Top 10 Tips for Success

Aiming for a top grade in IB Psychology?  Nobody can say it will be easy, but it is definitly worth it.  Remember that doing well in IB Psychology isn't just about the grade on your transcript - its about how well you've grasped the key insights of Psychology, insights that can be applied to transform your life.  After teaching IB Psychology for several years, here are my top 10 tried and true tips for success.  They are divided into things to do During Class, After Class, and Before Tests.

Part 1 - During Class

#1. Don't just sit there - write something!

Taking notes during each lesson helps keep your mind engaged and focused.  If you don't take notes, its likely that all the new information will pass in one ear - and out the other! 

So take notes - and know how to take notes.  Don't try to copy down every word your teacher says!  That's impossible, and your notes will end up being pages and pages of illegible scribbles.

Instead, listen carefully for the key words, concepts, and ideas, and write those down - with a brief explanation (in your own words).  Taking notes this way involves information processing - your brain is constantly deciding what is and isn't important - and that's proven to help retain that information in your memory.

#2. Question everything!

In addition to taking notes, another great way to keep your brain switched on during class is to question everything.  Think an experiment  has some serious flaws?  Can you come up with a different explanation for a study's findings? Is there another way to understand a behavior?  Keep engaged in each lesson by thinking critically, asking questions, and challenging assumptions.

Don't be afraid to be controversial!  Do you think animal testing is fundamentally wrong, or is it a small price to pay for scientific progress?  Does evolutionary psychology reveal some important biological differences between genders, or is it an unproven doctrine which serves to prop up traditional gender norms? 

Asking tough questions and raising controversial issues will make class so much more engaging, and you'll end up grasping Psychology on a much deeper level.

#3. Keep your mind on the ball

Its Friday afternoon, and just one more Psych class to go!  You've been in class all day, your mind is exhausted, and soon you are drifting away to thoughts of the weekend while your teacher drones on about the hippocampus.  Suddenly, you snap back to reality, and realize the last 15 minutes of class have gone by in a haze.  You hope your best friend has taken some notes!

We'll all been there.  Keeping your mind sharp and focused is easier said than done.  To help sustain your concentration, be sure to follow the two tips above - taking notes and asking questions helps keep your mind alert.  Ensure you get enough rest before each school day.  And if you really feel yourself struggling to keep your eyes open, ask to be excused and splash some cool water on your face in the bathroom.  You may miss a few minutes of class, but you'll return feeling refreshed and ready to learn.

Part 2 - After Class

#4. Be the kid with the awesome notes

Taking good class notes is only the beginning - think of them as an incomplete first draft.  After each lesson, dedicate some time for re-writing your notes into a polished summary of that lesson.
Use the notes you've made in class, your IB Psychology textbook, any resources your teacher has shared with you, and this website to help complete the final version of your notes for each lesson. 

Yes, it is time consuming - but necessary to excel in IB Psychology.  Making a second, final draft of your notes forces your brain to re-engage with the class material, processing and integrating knowledge from multiple sources.  Put simply - when you make a good set of notes, its like writing the information down in your brain.  You'll remember everything that much better.

#5. Study in the shower! (just kidding...)

We don't literally think you should study in the shower (although, if you laminated your notes, you could...)  Rather, now that you have made awesome notes (see tip #4), take your notes with you and seize every opportunity to quickly review them.

Waiting for the bus?  For a restaurant meal to arrive?  For your friends to show up at the mall?  The day is filled with idle minutes, and rather than checking Facebook on your smartphone for the millionth time, take a few moments to quickly brush up on your latest Psychology lesson.

Reviewing information at repeated intervals has been proven to dramatically increase long-term retention.  It's as if you were saying to your brain:  "This stuff matters! Remember this!"

#6. Keep it all sorted out

Don't be that guy who has last semester's Psychology notes buried in a shoe box somewhere in the garage.  Making awesome notes is great, but keeping your notes well organized and accessible is even better.  Make sure to dedicate one large, 3-inch binder to Psychology, and keep everything there - your class notes, tests, handouts, articles, and so on.  Come up with a logical way of organizing your binder, and stick with it.

Trust us - when it comes time to revise for you IB final exams, this is so important.  There's nothing worse than finding out you are somehow missing half your notes from the Cognitive level of analysis because your mom mixed them up with your sister's Algebra homework.

Part 3- Before Tests

#7. Team up!

Call up a few of your IB Psychology classmates, and arrange a study meet up!  Studying in a group is one of the most enjoyable - and effective - ways of revising.  You can take turns "quizzing" each other on key concepts and research studies to sharpen your memory.  Moreover, its likely that someone in your group will have really great notes on a topic you've missed, or has really insightful way of explaining a concept you've yet to fully grasp. 

In all honesty, studying by yourself can be a real slog sometimes.  Once you hook up with a fun and effective study team, you might even find yourself looking forward to your next study meet up. 

#8. Flash those cards

Do you study by reading your notes over and over again?  Research has shown that's one of the least effective ways of studying.  The key to studying effectively is to test yourself constantly, because by doing so, you are giving your brain a true mental workout.

Flashcards are a classic study tool that work just as well today as they did in your granddaddy's time.  Of course, you can up the ante by creating digital flashcards, using intelligent flashcard software such as Anki , available for free at

But whether you use analog or digital flashcards, the idea is the same.  You put a question, concept or research study on one side, and detailed notes on the other.  Choose a card randomly, and see how much of your notes you can recall.  Practice with your flashcards repeatedly, and you'll become a Psychology whizz in no time.

#9. Chunk, don't cram

Pulling an all-nighter before a big test might seem like the best recourse for getting a top grade, but its far from the most effective study strategy. 

Does cramming work?  Well ... kind of.  Its true that cramming is probably better than not studying at all.  But the problem with cramming is that as soon as your test is over, you'll almost certainly forget the material as quickly as you crammed it in. 

Cramming is a short-term strategy that might save your back on a test, but won't work well in the long run.  Remember that at the end of the course, you'll need to know practically everything from two years of Psychology study.  And the way to make that happen is to build up your knowledge gradually, not cram it in (and forget it right after).

Rather than cram, the key is to space out your studying in quick, 45-60 minute study bursts.  When your teacher announces a test date, break up the material you need to know into 5-7 chunks, and then study one chunk per day in the week leading up to the test.  And then pull off a final cram session, on the last day, where you quiz yourself on everything.  (This strategy got me through university, so trust me)

#10. Finally...make Psychology matter

Why did you choose to study Psychology in the first place?  Was it just to get a good grade?  Chances are, you choose Psychology because you wanted to understand people better.  Never lose sight of that, even when you are really stressed out before a test. 

Every time you learn something new, ask yourself:  "How does this explain everyday situations?  How can I use this knowledge in my life?"  For example, understanding models of memory might help you develop better studying strategies, or learning about neuroplasticity might inspire you to being mastering a new skill. 

Furthermore, by making Psychology meaningful and relevant, this will also help you understand and remember the course content in a more powerful way.  Imagine two students - one who is so obsessed about getting a 7 that she tries to memorize every fact, while another student who really cares about Psychology and tries to really understand it deeply.  Chances are, the second student will end up with the higher grade, because she will have developed a much deeper level of understanding.