How to Take the Perfect Psychology Notes

Psychology is the study of the human mind. And considering how complex we are, there are many different theories about why we think the way we do. In a Psychology class, you’ll typically learn about psychologists and their beliefs, read articles and have in-depth classroom discussions. Since this subject can be taught and presented in so many different ways, it can be difficult to know what to even make note of. So here are a few tips to help make sure you’re taking the perfect notes in Psychology class.

Structure your notes around what you’ll be tested on

Each professor has a different method and approach to teaching. Does your professor primarily lecture, or is their class more focused on having group discussions? Are you required to watch and interpret movies or books? Whichever medium they emphasize the most is the one you need to focus on the most. So pay close attention to what you’re professor is spending the most time on. If your professor has stated that his analysis of a movie will be a question on the test, you should make it a priority to take detailed notes on his explanation. There is often a lot of information presented in a Psychology course, so knowing what the teacher expects you to remember is essential towards taking the best notes possible.

Know who the most influential psychologists are…and those who counter argue them

Most Psychology classes will focus on the theories developed by different individuals, and professors love to compare and contrast different theorists. Remembering famous psychologists and their theories is understandably important. But you should also take note of those that argued against them and why. For instance, if you are studying Sigmund Freud and Steven Pinker, you should thoroughly explain their beliefs in your notes and also mention how their theories clash with one another. Being able to describe, dissect, and compare ideas in this way will help you to better understand their individual arguments.

Categorize individual theories into larger schools of thought

Piggybacking off the previous point, it is also useful to group each theorist into different schools of thought. You will find that some psychologists believe in an overarching ideology like Behaviorism, while others may believe in Cognitivism. So you not only need to understand each individual concept but also how they are related to one another and how they differ. Making note of what categories each psychologist falls into will further help you differentiate them and provide a larger context for their theories.

Highlight key concepts within assigned readings

Usually, professors will assign specific readings to help expand your knowledge of a given concept. Even if you find the assigned readings lengthy or uninteresting, it is imperative to take the time to read the articles or at least skim them. While you’re reading, it’s also important to take the time to make notes or highlight important or confusing sections along the way. Doing this will not only allow you to be better prepared for class discussion, but it will also help you gain a better understanding of what can sometimes be a confusing subject matter.

Don’t skip note taking during class discussions

Class discussions are another common teaching method used in Psychology classes. This practice is beneficial because it gives students the opportunity to hear multiple interpretations of a concept and bounce ideas off of one another, which fosters a better understanding of the material. But though you should be participating in the discussion during this time, you should also make sure to take a few notes, especially if the teacher puts a lot of emphasis on them and you think some of the content will be featured on the test. Your notes on class discussion do not have to be extensive; just having a general idea of what was talked about will be extremely helpful.

Review your notes

By giving your notes a second look after you have written them outside of class, you’ll have a chance to clarify things that might have been harder to understand in the moment. You can add new details that you have learned since then or rephrase sections to more clearly express an idea. The process of reviewing and editing notes also gives you time to group similar elements together as suggested earlier so that everything is more cohesive. You will also be able to see which concepts you have the most trouble understanding since they will most likely be the most difficult portions to read and comprehend.

Knowing what to expect in your Psychology class will greatly improve your ability to write better notes. If you can focus on writing about the topics your teacher emphasizes, remember the different psychologists and their beliefs, take note of your readings and class discussions, and find time to review them afterward, you will be more than prepared for your next major exam.


Originally published at A Student’s Guide to Success.

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