Earlier this year Robin Phillips had the opportunity to speak with Graham Taylor about the origins and future of the Taylor Study Method, and why the method has such a phenomenal pass rate. Below is the text of this interview.
Robin Phillips: Thank you for joining me this morning, Dr. Taylor, to talk about the Taylor Study Method and the EPPP.
Graham Taylor: It’s always a pleasure to get together with you Robin.
Robin: For the sake of those who may not be familiar with the work you do, can you tell us what the Taylor Study Method is and how you got started with it?
Graham: The Taylor Study Method is an online program that helps prepare psychology students to pass the licensure exam known as the EPPP. We’ve been in the field now for nearly two decades and have developed an online program of learning based upon our 18 years of research. Through our research-based methodology of learning and our online platform of delivery, we have equipped thousands of students to successfully pass their EPPP. These students have subsequently gone on to careers as successful psychologists, building on the foundation that we provided for them.
Robin: How did TSM get started?
Graham: Back in 1995 when I was in preparation for my licensure process, I had about a month to master a ton of materials. I went to one of the weekend EPPP workshops and while it was good, it didn’t teach me how to take these armfuls of material and go and do something with it. It was like trying to get a drink out of a fire hydrant. I didn’t have a course of study, I didn’t have a way of assessing what my strengths and weaknesses were and I didn’t have a daily plan. Given the volume of EPPP study materials before me, and the very short period of time before sitting the exam, I knew I needed to do something very different in my preparation if I was going to pass. You see, Robin, back then they only offered the exam twice a year, April and October, and given that I had some employment opportunities ready to start, I didn’t have the luxury of simply taking as long as I wanted in my studies. I needed to pass. Given that I had about a month to absorb such a huge quantity of material, I knew I couldn’t take a business-as-usual approach. So I took a step back and looked at how the human brain operates and what neuroscience tells us about why we remember some things and not other things. I also wanted to see what I could glean from various theories of memory and learning (both ancient and modern) to enhance the learning process. I was able to weave all of this into my EPPP preparation to develop a very efficient and effective method of preparation. This enabled me to succeed with a very good EPPP passing score. For the next thirteen years I took this methodology of learning and began giving it out pro bono to my colleagues. Essentially what I did was to take all the theories of memory and learning that had helped me (about eleven of them altogether) and weave them together into a method of learning to help students pass their psychology licensure exam. During those thirteen years I probably walked about 500 people through my method of learning. I taught them how to study effectively and efficiently by incorporatng my method of learning into studying the preparation materials they had purchased. Essentially I would just get on the phone with people on a weekend with a cup of coffee and talk to them about their studies. I would email them all my steps and the ways I had developed for effective study. I started in Hawaii where I lived and from there word started to spread. Somehow my name started to get out on the internet, and eventually groups of people from Canada to New York began asking me to give eppp workshops. Over this period of time, I found that those I helped had a 90+% first time pass rate, which confirmed my own experience of preparing with these approaches. Without realizing it, this period of giving away the Method was actually a valuable testing ground to determine the validity of my research-based methodology of learning and memory. Finally, in 2008 we decided to develop our own content, marrying together our very effective methodology of learning with the most relevant and up to date EPPP preparation materials. And that’s when the Taylor Study Method came up as a free-standing company. What we’ve found, Robin, is that we have very good success with our methodology, our online platform, our coaching sessions and also our customer care.
Robin: What kind of success rate do you have?
Graham: We actually have a 94% first time pass rate, which is something no other company is able to boast about. We are very excited about having a pass rate that high, and on the first attempt at passing the EPPP.
