This might help orient you to the way I teach, test, and grade for different courses:
This course is memorization based. It’s standardized across the psychology department, which means that I didn’t create it… I just play by its rules. If you haven’t already looked at all the materials on my “PSY 101 only” page, you should still get to that. (None of this applies to the honors section.)
Lectures: In PSY 101, we cover a ton of material, although it is all organized so that one unit covers two weeks of class; some units, however, are more fully packed than others. Because of this pace, which is defined by the department and which we must follow, this course is heavy on one-way lecture: me talking and you listening. Now, in my style I tend to ask a lot of questions as I lecture, and I sprinkle the material with jokes and silliness, but the bottom line is that I talk a whole lot, communicating the ideas to you in ways that I hope you’ll understand, and you have to follow it, take notes, and do your best to remember it all.
I don’t use Powerpoint. I do write on the board or on the overhead. I occasionally show pictures and video clips. I am, however, generally entertaining. I try not to bore you. Warning: take notes while you listen to me. Whether I write something on the board or not, just about everything, other than the jokes, is part of the material that the tests will hold you accountable for. Don’t stop taking notes just because something is really captivating, or boring. If what I’m talking about relates to the “learning objectives,” as detailed in the study guide, then it’s going to be on a test.
Tests: The tests in PSY 101 are all multiple choice. I did not write them. Some of the test questions are easy and many are challenging. Some will seem trivial. But they are all a part of the test bank that is used for this course, so you’ll have to get used to them. All test questions can be answered from reading the textbook, but they often require that you apply knowledge rather than just recognize factual statements. This means you have to remember what all the concepts refer to, but you also have to be able to recognize them when correctly applied (remember, it’s multiple choice, so the correct application is always there). Trust me, the tests are challenging. You’ll need to make use of all the traditional study skills to do well in this course; if it comes easy to you, you’re very bright (and lucky to be that way). If you’ve read my “PSY 101 only” page and all the material on it, you know that we give you practice tests and multiple opportunities for each unit. We do that because we know it’s a challenge. However, we are not testing your ability to think psychologically; we are testing your ability to remember psychology.
Other grading: There are no other grades in this course. PSY 101 grades are determined entirely by your test scores. There are no homework assignments to hand in, no papers to write, no extra credit games, nothing. Put all your energy into preparing for the tests.
How you can help make this course successful: First, attend class all the time, and be there on time. Second, read through the assigned textbook pages so that you will be at least vaguely familiar with the concepts when I lecture about them in class; this means covering about four or five “learning objectives” for each class (you’ll catch on to the pace after a few weeks of class). Third, when you’re in class, pay attention; don’t play with your phone – you’ve chosen to get a college education. Fourth, take notes – this is one of the hardest courses on campus, and note-taking is a highly effective memory aid. Fifth, try to answer the questions that I ask in class during lecture; this will make you a more active participant (but if you find you’re the one always speaking… chill a bit so you don’t dominate). But don’t just talk to your neighbor: the class is crowded and even if I can’t hear you, you are no doubt disturbing someone by talking to a friend. Sixth, take as many tests as you can; the A and C tests take about 15 minutes out of your school day one day a week each, and people who take more tests average higher grades. And while you’re working on a test, whether in the learning center or in class, don’t act suspicious: just complete your test. Finally, seventh, don’t quit. Very few people who complete the class actually fail.
Lectures: PSY 205 – Social Psychology – is very different from PSY 101. First off, like all my other courses, PSY 205 is entirely my design. I am responsible for the choice of texts, the material you’ll be expected to learn, the tests, the additional assignments, the grade structure, etc. The lecture style in social psychology is an ongoing mixture of traditional lecture and open discussion. Personally, I enjoy the course more when you contribute more; I can talk my way through any specific day, make enough jokes to keep myself entertained, but I want your input, your thoughts, your questions, your confusion. My goal in social psychology is to get well beyond memorization; I want you to understand what is interesting about the topics we cover. I want you to be able to think about the topics as they relate to real life and add some social psychology to your daily conversation skills. I ask questions to get you involved, and I often work with your thoughts to communicate the substance of the issues we’re studying. I’m not grading you during lecture so don’t worry about saying something that’s off the mark because it gives me a chance to re-explain things, a chance to make the communication work right so that you get closer to comprehension.
