May 152015

Psychology for revision successPsych up your revision using ideas from psychology to improve your chances of success


Effective deadlines

Deborah Anderson from Social Web Cafe has a Masters in psychology and was kind enough to share with me her trick for successful revision.

I am in my doctorate now and have been going to school, almost to a point of a career!
As far as exams, what works before for me is when I “fake myself out” and think that it is earlier than it is.  I realize that this may not work for everyone, but it would work for those who 1) procrastinate and 2) love the adrenaline rush.  Which, as you notice, describes me.
Personally, I love to prepare way ahead of time (like months ahead) or wait until the last-minute.  That last-minute thing is what hits me with exams.  So, if I “fake myself out” and thing that the exam is three days earlier and prepare for it as if that is the date, then about the time that the exam would occur, that three days earlier, I realize that “Wow, I’m getting this!” and more importantly, “Hey, there is a bit more information that I want to check and study.”  That little extra nudge that I feel at the last-minute is what makes the real difference.
I hear myself giving this advice and say, “That advice is just downright crazy!”  But, I graduated with summa cum laude with my BSIT and now with Dean’s honors with Masters in Psychology, so something must be working.

Internal deadlines are usually not as effective as external ones so tell your family this plan and when your fake deadline is. Ask them to give you a mock exam on the day of the fake deadline. Do this in proper exam conditions to time and then mark it using a mark scheme. This will then allow you to spend the last few days addressing any weak areas, learning from the mock and doing more practice papers.
Having a big deadline combined with being given study leave can cause procrastination. We can seem paralysed by the size of the task and feel like we’re not in the frame of mind to start yet but we have plenty of time so we’ll get to it when we’re in the mood. To overcome this you can set small deadlines between now and the exam. Make these real by having an accountability buddy get a study partner, family member or study forum member to check you’re keeping to the intermediate deadlines. Since the deadlines are smaller and more frequent you’ll be less likely to procrastinate.
Take action: Prepare for the exam as if it is three days earlier than it is and have evenly spaced smaller deadlines in the meantime.

Find your mojo

The other big reason we can procrastinate when faced with revising is that we think it is boring! It is really difficult to do a task if you aren’t motivated so you need to find your motivation. The two main motivators are pleasure and pain we want to do things that are pleasurable and we want to avoid pain.
If you are struggling to get motivated spend some time completing my motivation worksheet.

Get motivated to reviseGet motivated to revise worksheet pdf download

Take action: print and complete the worksheet and stick it on the wall by your study area.

How do you respond to expectations?

In her new book on building habits Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin outlines the four types of people based on how they respond to expectations.
1. Upholders find it easy to respond to their own expectations and those of others, happily ticking items off their to do lists. If you are an upholder you will always follow through on commitments in your calendar but if you are trying to start a new routine and it isn’t in your calendar you’re unlikely to do it.To find out more about upholders watch this video.

2. Questioners need to think through and question any new habit and they will only follow through if it makes sense to them and they can see evidence to continue. They are motivated by logical reasoning. Watch the video about questioners.

3. Obligers. If you are an obliger then you will meet commitments imposed on you by others but find it hard to start the new habit if you are setting expectations yourself. If you find it easy to do something when you arrange it with a friend but you can’t do the same thing alone you are probably an obliger. Gretchen Rubin discusses obligers in this video.

4. Rebels. Finally if you are a rebel you resist all expectations no matter who sets them. Rebels just want to do what they want to do in the moment and they find it difficult to follow rules, even those set by themselves. You can watch a video about rebels.

If you need more help deciding which type you are you can do this quiz. You may fall in the overlap, the important thing is to workout what types of expectations you meet and which you resist.

Gretchen Rubin 4 tendencies

Set up the relevant expectations to help you study.

If you are an upholder

  • Set up a revision timetable.
  • Set up some accountability to give yourself external expectations (see tips for obligers).

If you are a questioner

  • Start by thinking through questions. Why do you want to do well in these exams? Why is effective revision the way to do this?
  •  Track your progress.

If you are an obliger

  • Make yourself accountable to others.
  • Find a hard-working friend who is an obliger or questioner and work with them as a study buddy. You could physically get together for revision sessions or set up daily review sessions at the same time using Skype where you quickly tell each other the things you have learnt that day.
  • Set up a reward/fine system monetary or other.

If you are a rebel

  • Rebels need to focus on the present enjoyment of the process not the goal.
  • Find the positives and enjoyment in the action so that you will happily choose to spend time doing it.
  • Try and make revision fun- make it a game to remember as much as you can, enjoy the satisfaction of getting to the point where a topic ‘clicks’.

Take action: Decide whether you are an upholder, questioner, obliger or rebel and use the tips to help set relevant internal and or external expectations to motivate you.

