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Psychology at University - FAQ

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Applying to Uni? Let Universities come to you. Click here to get your perfect place 20-10-2014
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    I'm pretty bored, so I thought I'd make a "What is Psychology like at University?" thread as I tend to get a lot of PMs about it anyway. It would probably be helpful to say that I'm currently finishing my second year, beginning preps for third year research and what not.

    I'll try and break the thread up into sections, maybe include a few slides from some lectures I've had, a few paragraphs from some of my assignments perhaps. So:

    Contents

    A-Level versus University
    Are the statistics really hard?
    What do you actually study?
    What are the essays like?
    What is your timetable like?
    What are lab reports?
    How much work do you do?
    Do you have to do much reading?
    What are the exams like?
    Multiple choice exams?
    Workload and Socialising?
    Should I do some reading over the summer in preparation for degree level Psychology?
    When (and where) should I buy my textbooks?
    What are the best A-Levels for Psychology?
    Do I need work experience for Psychology?

    A-Level versus University: The jump up
    I personally think that A-level Psychology, while worth studying, is not good preperation for degree level Psychology. This is mainly due to the ethos that the course instills in the students; Topic One has x research supporting and x research against, then generic criticisms of both. At degree level, it's just not that simplistic.

    At degree level, it becomes very clear that the subject is not just a cluster of isolated theory. Everything is related. The mind is one of the most complex entities in our known world and this is certainly reflected in the theory used to explain it. No theory has clear supporting and opposing evidence. It's not as simplistic or superficial as A-level suggests.

    Other notable points worth mentioning is the use of literary searches. Most a-level students would never have used a database like PsychINFO or ever read an actual research paper. It's worth doing as it is a useful skill in searching for and selecting relevant papers. It also helps when you come to find the relevant information in a paper.

    Here's an example of a research paper:
    http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/atta...1&d=1267832240

    Papers like this is what you will spend the next three years spilling your guts over. Get used to reading them.

    Finally, referencing. During the time that you're not getting your head around needlessly complex experimental methods will be spent plucking your eyes out ensuring that every comma is in the right place in your references.



    Are the statistics really hard?
    Simply, no. If you can use BODMAS (aka PEMDAS) then you can do statistics. Most departments will start from scratch, I'm talking mean, median and mode. It will, however, progress very quickly and you'll soon be doing multiple linear regression in your sleep. The formulas might look complex, but they're essentially just recipes. Don't worry about it.



    What do you actually study?
    Biological, Developmental, Cognitive, Social Psychology, Research Methods, Statistics, Cognitive Neuroscience, Neuropsychology etc.
    Psychology is dynamically broad. As a result, I have lecturers who have hugely competing views and regularly have arguments which is great. Social Psychology and Biological Psychology are just two completely different worlds. Thus, chances are, there are going to be topics you adore and topics you loathe. I don't know many people who enjoy the subject completely. For example, I can go from studying number representation in children to attribution theory to experimental methodology to Rogerian counselling to the functional architecture of the cerebral cortex to principal components analysis to neuroanatomy.

    Example of one of our lecture slides discussing activation in the SMA a few seconds before activity in the primary motor areas:




    What are the essays like?
    Not too bad. They range from 2000-3000 words. To get a 2.1 you need to successfully use the research to support your argument, that means understanding what they did and the implication of their results upon your argument. It needs to be well structured and convincing. In order to get a 1st, it needs to be innovative and creative.