I don’t write a lot on the board in this class. I should write more, but I just don’t. When I do it might simply be because I think something is difficult to spell, so I spell it for you. Nor do I use Powerpoint or hand out study guides. My tests in this class are by no means limited to the things I write on the board, so take notes… even when it is a back-and-forth discussion. Take notes to help you remember how to interpret concepts (like, what is a schema?), and take notes so you’ll remember what role something plays in some broader process (like, how do schema influence the impressions we form of people?). When I step in to clarify things in a discussion, even though I might be responding spontaneously to one student’s comment, I’m teaching, and it might end up on a test. So pay attention to the discussions as much as you do to the one-way communications. I show a few video clips in this course, and we even take time to watch one (maybe two) hour-long documentaries (don’t worry: nothing boring). But the emphasis is always on seeing some depth in the concepts and topics that we’re covering.
Quizzes: The quizzes in social psychology are all short essay and short answer style. Even the final exam will be in the same style (only longer). I generally set up each quiz with four questions, although for the first three, you have a choice between two items on each one. Question 3 is almost always directly from your secondary text of compiled, original readings; I am testing to see if you read the assigned work. Questions 1 and 2 are from the material as covered in class or in your main textbook. I don’t normally ask a question directly from the book that we never discussed in class, but it’s possible. Question 4 is always a set of short-answer definitions/descriptions using concepts mostly from the texts. This design means a couple of things: 1) it samples what we’ve covered; I only have a few questions to ask and we’ve no doubt covered a lot of material, so I sample it… and I don’t tell you what I’m going to ask beforehand, so you have to study a lot more than will appear on a quiz – that’s part of your education; 2) it lets me ask thoughtful questions; I can ask questions that attempt to see if you comprehend the concepts, and not only if you can find their definitions in your memory; 3) it lets me give you partial credit; rarely do you get an answer entirely wrong, except on the definitions, or if you did not read the assigned additional readings. When I grade the quizzes I give you credit for being right, I reduce credit when you’re wrong, and I usually try to see, based on what you wrote, if you understand the topic.
Other grading: In this course I assign a small handful of homework assignments (mostly one-page essays) that require you to apply concepts in one way or another, and one formal term paper. Although I grade the homework on a pass-fail basis I don’t just check it off as having been completed. I read it. I mark comments on it. I look for serious writing deficiencies so that I can direct you to the Writing Center if necessary so you can work on that before the term paper comes due. The term paper is graded on a traditional basis (letter grades). I accept assignments handed in late, although they are typically penalized; but they are always better late than not submitted at all. One important point about the homework assignments (and term paper) is that there is a huge difference between a zero and an F. If you get an F on a homework assignment, then I score it as having earned 55 points (on the 0-100 scale). (And you can always rewrite them to get a higher grade, as long as it was submitted on time, so it’s easy to avoid F.) But if it is never turned in, I give it a zero. There’s a huge difference between 0 and 55; think about it: the difference between a C and an A is a mere 20 points (or less, e.g., 76 to 93 is still going from C to A), but the difference between an assignment done poorly but done (F, 55 points) and one not done at all (zero) is 55 points (that’s bigger than the difference between an A and an F). Don’t get any zeros. People who fail this class do so because they have gotten zeros for not handing in work.
How you can help make this course successful: Attend class every time it meets, read ahead in the textbook so you’ll be at least vaguely familiar with what we’re talking about, take lots of notes, and contribute to the discussions in the classroom. Don’t expect me to feed you a list of things to know. Be willing to think while you’re in class; be willing to try making connections; and be willing to laugh about yourself. Also, just do the work: homework assignments have due dates and you need to get things done on time. And if I tell you to use the Writing Center to work on writing, go and use it. The additional readings are assigned and show up on quizzes even if we don’t talk about them in class. And don’t cram for quizzes because they are not simple definition-memorization exercises, but study for them regularly.