Strike a pose

Adopting a confident pose can impact your success- in tests, interviews and maybe even getting a date! In this TED talk Amy Cuddy discusses her research on using what she calls power poses (research papers 1 and 2).

Holding a power pose such as this one, with head lifted, chest held high, shoulders back and arms raised to sides or on your hips, for two minutes impacts your hormones and therefore your feelings and performance.

Take action: Try standing in a power pose for a couple of minutes before you study, in breaks and before tests. While you are studying try to sit in an open relaxed posture and not slouching!

Dress well test well

Arnaud from Kip Kitchen explained to me how students should dress well to test well.

I’m reading The Magic of Thinking Big and there’s a tip in there for students taking exams. The author advises students to use clothing/appearance as a tool to lift their spirits and build confidence.
The author’s psychology professor used to advise students on last-minute exam preparations to dress up for the exam by getting new ties, pressing their suits and shining their shoes. “Look sharp cos it will help you think sharp.”

Research by Adams and Galinsky in 2012 looked at the effect of wearing a lab coat on test performance. They asked 58 students to take a critical thinking test with half of them being asked to wear a doctor’s lab coat and the other half their usual clothes. Those students wearing lab coats made about half the errors on more difficult questions. In another experiment they asked half the students to wear a doctors lab coat and asked the other half to wear identical white coats but told they were painters coats. The people who believed they were wearing a doctors coat got better test scores.They concluded that wearing a lab coat associated with doctors increased selective attention suggesting that wearing clothes with symbolic meaning can change the effectiveness of our thinking.
Professor Karen Pine delved deeper into this idea in her research outlined in her book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion. When she asked students to wear a superman t-shirt they then believed they were stronger and more likeable. In mental ability tests they scored 8 per cent higher. In her book Professor Pine outlines clothes likely to induce a positive mood including

  • Colours found in nature
  • Playful patterns
  • Natural materials
  • Any clothes you love!

Take action: Your physical exterior reflects your mental interior. How you look on the outside affects how you think and feel on the inside.

Pay attention

When you are studying make sure you are really paying attention. It is easy to slip into reading through notes and then realising you haven’t taken any of it in. Find somewhere to study where you can focus without interruptions. Remove distractions such as TV, music and technology. If you are getting distracted while you study be kind to yourself up. Wasting time and energy berating yourself will not help! Notice when you are distracted and then calmly get back on task. The more you do this the easier it will become. Many of us are struggling to concentrate for extended period and practicing mindfulness and/or meditation are good ways to increase your concentration span.
Take action: Read through my posts on mindfulness to find out why it helps students and try 31 days of mindfulness to get you started with this habit.

Have you tried any of these? Would you try any of these? Do you have any other revision tips? Leave a comment by clicking the pencil icon at the top right.

How to research using Google

 Study tips  Comments Off on How to research using Google
Sep 242013

Better research

If you have a question or need to do some research for homework or a project what do you do? I bet one of the first things you do is Google it. You probably quickly type in a keyword or two and only ever look at the first few hits out of hundreds of pages.

Many people haven’t been taught to use Google effectively they just quickly type in a keyword or two and only ever look at the first few hits out of hundreds of pages. Improving this won’t take you any longer but it will lead to better research and therefore better homework or projects. Being able to research effectively is an important skill at school, in the workplace, at university and for your own personal development. Take every opportunity to improve on life skills because by improving these you will be able to learn new things and adapt to new situations life throws at you.

When you use Google do you always find what you need? Do you find too much or too little? Do you have trouble finding information that is relevant? Do you find relevant information that you can’t understand e.g. it is at university level? Today I’m going to pass on some tips to help you research more effectively.

1. Never quote from Wikipedia!

Wikipedia is useful to read to get an overview of a subject but you need to get research from other sources. If you think a wiki entry is good then have a look at the references it is citing and read them.

2. Don’t ask Google questions.

Think about the key terms and phrases that will be in the answer and search for these instead.

3. Search within a site.

Type site:site name will only search the pages of that site. For example if I am looking for general information on research within a field for a GCSE homework you might start by doing a search of the BBC website to find relevant news stories etc. You would type followed by your search term.

4. Similar terms

Sometimes there might be several similar keywords you might try searching which mean roughly the same thing (synonyms etc.) In this case placing ~ before your search term will instruct Google to search related terms.

5. Narrow your results with a specific phrase.

Use quotation marks to find an exact phrase. If you type stem cells into your search then google searches for the words stem and cell both being within articles etc. This might give you some results about the types of cells in plant cells as well as results for stem cells. If you type “stem cells” then the search will be those words in that order only so you will have better results which are more relevant to the research subject. Keep in mind that searching with quotes might exclude relevant results. For instance, a search for “Alexander Bell” will miss pages that refer to Alexander G. Bell.