    Here's an introduction to an essay titled "Why do people make errors in statistical judgement?" This got a decent 2.1.
    (Original post by Essay)
    Statistical judgement is the process in which conclusions are drawn about the probability of various hypotheses being correct, based upon the information available to us as well as inferences made using previous knowledge to bridge the gap of any uncertainties (Morsanyi, Primi, Cheisi and Handley, 2009). Our judgement of the likeliness of one hypothesis being higher than another is such that easily changes in the light of new evidence or the appearance of reasons to reject previous evidence; a concept manifested in Bayes’ Theorem. However, much research into judgement and decision making has identified the high frequency at which errors are made by either interpreting events in an overly deterministic way or over emphasis on the uncertain. Morsanyi et al. offer the suggestion that this may be the result of a failure to integrate the two contradicting ideas behind probability: that one event is essentially unpredictable, while in the long run a reoccurring pattern may be identified. For example, the gambler’s fallacy, or the negative recency effect (Cohen, 1960) offers an example of overly deterministic interpretations of random events. When under situations with constraints in time, information or cognitive freedom, we invite inference into our decision making through the use of seemingly rational heuristics which exploit the physical and social environment (Chase, Hertwig and Gigerenzer, 1998). Unfortunately, these cognitive shortcuts are subject to bias and often lead to ultimately incorrect decision making. This discussion will describe some of the heuristics and biases commonly used, and to provide evidence which attempts to offer reasons behind how and when these errors of statistical judgement occur.
    The hardest part is actually fitting your essay within the word limit. It takes practice to condense your writing down to present the information efficiently.



    What is your timetable like?
    Pretty flexible. I essentially have a four day week, each day having 2-4 hours of lectures with the occasional tutorial thrown in. It's pretty independent in terms of the work that you do. This gives you plenty of time to work on your employability through volunteering, work experience, getting involved in departmental research etc. This naturally changes from year to year. In my third year most of my time will be taken up by the dissertation, lectures and essays due every week.



    What are lab reports?
    Essentially, you have to write a research paper. This would include an abstract, an introduction, a methods section, a results section, analysis and a discussion. You typically conduct an experiment with your year group and you are given the results to analyse and a general topic and asked to produce a piece of coursework ~2000-3000 words long. You tend to do about 3 or 4 of them per year.



    How much work do you do?
    This year (second year) I have had:
    Six essays
    Three lab reports
    Three statistics assignments
    And finally, summer exams.


    Do you have to do a lot of reading?
    Yeah. After each lecture we're generally given at least 3-5 papers to read, a few chapters in a book perhaps. This can take up a lot of your time.


    What are the exams like?
    They tend to be essay based and around two hours long. You often have your choice of questions. Here are a few examples from past papers:

    (Original post by Exam)
    1. H. Lau (Lau, in press; Lau & Passingham, 2006) claims that many reported results on the neural correlates of consciousness "may reflect differences in performance, rather than perceptual consciousness". Discuss this argument with reference to empirical studies.

    2. Compare the visuomotor transformation and planning-control accounts of optic ataxia. What evidence supports each theory?

    3. What are the implications of blindsight for theories of visual cognition?

    4. Can Kelley’s covariation model satisfactorily account for how people make attributions in everyday life?

    5. Discuss whether evolutionary psychology offers a useful way of understanding human behavior by critically presenting one psychological study that has been conducted within an evolutionary framework.
    Do you have Multiple Choice exams? If so, what are they like?
    If you have MCQ exams, they will probably only be in your first year.

    They include things like:

    A likely cause of Korsakoff's Syndrome is:
    A: Alcohol dependency or poor diet
    B: Stroke to the right parietal lobe
    C: Poor grouping of object variables
    D: Epilepsy

    or things like

    Transfer-appropriate processing is a model of memory:
    A: That suggests the most important determinant of memory is how extensively information is encoded or processed when it is first received
    B: That suggests new experiences change people's overall knowledge base, altering their understanding of the world.
    C: That suggests the critical determinant of memory is how the encoding process matches up with what is ultimately retrieved.
    D: In which information must pass through three stages in order to become embedded in memory.

    They tend not to be like:

    Corbett 1980 did what?
    A: Blah
    B: Blah
    etc



    Do you have time to socialise with your timetable and workload?
    I would say that you have plenty of time to socialise, or even hold down quite a hefty part-time job.

    In the later years this might become more of a challenge, but if you plan out your assignments in advance then you will have absolutely no problem. Come the last half of your third year (i gather), however, I don't think you will be seeing daylight because of the workload.