Lectures: PSY 166 – Psychology of Superstitions – is a course that straddles some line between fun and serious. Okay, it’s safe to say that in all my classes I straddle some line between fun and serious, but in this one, so does the material. It’s a course where you have to think, but not as deeply as I described under social psychology, if you happened to read that, above. Although, I must admit, it can get pretty heavy at times for a freshman-level course. Now, whether you have fun in the class and enjoy it, or not, is probably a matter of whether you’ve come to learn, and have an open mind about the weaknesses of human thinking, or just come to pass tests and get credit. Throughout lectures I try to get you involved in discussing the topics and noticing their relevance to everyday life; in a small class of 15 students this works easily, but when the class is large the discussions can be harder to get going and harder to keep everyone involved. But it is a topic of ideas and discussing them is a key component to learning about them.
I do show a lot of video clips in this course, and though some are just fun (due to the nature of the course), most make a point. And there is a lot of repetition of the points being made because: 1) they can be complex (though not always); and 2) they don’t sink in otherwise. As in all courses, try to remember to take notes even when we’re just chatting back and forth. You’ll want notes to help you remember what we talked about in class, so even if your attention wanes, try to write some things in your notebook so that you have something to review before the quizzes. Focus on the concepts and what they mean, how they are applied to everyday scenarios, or how they relate to scientific research. Don’t bother memorizing names of researchers. And when I give examples in class, try to add your own examples to your notes (you can do this after class) – these will be of use to you on quizzes. Don’t only write in your notes what I write on the board: we discuss many more items than I write on the board.
Quizzes: There will be four or five short-answer quizzes throughout the semester, and no midterm or final exam. There are no multiple-guess questions. This course is not an easy A, but neither is it difficult. However, if you slack your way through it you’ll probably get burned. On a typical quiz I might have seven short-answer questions from which you have to answer four, and then one set of definitions of major concepts, where I might list eight and require you to define five. Sometimes I provide a brief study guide listing the more important concepts. But you will have to know more than simple definitions: you’ll have to know how to use the concepts in coherent sentences and how to apply them to scenarios. It’s only the last question on the quiz (the definition set) where a straight-forward definition will suffice.
Other grading: A handful of homework assignments will generally require you to write a page on some topic, sometimes requiring your own informal research. There will also be a formal term paper due at the end of the semester. Although I grade the homework on a pass-fail basis I don’t just check it off as having been completed. I read it. Often I mark comments on it. I look for serious writing deficiencies so that I can direct you to the Writing Center if necessary so you can work on that before the term paper comes due. The term paper is graded on a traditional basis (letter grades). I accept assignments handed in late, although they are typically penalized; but they are always better late than not submitted at all. One important point about the homework assignments (and term paper) is that there is a huge difference between a zero and an F. If you get an F on a homework assignment, then I score it as having earned 55 points (on the 0-100 scale). (And you can always rewrite them to get a higher grade, as long as it was submitted on time, so it’s easy to avoid F.) But if it is never turned in, I give it a zero. There’s a huge difference between 0 and 55; think about it: the difference between a C and an A is a mere 20 points (or less, e.g., 76 to 93 is still going from C to A), but the difference between an assignment done poorly but done (F, 55 points) and one not done at all (zero) is 55 points (that’s bigger than the difference between an A and an F)! Don’t get any zeros.
How you can help make this course successful: Attend class every time it meets, and pay attention. This is often rather tricky material (not tricky in the sense that I’m out to trick you, but for most students not versed in scientific thinking, tricky to see past the well-ingrained fog of cultural beliefs). Do the reading; the books and articles aren’t full of pictures or glossary items, but they’re not difficult. Don’t play with your phone in class (unless I need someone to find something on the web quickly). Be mindful that you may hold some beliefs that the course considers weird and wrong, but that doesn’t mean anything about you personally: we all have beliefs that science considers weird and careful research has shown to be wrong, so don’t take the topics as personal insults. Contribute to the discussions in class: try to answer my questions, respond to other students (always politely, of course), etc. Take notes: the tricky scientific material is not easily remembered. Be willing to laugh… at weird beliefs, but also at yourself. And do the homework – as I described above, there’s nothing worse than a zero for your grade (and if I tell you to use the Writing Center to work on writing, go there and use it).
