Success in PSYC 100

One of the best things about studying psychology is that you can leverage what we know from research to improve your grade… not just in this course, but in every course you ever take. Sometimes the hardest part is letting go of ineffective habits and developing more effective ones, but to succeed in this course you will have to do more than work hard… you will have to work smart. So, what does the science have to say about what leads to student success?

01-A: What is Psychology?

  • What are the ABCs of psychology?
  • How would you summarize psychology as a discipline?
  • What are the most common subfields and what kinds of jobs do those psychologists do?
Psychology of Evil - Affect Behavior Cognition Diagram

Psychology is the scientific study of Affect (feelings), Behavior, and Cognition (mental processes such as thoughts). It is helpful to begin with an overview of the field and some of the careers that a background in psychology can lead to.

READ: Careers in Psychology - read the sections on "What is psychology?" and "Some of the subfields in psychology."

01-B: Mindset Matters

Is my grade in a course just a reflection of how intelligent I am as a person?

  • What is the difference between "fixed" and "growth" mindsets?
  • How might students with different mindsets behave differently?
  • How did Dweck demonstrate that changing our mindsets can change our performance? Be prepared to describe the methodology used by the researchers, and what they found, in both of the studies they discuss in the article.


Before you even begin this course we need to address a very important fact… the beliefs you have about your own intelligence will influence how well you do in this course. Read about Dweck's research on growth mindsets and academic performance. The key idea here is that hard work and well-placed effort makes you more intelligent - and knowing that can improve your grade!

READ: Students' View of Intelligence Can Help Grades

CLICK on the diagram to view the ways in which students with two different mindsets approach and react to things.

Which mindset have you had in the past? Does reading this article change the way you think about your own intelligence and performance?

01-C: Learning Styles?

  • Do I really have a "learning style" that determines whether or not I can successfully learn in a course?


Chances are that you have heard about the idea that different people learn different ways and that in order for you to be successful information needs to be presented in a way that matches your style. So what do psychological scientists have to say about that?

READ: Do Learning Styles Limit Learning?

01-D: Studying Smart

  • What does "studying smart" involve?
    • Why is distributed practice more effective than "studying a lot" for a test?
    • Which common studying techniques were found to be the least effective for students?
    • Why does being tested help me learn? What is the research evidence that supports the Testing Effect? How should this influence how I study?
  • What is the evidence that planning to teach can help you learn?
  • How can UMD students get some coaching on how to study LESS and get MORE from that time?

Would you advise an athletic team to take the practice season off, wait until a couple days before their first game, and then stay up all night practicing? Should the band spend a few hours watching videos of other people play instruments, and then just wing it at halftime? Cramming might work when the goal is to temporarily memorize some facts, but that's not the same as truly learning how to do something. For that, we need consistent practice and feedback.

Every semester a handful of students come to their instructor after the first exam and say "I don't understand why I didn't do well on this, I studied really hard." The problem is that this is not a question of effort -- it is a question of effectiveness. Many times students are relying on old habits that got them by in the past, but the most successful students use research-based approaches to study smart.


READ: Highlighting Is a Waste of Time: The Best and Worst Learning Techniques

READ: What is the Testing Effect?

READ: A Teaching Mindset Can Enhance Learning

01-E: Healthy Brain = Better Gains

  • What can I do to help my brain help me?
    • What is the relationship between sleep and learning?
    • How does what you eat influence what you learn? You don't need to memorize all of the nutritional elements described, but be prepared to provide at least one specific example.
    • Why would a moderate amount of exercise improve academic performance?


READ: Don’t Neglect The Obvious: Sleep, Nutrition and Exercise

01-F: Self-Handicapping

  • Why would people use self-handicapping to protect their ego? What research evidence is there that this occurs? Describe what the researchers did and what they found.


We tend to assume that having a positive self-esteem is a good thing... though in some cases, our desire to feel good about ourselves can lead us to make decisions that hold us back from achieving our potential.

READ: Self-Handicapping Your Resolutions

01-G: Mindfulness

  • How can mindfulness meditation improve academic performance?
  • Are the effects of mindfulness meditation the same for all groups that have been studied?

VISIT: Even Brief Meditation Can Improve Student Performance


01-H: Distraction

  • What is inattentional blindness?
  • How does cognitive load influence your learning?
  • What is the evidence that laptops and cellphones can interfere with your learning? Be specific about the research methods used to address that question.

VISIT: Digital Distractions