Robin: So it sounds from what you’re saying that the Taylor Study Method is more than simply one more company that provides EPPP test preparation materials, because you actually present a whole new paradigm for the learning process. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Graham: Yes, that’s really right. I like it that we get to be part of a paradigm shift. I developed this method out of my own angst when I was studying for the exam myself. So what we’ve decided to do in our program is essentially just what I did for myself to achieve an EPPP passing score. We’ve researched the various theories of learning and memory that really help people optimize their success. Some of the ancient and modern theories of memory and learning we’ve used include techniques such as
- Elaborative Rehearsal
- Elaborative Encoding
- Method of Loci (memory palace)
- Interference Theory
- Spaced Learning and Repetition
- Primacy/Recency Theory
- Blocks of Time Principle
- Neuro-Transmitter Depletion Avoidance
- Mediator Effectiveness Hypothesis
- State-Dependent Learning Opportunities
- Listening While Reading
- Positive Reinforcement
- Eliminating Distractions
- Note-Taking by Hand
- Finding Your Learning Style (Audio, Visual, Kinesthetic)
All of these theories have research to back them up and are effective because they work with the natural wiring of the brain.
Robin: How does that work in practice?
Graham: Basically, our team of scholars and experts have taken these theories of learning and memory and seamlessly integrated them into the whole learning process that we put people through. As a result, a person’s encoding of information, retention and recall can be maximized. Those who go through the Taylor Study Method usually don’t even know that these theories are benefiting them, but they’re operating in the background to make our curriculum so effective. On top of that, what we also do is to personalize the content for each person. Beginning with our initial assessment exam to find out where the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate are, we tailor the study program specifically for them. Through our narratives, our flash cards and our practice quizzes, we organize our program in a very methodical, step-by-step basis, and we literally walk people through what they do each and every day. So we have purposely designed this program to make it easy for them to thoroughly navigate their preparation from beginning to end. Through this method we’re also able to help people avoid feeling overwhelmed because their task is simply to go in and get to the next set of study sessions for the day. We do all the planning and organizing for them so the student is freed to focus all his or her energy solely on their studying. What we find is that psychology graduates are becoming motivated, so that instead of waiting for long periods between getting their degree and taking the EPPP (which causes memory loss because of something called decay theory), they are getting started right away preparing for their licensure exam.
Robin: Wow, that’s really interesting. I understand that TSM has recently introduced some new enhancements to the program to make it even better. Could you tell us a bit about that?
Graham: You bet. We’ve done several things. Since August 1, 2014 we all know that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders changed from the DSM-4 to the DSM-5. That is a very, very significant change for our field and for the licensing exam as well. On the exam, the domain for abnormal psychology comprises about 27-30 questions, so it’s a pretty weighted domain. Now this is the domain that has been significantly affected by the changes in DSM-5. Given that you’re going to get a lot of questions on the exam relating to this domain, we want to make sure that our members not only have the most up to date and relevant information, but also some multi-modal ways of learning this content. So the abnormal domain has all been updated by our content experts to comply with the new DSM-5. We also have an audio for all the DSM-5 material so students can listen to the narrative and the flash card if they would like as they read it. And that actually goes for all our key terms, each of which has a narrative for it. What we’ve done with the DSM-5 in particular is to make videos, over about 110 of them, of all the new content areas of the DSM-5. In addition, our DSM-5 material also covers those other domains that might have some DSM-5 content in it, for example the physiological basis of psychology and also psychopharmacology. We know that some of those DSM-5 materials come into that domain as well so we’ve made sure to include them very thoroughly. So the updated content, our videos, and also our audio for each one of our content areas include some really dynamic ways of being able to help people learn things thoroughly. We also have the mind maps that function like a blueprint, if you will, a strategic outline of the core content areas for the key terms they are trying to memorize, thus allowing people to strategically organize that content from memory. The purpose of this multi-modal approach is to try to come at learning from as many senses as we can, in order to really enhance that learning process and make it as enjoyable as possible. And I continue to hear that people who study with us really enjoy the process. In each one of the coaching sessions we do with each new member that comes in, we encourage them to enjoy this process and to really be excited and reminded of all the areas that psychologists really touch people’s lives. In addition to these specific enhancements to our EPPP preparation materials, we’ve also been using our blog to provide our members, as well as the public, with more general services for free. Through our blog we’ve been offering advice on things like how to develop a study schedule, how to balance one’s studies with family and holiday time, strategies to reduce cognitive overload, ways to overcome procrastination, and on and on. These and other things we’ve been addressing through the blog have been achieving a traction beyond our immediate audience, as the posts have been helping people in all walks of life. We’ve also recently begun using our blog to establish ourselves as a voice in the field of psychology. So when things come up in the world news that involve a psychology, we’re right there to comment on it. For example, after the tragic crash of Germanwings 9525 in March, we reflected on some of the implications this accident had for ongoing discussions about the role of medical confidentiality, and we also shared some thoughts about how psychologists can take a more active role in helping to keep the airways safe. These observations of ours were picked up by the international media and widely circulated on over 500 media outlets (radio stations, TV stations and newspapers). Some of our policy suggestions are now being discussed by the FAA, which is considering new ways of offering mental health screening for commercial pilots. In the days ahead we hope to continue to establish ourselves as a voice in the world of psychology.
