Revising for psychology exams

It didn’t take me long to realise that revision for medicine and psychology exams were two completely different beasts. I’ve had to adapt pretty quickly to studying for essay-based exams: I’m not sure I’ve done an essay in exam conditions since English GCSEs a lifetime ago. Since exams are just around the corner, I feel like there’s no better time to share some stuff I’ve found helpful whilst revising this holiday.

“Research” what’s going to come up in the exams

Embarrassingly I hadn’t realised this until I started revision, but for a lot of essay-based exams you don’t actually have to know everything on the syllabus. Unlike medicine where I can be tested on anything that’s come up since September 2014, it’s recommended that you pick a few topics that you’re most comfortable with and study it in some depth instead. In one of our upcoming exams, for example, I know I’ll have to either answer a question on theories of intelligence or theories of personality. So I can actually forget about half of the lectures straight away and concentrate on half the module to go into enough depth to be able to formulate an essay.

Read around the lecture

I’ve been told this both in medicine and psychology, but this made up a lot more of my exam preparation in psychology. I found it useful to read a couple of scientific papers, summarise, and evaluate them, ready to go into the essays. Perhaps that’s material for a whole other post.


This is where personal preferences come into this, but my favourite way to summarise my lecture notes is to splurge everything into a mindmap. It doesn’t work for some people at all; it depends on your learning style. Let’s take everyone’s favourite topic: depression.


I like seeing everything on one page, split up into obvious headings that would make it easy to translate into an essay structure later. It’s also quite nice to be able to see the literature that I’ll be able to use to supplement my arguments.

(I used SimpleMind to make the mindmap above).

Skeleton essays

This is one tip I’ve picked up from revision sessions run by the department. It would take an age to practice writing essays for all the topics that I need to know in the exam, so writing skeleton essays to test my knowledge on most of the topics would save me hours. It’s basically a more linear version of the mindmap I’ve already made in my notes, modified to answer the set exam question.

Practice an essay or two

Again, depends on your learning style. I need to do this because English GCSE was a long time ago.

Best of luck to other people taking exams this month (I know my former cohort in medicine had just finished their final pre-clinical exams). I would welcome any other tips and tricks other people have used in their essay-based exams.


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