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Exam Information


Pre-Exam Reviews

Feedback on Current Exam

Previous Exams

This course has one midterm exam and a comprehensive final exam. 


Studying for Exams

The best way to prepare for exams is to keep up with assigned readings, attend lectures, and deploy effective, efficient study skills.

For two essays by your instructor concerning effective learning (and teaching) strategies, see:


Getting the Most Out of the Text

Chief among these is the study-strategy known as PQ4R (or, alternatively, SQ4R), initially proposed as the SQ3R method by Francis P. Robinson (1946), and expanded and promoted by John Anderson of Carnegie-Mellon University, a cognitive psychologist who is concerned with the applications of cognitive psychology to education.  I quote from Anderson's text, Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications (Worth, 2000, pp. 5-6 and 192-193):

These pointers are based on two principles familiar from the study of human learning and memory:

As a rule, if you can understand the points made in the chapter summary, you have gotten what you are supposed to get from the text.


Getting the Most Out of the Lectures

Of course, PQ4R works for lectures, too.  That's one reason that I distribute the lecture illustrations in advance -- despite the fact that doing so spoils some of the "surprise value" that certain slides might otherwise have.  And that's also why I distribute the lecture illustrations in a "3/page" format that facilitates taking notes right on the printout.


"Six Learning Strategies"

Roald Hoffman and Saundra McGuire, highly regarded professors of chemistry, have offered six strategies that facilitate effective learning of any academic subject - -whether in high school, college, or graduate school ("Learning and teaching Strategies", American Scientist, 2010).  Most of what follows is in their own words -- I've eliminated quotation marks for ease of readability.

  1. Take your own notes, by hand, even if notes (or slides) are provided by the lecturer.  That same evening, rewrite your notes, condensing, extending, and paraphrasing them "so that you make the meaning your own".  When you take your own notes you are actively engaged with the material, and the act of rewriting will enhance your encoding of the material into long-term memory.  Rewriting is essential to effective learning, even if you think you got it the first time.  
  2. If you must miss a class, get notes from a fellow student.  The ASUC lecture notes can help in this regard, as do the lecture supplements that I provide on the course website.  But getting a fellow student's notes helps you develop relationships with other people who are learning the same material you are, at the same time -- people whom you can ask for help when there's something you don't understand.
  3. If there are sample problems in the text, work out the answer for yourself before looking at the answer provided in the text.  Then, in addition to comparing your answers, compare your approach to the problem with the one provided in the text.
  4. Form a study group, and alternate individual and group study sessions.  The Student Learning Center sponsors such a study group, and you might be able to form your own from the members of your discussion section.  Keep it relatively small and manageable, no fewer than three, no more than six people.  Make up practice quizzes and tests for each other.
  5. Teach the material to someone else -- like a fellow study group member.  Or do some informal tutoring.  There is no better way to learn material than to try to teach it.
  6. Set attainable goals and move slowly toward them, beginning with simple material and progressing to more complicated things.

There is a lot of misinformation about learning strategies and study skills.  John Dunlosky and his colleagues (2013) have pulled this literature together in a few succinct points:

What Works:

  1. Self-Testing: Quiz yourself with practice tests, flashcards, and the like.
  2. Distributed Practice: Spread your study over time; don't "cram" before an exam.
  3. Elaborative Interrogation: Ask yourself how what you're learning relates to what you already know .
  4. Self-Explanation: "Channel your inner four-year-old" by asking "Why?" the material you're learning is true.
  5. Interleaved Practice: Alternate your study time between one topic and anothe.

What Doesn't Work:

  1. Highlighting: Underlining is pretty much useless, if you don't do the other things outlined above.
  2. Rereading: Rote repetition doesn't promote long-term retention.
For details, see "Improving Students' Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology" by John Dunlosky, Katherine A Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, and Daniel T. Willingham (Psycholoogical Science in the Public Interest, 2013); this review is summarized in "What Works, What Doesn't" by the same authors in Scientific American Mind, September/October 2013). 