6. Remove the irrelevant.

How often do you search for a keyword and suddenly realise that the keyword has two meanings and one of them is completely irrelevant to your research. In this case you can use – with a keyword to filter out these results.

7. Focus on newer results.

Another way to narrow down your search results is to use a time range. If you are looking for all the most recent news and research on stem cells you could type “stem cells” 2012..2013

8. Most relevant results tend to have keywords in their title.

Another way to find the most relevant results is to search for the keyword within the titles of pages. This will cut down on annoying search results where your keyword occurs within the body of a document but the document is not relevant. If you type intitle:”stem cells” this will search the titles. Other locations you can search within are “inurl:”, “intext:”, and “inanchor:”. Those search for a term only within the URL, the body text, and the anchor text (the text used to describe a link).

9. Wildcard

Use the wildcard * if you are not completely sure of a word in your search term.

10. Be scholarly.

Don’t forget that Google Scholar allows you to search specifically for academic work. This is particularly useful if you are studying A level or doing an EPQ. It is at or you can find it using the more button on the main google page.

11. Narrow down file types.

If you want a specific file type use filetype:pdf (or .doc or relevant file extension)

12. Searching for a particular author.

This is particularly helpful when you are preparing for university visits and interviews. Use the university website to find the names and area of interest for the lecturers on the course you are considering. Then use google scholar to find some relevant academic they have written by including author:surname and the topic they are interested in. If the name is quite common in this academic field you might need to put the author initials as well as surname in quotes.

13. Appropriate searching.

Something to remember when searching for some Biology sites is the safesite search so that adult sites are not included (possible with some biological search terms). Safesite:


Once you find a useful website there are a few more tricks to help you.

When you find an article which is useful then you could use ctrl F. If you hit ctrl F and then type the word you are looking for then all instances of this word will be highlighted for you. This should help you quickly assess whether the page has information useful to you.

At A level in particular you should use Google as a starting point for research and then using Google Scholar and JSTOR.

Follow bibliographies. If you find a useful article or book then make a note of anything useful in the bibliography to follow-up. It is well worth visiting university libraries when you visit and big bookshops near or in universities (Waterstones Gower Street is amazing!) Arm yourself with a notebook, pen and smartphone. Find books relevant to the subject you are researching and scan them for information you could use and references in the bibliography you could follow-up. In libraries you might be able to buy photocopier credits or you could take notes or a quick photo of useful references etc.

Find related web pages to a site by typing


Did you know…

you can use Google as a dictionary and calculator. If you want to know what a word means then type define:word. To use it as a calculator your equation using basic functions +,-,*,/ and parentheses (). Google can also convert units e.g. 54 pounds in kilogram.

Study tips

 Study tips  Comments Off on Study tips
Jun 022013

Study tips

I have worked with many students on improving their productivity- the aim is to work smarter not harder. This is something I’ve studied a lot myself! I plan to write a lot more posts in this section. For now you can check out my first ever post on beating procrastination as well as my post on establishing a habit.

Apr 222013

Mindfulness day 1

This is the official start of my Month of Mindfulness. My aim this month is to establish a mindfulness practice in the morning. I already practice mindfulness/ meditation or relaxation for 20-40 minutes every evening and I really feel it is beneficial. I want to start a formal practice in the morning so I start my day focused and on track.

I find the best way to establish a new habit is

start small and build


1. Start small and build

Initially I will start with a 3 minute practice. This allows me to establish the routine but it is so short that it is difficult to come up with excuses not to do it! There has been research showing that establishing a quick, easy habit builds your confidence and ability to form new habits.


2. Anchor it to a current routine

I have various routines in the morning. Part of my routing is making a cup of tea and having breakfast. I am going to link my new practice to this routine so I will put the kettle on and then do my practice before making the tea and eating. I find that anchoring the new routine to an old one means I am far more likely to keep going.

3. Anchor it to a plaAnchorsce

I also find it useful to link a new routine to a place. In this case I have chosen a seat which is near the kitchen and which I usually use to relax and read. This seat is deliberately placed in an area with no television or other distractions. This means I already associate sitting there with quiet and contemplation.


4. Aim to do the new routine every day for a month

I usually find that if I do the routine every day for a month it reaches the point where I naturally continue the new habit. I have a tendency to try to change too many habits at once. I used to start every new year and birthday with a list of resolutions. I quickly learnt that making too many changes at once wasn’t sustainable. Now I still feel like making a list at these times of year but now I choose one to work on for a month and keep the others on hold. This month I will concentrate on establishing my new mindfulness practice and nothing else.