Robin: Very interesting. I’d like to return now to something you said earlier about the methodology you employ for helping people prepare for the EPPP. Would it be true, Graham, that as people apply themselves to the methodology embedded in the TSM program, that they can actually learn what they need to know in less time than if they were just slogging through it in a kind of unstructured way? The reason I’m asking this is because often we think that to master material, the more sweat and difficulty and sheer hours of time you spend on something, the better will be your result. Yet it sounds from what you’re saying that when people study with these types of research-driven methodologies, they can actually learn the material in less time and with less effort.
Graham: Yeah, that’s a really great angle you’re coming at here and I really appreciate that. You know that old saying “practice makes perfect?” Well, I always tell people that it’s not the case. Practice makes permanent. So, if we are going to practice, why not practice right? Why not practice doing right things and staying the course – having a course that we know is going to be effective and efficient? So let’s do right things with a proper course of study and let’s do those right things in such a way that the time we’re investing is going to be both efficient and effective like you’re suggesting. It’s not that TSM makes it easy to pass the EPPP. It’s still extremely hard work. But what we do is to offer a way of studying that enables a person to achieve the best results from their hard work. We also know that if we study too much then eventually we reach a point of saturation and not necessarily saturation in good things. We get fatigued and the neurochemical depletion theory says that we begin to burn out some of those chemicals that help us with attention, focus and concentration. In fact, last year we shared evidence from research showing that at a certain point too much EPPP study can actually have a detrimental effect. We want to remain fresh and we want to have a course of study that outlines things in correct ways. So to sum, we were seeking to make the study process one that is not just research-based, but one that is enjoyable and enhances the encoding of content, the retention of it and the recall of it. So we organized our program not just by breaking down the content, but structuring the hours of study to conform to what the research shows are the appropriate range of hours to study for success on the exam.
Robin: That’s fascinating. Okay, so I want to get back to something you mentioned a moment ago about the enhancements. I understand that one of the new enhancements to the TSM program is a money-back guarantee. A lot of people are very interested in that and so I wonder if you could elaborate.
Graham: Absolutely. You know, we want people to pass their EPPP on their first time. I developed this method for my colleagues to take all the smoke and mirrors out of the preparation process, to give them one program that I know will help them be successful on their EPPP, not a buffet of different features (i.e., you get this if you pay this amount, or this if you pay this amount). So if someone becomes a full member of our program, then we give them the full package. This enables us to have a lot of confidence in what we do. Our numbers show we are effective in what we do. So given that our primary goal is for my colleagues to pass and have the most efficient and effective way of engaging in the EPPP preparation experience, we offer a full money-back guarantee. Thus, in the unlikely event that someone fails in their EPPP, then assuming they meet our criteria, we will refund their money. The criteria they have to meet is to have studied for a 4-6 month period of time, to complete all the steps in our program and to let us know when they took the test. If they meet the criteria for these things and still fail, we’ll send them a check. We’re that confident in what we do. But even more important than the money-back guarantee is the fact that when someone fails, we work with them – I personally work with them, and I give them an opportunity to talk about what happened. And to be honest, more times than not, when I have that honest conversation with them, usually they share with me, “You know Graham, I didn’t commit enough time,” or maybe they confess to having cut some corners as time was running out. So what I’ll do is put together another course of study for them, usually an accelerated one, so they don’t have to start over from scratch. Then I will meet with them a couple of times during that time of re-preparing. Usually they are successful the next time they sit their EPPP. In fact, just for fun, I recently spoke with a very large school in California today about their students studying with us and they wanted to know what their students pass rates were with the TSM program most recently. We had 23 of their students go through with us during the second half of last year, and 18 of these 23 passed on the first time. Those 18 since were able to impersonate our members, were able to go in and see what everyone did or didn’t do in our program and whether or not they followed it the way that we’ve laid it out. They saw that the 18 who passed the first time used our program exactly as it was laid out. Significantly, however, the 5 that didn’t pass did not use the program in the way we had laid it out. We worked with those 5, we had them go back, I spoke with them, they used the program in the proper way the second time around. The result? All five of them passed. So after that we had 100% pass rate with those schools’ licensed eligible candidates. We were very excited to share that with them on the phone today.