Lectures: PSY 200 – Behavior Modification – is not a very difficult course (PSY 101 is difficult, and so is 205, and so is calculus, physics, human anatomy, etc.), but newcomers frequently find the material confusing. It is terribly straight-forward, mechanical almost, and thus very different from other areas of psychology. Lectures, therefore, are frequently spent clarifying concepts and showing how they are applied, since the material is very much based on being able to apply the concepts to modifying real-life behavior. There isn’t a lot of “heavy thinking” in this course, although the lessons about the principles of behavior modification are profound. And although many people use this material for controlling misbehaving pupils in schools or training social skills to mentally retarded children, I tend to use fun and funny everyday examples that apply to us all.
There’s more lecture than discussion in this course, but I constantly ask questions to make sure you’re following things and to see if I’m getting the interpretations of the concepts across to you. Try to answer them (getting something wrong is rewarded by causing me to generate even more examples to try to get it straightened out in your mind). If I think you understand it, I move on… so you need to let me know in one way or another if you’re confused, and getting my verbal questions wrong is a good way of doing this (because too frequently you think you know it when you don’t know it all that well). I do tend to write on the board a lot in this class, and I show some video clips. The textbook is not hard to read, and I often go beyond it in lecture (getting into more depth on some topics than what is in the book), so stay on top of that: as in all classes, take notes, even when you think you don’t have to.
Quizzes: Okay, I have a confession: the quizzes in this course are weird. Actually, it’s not the quizzes that are weird, it’s the grading. Quizzes will occur every other week beginning around the third or fourth week of class. Each quiz has only three questions on it; actually, I give you four short-essay questions to choose from (I expect about a paragraph) and you have to pick two of those, and then I give you a set of definition terms and you have to choose five terms of the seven or eight provided. Nothing odd yet. I grade them on a 5-point scale, which is typical of my other courses as well. But here’s the weird part: I don’t give you a letter grade. I have a grading scale listed on the syllabus that shows how many points you need for each letter grade, when all is said and done (i.e., after all six quizzes). But the good thing is that I drop your worst three scores; in other words, after six quizzes you’ll have 18 scores (each ranging from 0-5), and I drop the worst three of those and the grading scale is based on that: your best 15 scores from the six quizzes. Starting around the fourth quiz I let you know your total in case you haven’t been keeping a record. It’s actually a pretty simple scheme, but it’s odd and therefore confusing at first. In theory, then, you can skip one whole quiz and still get an A+ if you had perfect scores on all the other quiz questions from all the other quizzes.
Other grading: There is a series of homework assignments that build toward your first term paper/project, and then I try to stop the homework assignments and you have two term papers/projects that are due. I grade the homework on a pass-fail basis, but I don’t just check it off as having been completed. I read it. I mark comments on it. Most don’t require essay-like writing, but when they do I look for serious writing deficiencies so that I can direct you to the Writing Center if necessary so you can work on that before the first term paper comes due. The term papers are graded on a traditional basis (letter grades). I accept assignments handed in late, although they are typically penalized; but they are always better late than not submitted at all. One important point about the homework assignments (and term papers) is that there is a huge difference between a zero and an F. If you get an F on a homework assignment, then I score it as having earned 55 points (on the 0-100 scale). (And you can always rewrite them to get a higher grade, as long as it was submitted on time, so it’s easy to avoid F.) But if it is never turned in, I give it a zero. There’s a huge difference between 0 and 55; think about it: the difference between a C and an A is a mere 20 points (or less, e.g., 76 to 93 is still going from C to A), but the difference between an assignment done poorly but done (F, 55 points) and one not done at all (zero) is 55 points (that’s bigger than the difference between an A and an F)! Don’t get any zeros.