    But in general, you have plenty of spare time that you can dedicate to reading, working, socialising, volunteering etc.



    Should I do some reading over the summer in preparation for degree level Psychology?
    Sure, if you would enjoy it. It certainly isn't required and wouldn't give you an advantage per-say as you probably won't cover common topics. If you think you would enjoy it, there certainly isn't any harm in picking up a general textbook to get a feel for the subject. I would recommend something broad like: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Psychology-H...8002781&sr=8-2 Psychology by Gleitman. It covers a lot of topics very generally. Naturally, there are more specific books out there, but it depends on what you're interested in. Other good books include:
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cognitive-Ne...8504215&sr=8-2

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Introduction...8504246&sr=1-1

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Biological-P...8504263&sr=1-3

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Social-Psych...8504298&sr=1-1

    Other good reading includes The Psychologist magazine found here:
    http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/ This includes a free digital taster on the right, and the editions can be bought online very cheaply.


    When (and where) should I buy my textbooks?
    AFTER you have started and as you need them! Secondly, ignore the lecturers who try and convince you to go out and buy this 20 long list of textbooks that will cost you hundreds of pounds. Chances are, you will only open them once. 99% of your resources will be online research journals. Textbooks are only good for general overviews which are good for starting an essay on unfamiliar grounds.

    If you ARE going to buy textbooks, the Amazon Marketplace is your friend. I've picked up next to new textbooks for pennies. Don't buy them brand new. OR, you can buy them off previous year groups. When you get your uni email account, you will be spammed by second and third years trying to sell their textbooks.


    What are the best A-Levels for Psychology?
    Firstly, consult your chosen universities to ensure they don't have any specific requirements. Secondly, I strongly recommend
    Psychology, Biology and Maths (Or even better Statistics). This is THE best combination for Psych. You cover the fundamental basics, you have a good foundation for neuroscience, and you're introduced to the fantastic world of statistics. You're also given basic essay writing skills from Psychology. Your fourth choice can be whatever really.



    Do I need work experience for university?

    Simple answer is no. It's not expected as a requirement. That said, if you are considering applying to the competitive universities, e.g. Bristol/Oxford for example, it might be worthwhile. The kind of work experience available to you as an a-level student, however, is limited. At best, you can obtain voluntary positions in a caring environment, for example a hospital befriender or an volunteer assistant in a neurorehabilitation centre. The best website to use for finding these is http://www.do-it.org . There is an alternative called vinspired, but it is literally the same content.

    Voluntary positions such as these are typically involving vulnerable people and thus require a criminal records check (CRB). It is the organisation's responsibility to provide you with this application and for voluntary positions, it is free to you. These can take at least 3-4 weeks, but can take much longer if it is your first one, of if it is a busy period.


    I can't really think of any other questions, so if you have any feel free to ask and I'll add them to the thread.
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    wow good thread
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    Love you, GodspeedGehenna.
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    (Original post by llacerta)
    Love you, GodspeedGehenna.
    :gah: :teeth:
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    (Original post by GodspeedGehenna)
    :gah: :teeth:
    :woo:

    I just have one question, mainly about the exams- you've mentioned essay-based exams, but what about the multiple choice ones? I've always wondered what they're like as I can't really imagine how you can have a multiple choice psychology exam. Are there like different statements and you have to choose the correct one or something?
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    (Original post by llacerta)
    :woo:

    I just have one question, mainly about the exams- you've mentioned essay-based exams, but what about the multiple choice ones? I've always wondered what they're like as I can't really imagine how you can have a multiple choice psychology exam. Are there like different statements and you have to choose the correct one or something?
    I had a few in my first year.

    They include things like:

    A likely cause of Korsakoff's Syndrome is:
    A: Alcohol dependency or poor diet
    B: Stroke to the right parietal lobe
    C: Poor grouping of object variables
    D: Epilepsy

    or things like

    Transfer-appropriate processing is a model of memory:
    A: That suggests the most important determinant of memory is how extensively information is encoded or processed when it is first received
    B: That suggests new experiences change people's overall knowledge base, altering their understanding of the world.
    C: That suggests the critical determinant of memory is how the encoding process matches up with what is ultimately retrieved.
    D: In which information must pass through three stages in order to become embedded in memory.