Robin: Wow, that’s amazing Graham and actually touches on one of the other things I wanted to ask you about. I understand that TSM has been partnering with a number of different universities. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Graham: Certainly. You know this is really an exciting program we do. We call it the Student Supplemental Learning Program. The SSLP is an early stage learning program that brings the core content of psychology into the classroom, providing the students with an opportunity to become conversant in these core content areas, what we call the building block key terms. So for example, in the domain of ethics, core content would be key terms like “confidentiality”, “privacy”, “privilege”, “informed consent”, and so forth. In our early stage learning program we start familiarizing students with all these key terms that psychologists need to know for their licensing exam. We get to identify and highlight these building block key terms that are occurring in their classroom while they are going through their course each semester. It’s kind of like a musician that practices their scales outside the music hall, or the athlete that does extra repetitions and drills off the field or outside the gymnasium, to really reinforce and master the core areas, the foundational areas in their field. We get to do that as psychologists, and it’s exciting because we’re the only psychology company doing that. In fact, though, we have colleagues in nursing that are currently doing a very similar thing. They take their licensing exam content material and they learn it during some of their schooling. So nursing is doing it and we are now doing it in psychology. And what we’re finding is that this enhances the classroom experience – we’re finding that students are doing these lessons and their reading before they come into the classroom, and consequently they are developing a greater understanding of the material before they come into class. The professors are then able to assess their learning that’s been taking place, and we find that their in-class discussions are more enhanced and more able to be used as opportunities for sharing things. As this happens, we’re watching GPA and exam scores go up. Furthermore, we see them doing better on their comprehensive exams down the road because they’ve got a really solid grasp of these building block key terms that I mentioned. And they also tend to be really prepared as candidates when they go for their internship. And then, not surprisingly, as they are going through this early stage learning program, they are developing a solid foundation in this content area such that when they’re ready to study for their EPPP, that foundation is already there and they get to build upon that as they prepare. So that’s what our new program is really about and it’s very exciting. It’s a lot like coaching in athletics, which I am quite involved in. If I want one of my athletes to be ready to play on my varsity team, I don’t want them to start playing basketball when he or she is a sophomore in high school; rather, I want them to start when they’re about 8 or 9 years old because if I can get him or her early and I can get those foundational drills and those foundational skills the repertoire of athleticism, then I can really build upon that by the time he or she gets to be a junior or senior. Then when the athlete is older, we can really fine tune some of those things and make the person eligible in our try-outs.
Robin: I want to close by asking if there are any new features on the horizon for TSM.
Graham: One of the new things we’re excited about is that TSM is branching out. We are an online learning company obviously, and we specialize in behavioral health services. What we are looking to do is to take our proven method of learning and memory, our research-based methodology, our online learning platform, to take these things and then branch out into other fields of mental health. Late this summer we’re going to be completing and coming out with our MFT, Marriage and Family Therapy curriculum. We’re going to be coming into the licensing preparation field to assist our colleagues in the MFT profession, so they can have just as high a pass rate and just as good of an experience as their psychology colleagues are having in their preparation for licensure. We’re also going to be bringing the MFT curriculum into the classroom in the same way we do with our supplemental learning program with psychology. So that’s just right around the corner and we are very excited about that.
Robin: Thank you very much for your time today Graham.
Graham: Thank you Robin for the opportunity to chat with you.