Distributed Study

Another important principle of learning and memory is the distinction between massed and distributed practice.  In general, memory is better is practice is spread out over time (and even location), than if it is all lumped together at once.  So take your time going through each chapter.  Don't read it all in one sitting, and don't read it multiple times in a single sitting!  Spread the reading out, pace yourself, and things will go better.


Frequent Testing

Another principle is that memory is improved by repeated testing.  It's not so much a matter of repeated reading, as it is of repeated testing.  Practice PQ4R several times for each topic.


Exam Scope

Exam questions always focus on basic concepts and principles, as opposed to trivia such as names and dates.  If I should mention a name or date, it's usually because that is relevant to the concept or principle that I'm really interested in.  

Then again, if you've taken a course on consciousness, you should know who William James is, and that he he was responsible for the concept of the "stream of consciousness".  But that's rarely the point of the question.

In general, there are two ways to get the right answer to one of my test questions:

I never ask intentionally tricky questions.  Difficult questions, yes, sometimes.  But never tricky questions, such as those that concern exceptions to the rule.  That is because I'm interested in basic concepts and principles.


Pre-Exam Reviews

Prior to exams, the instructor conducts a review session.  For the midterm, the review is conducted during regular class times.  For the final, the review session is conducted during one of the "Dead Days" between the end of classes and the beginning of the exam period.

The GSIs are encouraged not to conduct additional review sessions during discussion section.  This is because discussion sections are intended to supplement lecture and text material; they aren't intended for review purposes.

Up until 2005, it was my practice to conduct a formal review prior to exams, accompanied by illustrations.  It is now my practice to provide a written "narrative review", so that the review sessions themselves can be devoted to questions and answers.    




Design of Exams

The midterm exams are noncumulative in nature.

As a rule, I try to achieve an even distribution of material presented in lecture, and material presented in the text.  Of course, there is considerable overlap between the two -- although I emphasize things that the text does not, and the text, of course, covers more material than can possibly be covered in lecture, and goes into considerably more detail.

In devising the test, I try to have at least one question explicitly drawn from each of the lectures.  So, for example, on one exam or another:

There may be more drawn explicitly from the lecture, but there will be at least three.

I also try to have one question drawn from each major section of each chapter in the assigned reading.  So, for example, with respect to the Revonsuo text, you can expect at least one question on each of the following topics:

Of course, if you total up all the sections, that's a lot of questions, so I may not test on some sections, but precisely because there are a lot of questions, I rarely have more than one question per major section.

And, of course, there's considerable overlap.  For example, my lectures on Attention and Automaticity include material on automatic and controlled processing; and in my lectures on Meditation, I talk about non-Western approaches.

So, one way or another, the balance of questions is about 50-50 between lectures and text.


Exam Format

In order to facilitate rapid, objective, and reliable grading, the midterm and final exams in this course are administered in short-answer format, with an occasional (very) short essay.  If I had my way, the exams would be multiple-choice, a format which insures rapid, objective and reliable grading.  Because of the periodic Forum postings, described in the syllabus, the short-essay portion is likely to be eliminated altogether beginning in Spring 2009.

Exams must be written in ink.  In the event of a question about scoring, exams written in pencil will be ineligible for reconsideration.  


Previous Exams

I don't intentionally repeat questions from past exams.  Nevertheless, all previous exams in my offerings of Psych 129 are available on the course website, as a guide to studying.  

To retrieve a particular exam, simply click on the links in the table below. 

Fall 2016

No Exams -- in Fall 2016, the course was taught as a seminar.

Fall 2014



Spring 2013



Spring 2011



Spring 2009



Fall 2008

Final -- Budapest Semester in Cognitive Science

Spring 2007

The course was not offered this semester

Spring 2005



Spring 2003



Spring 2001



Spring 1999



Spring 1998



Revision and Reorganization

Since I arrived at Berkeley, both my lectures and the textbook have undergone several changes.  Accordingly, there are some questions on past exams that are not pertinent to the current version of the course.  But because concepts and principles change more slowly than picky details, even the very oldest exams are still a good resource.  

Moreover, due to the vagaries of scheduling, sometimes the coverage of exams differs from year to year.  For example, the material on unconscious mental life may sometimes appear on the Midterm and sometimes on the Final.  One way or another, the exams cover the entire course of readings and lectures.