How you can help make this course successful: Come to class and participate. I ask a lot of questions, so take shots at answering them; silent classes are boring. Take notes: sometimes what you need to write down is the one example that really makes you get the idea. Read the textbook sections ahead of time; there’s a lot of confusing terminology so the more often you hear it the more likely you’ll get it straight, and if you’ve “heard it” before I mention it in class it’s a lot easier. Do the homework assignments and re-do them if they’re not good enough (your grade on them will tell you if it’s good or not); if they’re not good enough you’re likely to repeat the error on the term papers so it’ll drag you down twice and you don’t want that to happen. Complete both projects, and start them on time (each takes time to complete so they can’t be put off until the day before they’re due). Use the Writing Center to work on improving your writing, especially if I tell you individually that you should.
Lectures: The honors section of 101 operates more like social psychology (205, described above). In contrast to the normal 101, I control the content and structure of this course, and I have limited the amount of material covered so we’ll experience more depth addressing core areas of psychology without racing through everything that is currently included in best-selling introductory textbooks. However, we do cover “the whole book”: but it’s a custom-made book that only includes topics and readings that I have decided to include. Some of the chapters in the book are traditional survey textbook chapters, and some come from non-traditional textbooks or compilations of readings. You’ll probably like some styles more than others.
In class I lecture a little but mostly I try to begin discussions that take us through the important or interesting parts of the many topics we cover. Since it’s an honors course I generally assume you’ll have done the assigned reading before class so you’ll know what we’re talking about and you’ll be able to contribute to discussions without just guessing or saying what the uneducated might say. But there is also a sort of tension to the discussions because it’s an introductory course: there’s still a need to cover some basics while allowing us to wander into interesting sub-topics. That also makes it a challenge to take notes, but take notes you must.
Quizzes: I provide five quizzes throughout the semester, and they are short-essay (1 paragraph) and short answer (sentence-length definitions/descriptions). Occasionally I do these on a take-home basis, but most students prefer in-class quizzing after getting a taste of the take-homes. The types of questions on quizzes varies, depending upon the material; for example, the biology section (brain) is pretty heavy on terminology and therefore a test of memorized knowledge, whereas other topics emphasize application and deeper comprehension rather than memorization. Like the way it’s conducted in my other courses, I always provide some choice within quizzes so there is an option of which questions to answer.
Other grading: I assign homework (maybe 5 or 6 different writing assignments) and two short term papers. As described above under PSY 205, 166, 200, the homework is graded on a pass-fail basis and the term papers on a traditional letter grade, and it’s really really bad if you get a zero for not turning in some piece of work. And something is always better handed in late than not at all. If I see that you have trouble writing, I’ll ask you to work with tutors in the Writing Center and I’ll expect you to comply.
How you can help make this course successful: You’ve been invited or otherwise permitted to attend honors courses, so you’re typically a cut above the rest and already know how to help make a class more successful. But some of you are still withdrawn or quiet or obsessed with memorizing whatever is coming on a test, and this class functions much better when you’re ready and willing to participate in discussions and to think out loud. Some of you might have been invited to take honors because you performed well in a course that was driven by memorization and multiple-guess testing, but this one is driven by comprehension and writing, so you might have to struggle with the change in emphasis. Also, many of you are accustomed to getting high grades, but you might get something less than stellar here. Psychology is actually a complex topic and that makes it difficult. I mean, it’s not the touchy-feely everybody-has-valid-opinons and advice stuff you see on TV; it’s neuroscience and cognitive science and behavioral principles, and so on. So don’t be shocked into a bad attitude if you get a C on some quiz – when that happens, most people learn to make the adjustments needed to improve the grade, so try (talk to me outside class whenever you feel like it). Of course, you know to complete all the assignments, but if you miss something, make it up ASAP, and if you’re not sure if you can make it up, talk to me before you give up. Those zeros are really weighty.