notes. It's been found again by Dunlosky, that it's got pretty low utility in helping us learn stuff, helping us remember stuff, helping us recall the stuff when we need to. And the theory is, is we're not summarising effectively or efficiently and we need to be either taught how to do that better or just give it a miss altogether because there's other strategies that do work better. It's not something that I was taught at school or uni.

You might well have been and if you are using advanced skills in summarising, you might be knocking it out the park, but many of us are winging it and just doing what we think is going to be best. So yeah, if you do like these things, then do continue to use them, but maybe also use the other techniques that I'm going to be talking to you about too. If you are a passionate note taker or you wanna use modern ways to think about your preparing or testing yourself, I have been really loving the remarkable tablet. It's a paper free tablet, which really helps you organise yourself to, if you'd like a £40 pounds, off code, click here.

So what works? Great question. So the first of the techniques that's gonna start to work really, really well for you is what's called: active recall, because that is thought to be much more efficient than just cramming the stuff in there. So the theory is that when we're trying to get stuff out of our brain, it actually strengthens the neural pathways for us to be able to do so when we need to get it.

So we need to be able to practice getting that stuff that we've learned out. We might do that by using practice tests, by doing practice interviews and popping ourselves on the spot. And we might be able to do past exam papers as well. And you might be like, well seriously, how much of a difference can this make? And there's some evidence to suggest that it's 10 to 15% increase in performance just by having one practice test at the end of each study session that you do. And there's other evidence to suggest that doing that can boost your performance between 30 and 60%. Wow. Imagine that if whatever recent exam or interview situation you were in, your performance was boosted by 30 to 60%, and again, you might be like, no, that can't be as good as me rereading that chapter four times. That is totally the way to do it.

Evidence suggests that people that used active learning during four study sessions performed better than people who just read a chapter four times. Interestingly, students actually did rate in research that they thought active recall was going to be the least effective strategy for helping them to improve their performance, but it was found to be one of the most effective strategies. So what have you got to lose? Give it a whirl, try out some active recall at the end of your study sessions and see how you go.

So I'm gonna take you through some techniques to help you do active recall because you might be like, I don't really really know how to do that. So let me guide you through those. There's other ideas in a book called Make It Stick as well. I wanted to also thank somebody who I follow for inspiring this podcast episode.... Ali Abdaal and he's a medic. But I thought I'd make this specifically relevant to my psychology audience. So you might well be a big fan of flashcards. You might well make your own flashcards, but technology has moved on a little bit and there is a flashcard app that you can use as well, and it's called Anki. And what you can do is you can set the question or the prompt on the front of the flashcard and then on the back is the information that you need to be able to recall. So you are, you are aiming to help that prompt on the front, dig deep into your brain and help you with that active recall. Help you with getting that information out there. And with the Anki app, which is free, I believe you can also rate how easy you find that easy, medium and hard.

And if you rate it as hard, it might well crop up again in 10 minutes. If you rate it as easy, it might not crop up again in your flashcard practice for a couple of weeks because you still need to be able to access the easy stuff, don't you? But of course the stuff that's harder to learn, you're going to need more exposure to. So one of the things that can be really tricky and that people tell me is really tricky in psychology is being able to remember all of the studies and the research that they need to be able to quote and cite. You know, sometimes you might just write Smith Ital, yeah, 2020. But it's really can be useful to remember as many of the authors as we can and of course be able to convincingly talk about the research.

So being able to pop on the, on the flashcard, the names of the authors and the year. And then on the back, giving yourself a little summary of the research and then being able to almost regurgitate that when you need to, either in an exam situation or in an situation will make you look really, really whizzy <laugh>. You can even use that app when you are learning that information to begin with. So rather than taking notes, which we've been told is not that effective, you can literally make those flashcards as your notes as you're going along. And then yeah, use those as part of your active recall, either at the end of a lecture or the end of a study session. So it's that ability to test yourself as you go along, that is going to really lay the foundations for that active recall.

It's not just passive strategies. Okay? And the next of the strategies that's gonna supercharge your abilities is making notes, but with the book closed. So read what you need to read and then make notes based on what you can remember. And then when you've made your notes, have a read through the book again, see what you've missed, and then close the book and try to add to that on what you've missed. You might well want to use strategies such as spider diagrams when you're doing that to link your learning to. And the final of our techniques for really boosting your techniques in active learning is, rather than just making traditional notes, is to write questions for yourself based on the material. So as you are learning it, write yourself questions and then answer them. So why this works is because it really ramps up the cognitive effort involved in your learning.

It's not purely passive, we're not just sponges, we're not going to soak it up when we do more with the stuff that we are learning. It's more likely that those neural pathways are gonna be thrown down in the right way which is gonna help us be able to find them again when we need to be able to get that stuff out of our brain. So I hope you found this really useful. In summary, we want to be, you know, if it feels comforting, if it feels like a safety blanket, then you can still carry on making notes, summarising, highlighting and rereading. But really in order to do ourselves the ultimate favour, it's really important that we seek to do as much active recall as we can. And ways I would do this is I'd probably over dinner, get my husband to ask me what I've learned today.

That's another simple way that you could use or you know, if you speak to your Mum or a friend on the phone, you could say you know, could you check in with me even on WhatsApp and ask what I've learned today? And, you know, then parrot it out either as a voice note or if you like to type, you could type it out so you are really strengthening those neural pathways. Or perhaps you could look at using your supervision sessions to talk about some of the things you've learned recently or some of the things you've read recently. So you could use a portion of those supervision sessions to get you practicing active recall or to get you practicing interview techniques and styles. If you are at uni or if you're learning in some capacity, then think about how you can test yourself among your cohorts, the people you are learning with.

How could you set each other little study sessions so that you can all advance cuz you don't, it's not, it's not a contest. Be amazing if you all did really, really well. How have you found this episode? I hope you found it really useful. If you have, please do leave me a comment. If you're watching on YouTube, please wait and review. If listening on Apple Podcasts, tell your friends about us. Tag, whoever you like on socials who think who you think might benefit from this content. Don't forget we've got those compassionate Q&A sessions coming up as well. We've got the first one on Monday, the 13th of March, 2023 at 7:30 PM We've got the second on Monday, the 17th of April, 2023, also at 7:30 PM and the third is Tuesday, the 2nd of May, 2023 at 7:30 PM And if you'd like even more advice, support, and guidance do consider coming along to the Aspiring Psychologist membership where for £30 pounds a month, we can really help supercharge your skills, expertise, and confidence to get you where you'd like to be. Thank you so much for being part of my world. I'll look forward to catching up with you for the next article in the Aspiring Psychologist Podcast series, which will be available for you from 6:00 AM on Monday. Take care

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