    They tend not to be like:

    Corbett 1980 did what?
    A: Blah
    B: Blah
    etc
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    (Original post by GodspeedGehenna)
    I had a few in my first year.

    They include things like:

    A likely cause of Korsakoff's Syndrome is:
    A: Alcohol dependency or poor diet
    B: Stroke to the right parietal lobe
    C: Poor grouping of object variables
    D: Epilepsy

    or things like

    Transfer-appropriate processing is a model of memory:
    A: That suggests the most important determinant of memory is how extensively information is encoded or processed when it is first received
    B: That suggests new experiences change people's overall knowledge base, altering their understanding of the world.
    C: That suggests the critical determinant of memory is how the encoding process matches up with what is ultimately retrieved.
    D: In which information must pass through three stages in order to become embedded in memory.

    They tend not to be like:

    Corbett 1980 did what?
    A: Blah
    B: Blah
    etc
    Ah, okay, thanks!
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    Does your timetable/workload give you enough time to join societies/sports clubs? Also does your workload mean you don't party/socialise as much?
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    I was wondering if you knew anything about transferring credits from an American university to an English university Psychology course? Any information would be appreciated :yep:
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    Good undergrad overview. Will definitely recommend it to those I hear are interested in pursuing a degree in psych.
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    (Original post by skotch)
    Does your timetable/workload give you enough time to join societies/sports clubs? Also does your workload mean you don't party/socialise as much?
    I would say that you have plenty of time to socialise, or even hold down quite a hefty part-time job.

    In the later years this might become more of a challenge, but if you plan out your assignments in advance then you will have absolutely no problem. Come the last half of your third year (i gather), however, I don't think you will be seeing daylight because of the workload.

    But in general, you have plenty of spare time that you can dedicate to reading, working, socialising, volunteering etc.
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    (Original post by catiecashman)
    I was wondering if you knew anything about transferring credits from an American university to an English university Psychology course? Any information would be appreciated :yep:
    I've got no idea. That's very specific and is something you would probably have to discuss with individual universities.
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    (Original post by GodspeedGehenna)
    I've got no idea. That's very specific and is something you would probably have to discuss with individual universities.

    Alrighty! Thanks anyway :yep:
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    hi there, your article was very useful but i just wanted to know a bit about employment prospects after university with a psychology defree. See, I'd really like to be a psychologist but the idea of 3 years or something of work experience quite puts me off because it seems a long time and apparantly it's really hard to acctually gain any work experience.

    Also, apparantly Psychology isn't taken very seriously as a degree on its own by many employers I don't know if that's true or not. If so, it's a bit stupid because psychology is a science degree and quite mathsy and should get more recognition. anyway, I just wanted to know your oppin ion as a student on the things i mentioned

    thanks :woo:
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    Wow, thats some serious win right there! Thanks for the guide.
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    Amazing advice.
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    *Subs* :yy:
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    (Original post by kiss_me_now9)
    *Subs* :yy:
    I can't think of anything else to add to it. Any suggestions?
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    (Original post by GodspeedGehenna)
    I can't think of anything else to add to it. Any suggestions?
    Erm, how about how difficult someone would find it without previous science alevels etc


    Because this is bugging me a bit >__<
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    (Original post by GiveMeMonsterBaby)
    Erm, how about how difficult someone would find it without previous science alevels etc


    Because this is bugging me a bit >__<
    What A-levels are you doing? Most universities consider Chem/Bio/Physics or maths as a Science. However, a lot also consider Psychology or even Geography. -didn't do any science, only took Psychology-

    And wow, thank you Godspeed <3. This is seriously helpful~~ -haha, seriously not looking forward to the math part but hey, to a psychologist, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do- xD

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