In the world of EPPP test preparation, there’s a familiar story. It goes something like this.
You finished your graduate work, you completed your internship and now you’re all ready to do what you’ve always dreamed of doing—helping people through your work as a psychologist. There’s only one problem: you haven’t passed your licensure exam. Compared to the rigors of grad school and the stress of internship, this final hurdle seems comparatively easy. So you order a box of books and other preparation materials that promise to train you for everything you need to know to successfully pass the EPPP and get licensed. The box of preparation materials arrives. Not wanting to waste a moment and delay your longed-for career, you jump right in and start studying. As you get into the material, it quickly becomes clear that the task is more daunting than you anticipated. You feel overwhelmed, and with good reason: after all, the EPPP is like the bar exam or a medical exam—one of the hardest tests among all the professional disciplines.
Maybe you’re ambitious and so you commit to studying three or four hours every day. However, it quickly becomes clear that not even the rigors of grad school have prepared you for this final challenge. The overwhelming amount of material you’re required to master is staggering and hard to even describe to someone who hasn’t been there.
Pretty soon your initial enthusiasm turns to disappointment and guilt. After a few days, or maybe even a few weeks of rigorous study, you get to a point where you think, “I just can’t do this.” Or maybe you don’t even think that, but normal life just takes over and you’re unable to keep the grand promises you made of studying X amount of hours every day.
I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been there, and I’ve talked to countless others who have experienced this. We’ve all encountered similar situations before where we begin something with high hopes yet flounder when it comes to long-term perseverance. Somehow, daily life just has a habit of taking over and sabotaging all our good intentions.
As you begin your EPPP preparation with us, you’ll quickly see that TSM has taken all the guess work and confusion out of the study process for you. We have purposefully designed our program to help you easily and thoroughly navigate your preparation from beginning to end. We’ve done that through creating a structured, step-by-step course of study that literally walks you through each essential phase of the study process. As you take this journey with us, you will clearly know what your task is in each phase of preparation, and how to go about completing it.
Still, you need to create a study schedule in which to accomplish the work. Our tools will customize a study plan for your needs, but it’s up to you to make sure the work gets done and to find ways to organize your life so studying is a priority. It’s at this point that many people flounder, not being able to stick to an organized routine of study. And this isn’t surprising: if you try to just study whenever life allows you to, without a clear schedule and plan, the chances are you will constantly be alternating between exhaustion and frustration.
Because everyone’s life is different, no two people’s study schedules will look the same. But here are seven general principles that can guide you in creating a study schedule.
Step #1: Leverage the Spacing Effect
One principle is that little and often is preferable to long periods of concentrated study. This helps because of something known as the “Spacing Effect”. Instead of studying all day on Monday and Tuesday, and then doing little or nothing the rest of the week, it would be better to spread that study out over all the days. Of course, everyone needs to make their study fit their schedule, but in general we should keep in mind the research showing that spreading out your study brings a greater likelihood for effective learning then trying to do it all at once.
The spacing effect is like watering a plant. Imagine there is a plant you’re taking care of for a month, but you only have one gallon of water. Would it be more effective to use up the entire gallon of water at the beginning to give the plant a big drenching, or what it be better to water the plant little and often throughout the entire month? Obviously the second would be preferable. The human brain is like that plant. Just as spaced watering is the most effective watering strategy, so spaced learning is the most effective strategy for cementing long-term memories in the brain.
For those wanting to learn more about the spacing effect, the following articles from our archives may be helpful:
- Ed Cooke on Forgetting, Revision and the Spacing Effect
- What the School System Never Told You about Remembering and Forgetting (Study Myths Part 3)
Step #2: Activate the Power of the Kaizen Technique
Another principle related to the spacing effect is the principle of Kaizen. The Kaizen principle shows us that when you want to implement change in your life, it is most effective when that change is small enough to be implemented consistently to become habit. So for example, when you find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of work required to reach your goal of becoming a licensed psychologist, it can be tempting to promise to make big steps towards reaching that goal, as in “I’m going to get up at 3:00 AM every morning and study for 5 hours before going to work!” But often the problem with trying to take giant steps towards our goals is that they cannot be maintained consistently.
Instead of making promises to yourself that you can’t fulfill and then feeling guilty, or instead of delaying your EPPP prep until a time in the distant future when your life can accommodate the perfect study routine, find out what you can easily do now and then stick to that. Take baby steps that are small enough to be implemented with consistency.
Baby steps are especially important when a person is trying to learn material or master a field of study. Through cramming and massed practice, anyone can learn something quickly. However, to truly master a field, the study needs to be done consistently over time—little and often. Baby steps lend themselves to this type of necessary consistency.
Baby steps also help to shift the focus to small wins that can accumulate over time to help you reach larger goals. At TSM we recognize the importance of taking small steps, which is why our team of technicians have put tools within our platform to enable you to customize your study routine to fit with your schedule. On the TSM website you can set your study program to an hour of study each, half an hour, 20 minutes, or even something as small as 10. You decide and we’ll tailor-make a study program to fit your needs.
For those wanting to learn more about the Kaizen effect, we recommend the following articles from our archives:
Step #3: Avoid The Neurotransmitter Depletion Effect
At TSM we put a lot of emphasis on avoiding what is known as the Neurotransmitter Depletion Effect. What this means is that, in general, your study schedule should include within it regular structured breaks to prevent mental fatigue.
We specifically recommend studying in blocks of 20 – 25 minutes since the research shows that after about 20 minutes we begin to lose about 85% of what we read. Spend these breaks doing things that rest rather than tax your brain. When you are taking the actual exam, it’s also important to schedule in structured breaks, to breathe deeply, stretch, walk around, and to prevent the neurotransmitters in your brain from becoming depleted.
Step #4: Involve Family and Friends
Once you’ve settled on a study schedule, let your family and friends know. This will serve a dual purpose, to not only alert them not to bother you at these times, but also because they may be able to hold you accountable to study during your specified time.
Step #5: Have a Clear Timetable
Create a study schedule based on when you intend to take and pass the exam. This is because of a principle known as Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law is the idea that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. If you give yourself more time than you need to complete a task, you will likely take that much time. For example, if you have a stack of preparation materials and you say to yourself, “I’m going to just study as much as possible, whenever I can”, or “I am just going to keep studying until I feel ready,” then this will be far less effective than determining how much you need to study each day based on when you want to take the exam.
You might want to take the exam 3 months from now or in 2 weeks, but once you’ve determined your goal, you can use TSM’s online tools to customize your study program to this time scale.
Research on the diminishing returns among those who put in more than 200 hours of EPPP test prep supports the need to structure your EPPP prep around realistic and measurable goals instead of keeping it open-ended. We have discussed this in more detail in the following articles:
Step #6: Be Flexible
I’ve talked about the importance of consistency in your study schedule. However, with the holidays approaching, it’s important to emphasize that occasional flexibility is okay. Our program at TSM has tools designed to accommodate the type of flexibility needed when there are holidays, family emergencies, or when you just need a break. If your default study schedule is one of consistency, then it’s okay to be flexible once in a while to accommodate your needs when things arise. We actually have an entire series of posts on studying during the holidays and how to incorporate flexibility into your routine. Links to these posts are below:
Step #7: Find Your Best Time
Another principle that can help you create a study schedule is to prioritize those times of the day when you are at your best. For many people, it is in the morning. Whenever it is, make sure you are working in a distraction-free environment and that you take proactive measures to protect your study time from interruptions.