On my first day of class, my Psychology HL teacher told us that the most significant (and most sinful) reason that students take Psychology is that they want to know what others are thinking, so they can predict every move someone could possibly make. The moment my evil motives were uncovered, I realized I may have made a big mistake. Luckily, my first tryst with Freud’s controversial theories and experiments on memory hooked me into the study of the most interesting subject – the study of the human soul aka psychology.
IB year 1 for me was a rollercoaster ride. It was filled with days where writing ERQs ( Essay Response Questions) and SAQs ( Short Answer Questions) was a struggle. But, there were also days where I watched “Still Alice” and learnt about Alzheimer’s from Netflix, and times when I became a magician as I explained the science behind illusions. I managed to get a 7 (even though my first exam had me sitting and staring at a blank wall contemplating my life decisions). I fell in love with a subject which continues to envelop me in the complexities of human mind and behaviour. Here are the principles which I swore by, and can do the same for you!
1. Use Mind Maps and Take Handwritten Notes
Psychology HL can be a very overwhelming subject because there is just a ton of information that forms the core of this subject. You need to have a deep understanding of it to think critically. I used to make checklists of all the topics I would need to understand in each chapter. I then drew mind maps, which allowed me to create skeletons of each concept,thus helping me stay organized. Writing my own notes meant that I understood information first and then reworded it in my notebook. This helped me prevent exam anxiety because I could just go over my notes to refresh my memory, instead of pulling all nighters to cram.
2. Understand Key Terms and Mind Word Limit
Always remember that the smartest hack to do well in this subject is to make the command terms your bible. Be it a command term like “describe”, “ discuss”, “evaluate”, “examine”, or “to “what extent”, each command term gives you direction towards the format of your answer. For example, in a question with the command term “describe”, you are required to give a detailed account of a research study. Whereas, in a question with the command term “discuss”, you are expected to include different arguments and counter-arguments or talk about different hypotheses with the help of adequate evidence.
You need to understand what the question is asking and answer according to the command term. Reading the official guide and level descriptors will also help you show your knowledge of psychology in test conditions.
Last but not least, word count is crucial! It is important to not write too much, as your examiner will not read the answer because they have other papers to mark. Or, if you write too little, you will look like a student who did not study for the test.
3. Past Papers and Feedback
The more past papers you do, the more confident you’ll become with answering different formats of exams. The best way to practice past papers is to make an outline for each question, write full answers, get feedback, and then rewrite. I read sample answers by students who scored high marks to get a general sense of what needed to be included in my answer, and then went to my seniors who studied psychology to get feedback on my answer outlines.
Additionally, I went to my Psychology HL teacher during office hours with specific questions about how I could improve my answers and understand where I went wrong with my past attempts to make sure that I reviewed my mistakes and learnt from them. This helped me establish a good relationship with my teacher as it showed how much I truly cared about improving and also helped me become familiar with exams.
4. Fall In Love With The Subject
I know it sounds nerdy, but hear me out, okay? Taking any subject at a higher level requires a time commitment and continuous practice, but Psychology HL becomes even more demanding because it uses cognitive, behavioral, and sociocultural approaches to establish correlations between different phenomena.
Since it is a mixture of both social sciences and natural sciences you need to be interested in this subject. I watched TedTalks, Psychological movies, read about crazy experiments, and spent time building my interest instead of just focusing on the syllabus. My interest helped me become gritty and motivated me to work hard . My passion became the fuel to my resilience and I ended with 7s in all of my papers and final year 1 grade!
This subject is so intriguing that it will have you hooked as long as you commit to it. Scoring well and getting that 7 is not as hard as it seems and once you actually like this subject it will be an easy peasy and extremely fun journey. I pinky promise you!