5. Accountability

I find it easier to start a new habit or change if other people know I am doing it. Even though I doubt whether anyone is going to read this the fact that I have promised to start this month of mindfulness (MOM) and plan to write a quick blog post every day about it will make me more likely to keep on track. I will also post my intention on a couple of forums I am active on where I know people will check up on my progress! I have also told some pupils at school that I am doing this so I have some accountability in real life as well as in the virtual world!!

accountability6. Rewards

Sometimes I decide to reward myself at the end of the month if I have kept the habit up. However, this month I am expecting the benefits for the practice will be enough reward. I can always change my mind if I’m finding it difficult.


This week I am using this breathing space guided meditation for my practice.

I will post later with feedback on my first practice and whether I felt it made any difference to my day. I will also post information on the Mindfulness Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS) which is used to measure mindfulness in clinical trials and I am going to use to see if my new practice has any impact on my score.


Day 1 feedback

I am using the Mindfulness Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS) to determine whether there is any change to my mindfulness score over the month. I will probably do this once a week. If anyone else is trying this I’d be really interested to hear your results so do leave a comment or email.

While I was listening to the breathing space meditation I noticed that my thoughts were rehearsing a mental to-do list. Thinking of things I wanted to get done today. When I was concentrating on sensations in my body I realised that when I was gardening yesterday I must have aggravated the tendonitis in my shoulder and that I was holding some tension in my shoulders (they were slightly raised). After my meditation I prioritised my most important tasks and picked those I wanted to focus on and complete today. I’ve felt focused and have achieved lots. I also feel I was more relaxed than usual when my iPad app lost this blog post despite the fact I’d pressed save! Instead of stewing about it I had a quick break and then rewrote it. I also was more aware of my posture and making sure I did not cause further pain in my shoulder when I was gardening.

Don’t forget you can try a month of mindfulness any time. Do let me know how you find it if you do.

Brain freeze effect without the ice cream

 Study and revision tips, Study tips  Comments Off on Brain freeze effect without the ice cream
Feb 032013

Brain freeze You’re sitting staring at a blank page. Where do you start? Every phrase that enters your head seems silly and doesn’t really nail down what you want to say. You either feel as if your thoughts are going round in circles or your ideas seem to have leaked mysteriously out of your brain. This is brain freeze! As you start to think too much about the exact way you should start a task you end up doing nothing instead.

Your phone pings and the distraction is a relief. A brief stint on Facebook makes you feel a bit better as it seems all your friends are feeling exactly the same way. Maybe you should have a break. You spend so long feeling paralysed, procrastinating and distracting yourself that before you know it you are running out of time. You have spent several hours thinking about attempting the task but you end up handing in an unfinished or shoddy piece of work. You know you were capable of producing something much better in that time.

You are not alone in feeling this but often there are very simple strategies you can use to overcome difficulties. Strategies that allow you to focus and get things done. As I started writing this post today I was faced with the possibility of brain freeze. How should I start the first post of my new blog? How would I introduce myself? Instead of sitting staring at the screen I followed the brain freeze busters that I’ve shared with students and learners over the years.

  1. Before you sit down do some exercise. At the very least do some stretches.
  2. Turn off all distractions to focus on the task in hand. Reread any instructions for the task.
  3. Plan to work for a set amount of time and then have a short break. Plan a rewarding activity for when you finish. Set an alarm to signal your break.
  4. If there is a choice to make think about it for 5 minutes and then choose. If you have been given a choice of topics or tasks none of them are the right or wrong ones to pick so you may as well save time and go with your first instinct. Ideally you should select the option that seems most interesting to you as you’ll be more motivated to write.
  5. Just start! Quickly sketch out your ideas as a mind map or series of bullet points. Break the work up into chunks that can be tackled one by one.
  6. Don’t worry about quality at this stage just get something down on paper. When we started doing school work we’d usually be using a pen and paper. We’d start writing, realise we wanted to change what we had written, throw it away and start again. We probably progressed to learning to write messy drafts with scribbles all over them and eventually writing up a final copy. Now we tend to write on a computer and even if we want the end product to be written on paper we could write and edit electronically before hand writing our final draft. It is far more effective to get started and write anything and then spend additional time carefully improving and editing.
  7. Take a short break, reread and edit. This is when you should tweak the structure and content, focusing on improving the quality.
  8. Have a longer break and then proof read your work to check for obvious errors and spelling mistakes. It can help to read your work out loud or to read a printed copy at this stage.

Brain free So that is it. When I sat down to start this post I thought I would write an introduction to who I am, why I have started this blog and an outline of some of the things I might post. Within 5 minutes I recognised I was heading for brain freeze! Then I suddenly realised that this was exactly the situation I have discussed with many students and this was exactly the thing I should write a blog post about. I’m not expecting the whole world to read my blog so it would be silly to spend too much time trying to make it perfect (good is good enough!). Hopefully some of the people I teach, tutor and mentor will check out my blog occasionally and hopefully they will find some of the things I post helpful to them.