Grading of Exams

No matter how carefully it's constructed, an exam can have bad items -- they may be just too difficult, or they may not tap the kinds of basic concepts and principles that should be the subject of examination.  I try not to write bad items at the outset, but after the exam is over there are ways to identify and correct items that, despite our efforts, just aren't right.

The first thing is to score the exam straight, assuming that all the items are good, and calculate the mean score (and standard deviation).  In an upper-division course, experience tells me to look for an average score of about 80%.  An average much lower than that indicates that there might be something wrong with the exam.  Of course, it might also be that students just didn't study effectively!  I can't do anything about that, but I can do something to correct any problems internal to the exam itself. 

Then we look at the psychometric properties of the exam as a whole, particularly its reliability (coefficient alpha), which should be in the .70s or .80s.

In order to identify potentially bad questions, I use a dual criterion of (1) extremely low scores and (2) extremely low item-to-total correlations. 

Individual items may be worth differing points. In order to put all the items on the same scale, their scores are converted to percentage scores.  For example, a 3-point question with a mean score of 1.99 would be converted to a percentage score of .66.  I then calculate the mean percentage score and standard deviation for each item.  A reasonable candidate for a question that is too difficult is to identify items whose percentage score is >2 SD below the mean, or < .35.  If there are no such items, I look for items that are at least 1 SD below the mean; or items whose percentage score is < 50%.  These items are candidates for rescoring. 

In addition, I examine the item-to-total correlations between each item and the total test score (corrected by dropping the item in question).  With a large class, even low item-to-total correlations can be statistically significant (for N = 100, r = .20 yields a p-value of .046).  So I employ a cutoff of .20 to identify items with low item-to-total rs.  Any such items are also candidates for rescoring. 

Any such items are rescored by giving all students full credit. 

Sometimes items will be graded so that students receive “half-point” scores like 1.5 or 2.5.  When these are summed to determine a final revised exam score, the total exam score is rounded up, as necessary -- e.g., from 39.5 to 40 or 45.5 to 46.

As a result of the rescoring, and rounding up, scores on the exam should now be at least in the 80% range.  If they don't, at this point, it's not because of any problem with the exam!


Exam Feedback

I will post a general scoring guide to the course website as soon as possible after each exam has concluded, so that students can check their answers.  This is also intended to enhance the value of past exams as a study guide.

GSIs are encouraged not to address questions about particular exam items.  All the feedback you need is provided in the instructor's feedback, on the course website.


Exam Grades

Exam grades are posted to the course website as soon as possible after scoring has been completed.  This can take a couple of days, but is often completed much more quickly than that. 

Requests for Regrading

With anything other than totally objective, multiple-choice exams, errors in grading can occur.  After exam grades and feedback have been posted to the course website, and the exams returned in discussion section, students who believe that a serous error in grading has occurred may appeal.  This appeal must be in writing, with a paragraph explaining why the student's answer is as good as, or better than, the specimen answer given in the Scoring Guide used in grading the exam.  Students are strongly encouraged not to "fish" for extra points.  Regrading is time-consuming, and regrading requests rarely result in a raised exam score.  The question will be regraded by the GSI who did the original grading.  GSIs have been instructed to approach each regrading request "fresh", meaning that the regrade, influenced by knowledge of how other students answered the question, may be lower than the original grade.   

Requests for regrading can only be honored for midterm exams.  According to UCB policy, final letter grades are due within 96 hours of the final exam, which doesn't give students time to review their exams; after grades are posted, they may only be changed to correct a clerical error.


Students with Disabilities

Students registered with the Disabled Students Program are entitled to certain accommodations with respect to testing.  Such students should consult with the instructor in advance of the exam to make appropriate arrangements.


Assignment of Letter Grades

Assignment of grades is, in some ways, the most problematic aspect of any course.

At some institutions, and in some individual departments and courses, there is a forced curve such that, for example, the average grade is set at C (no kidding!).  Thus, for example, scores 1 standard deviation above the mean might get some kind of B, while scores that are two standard deviations above the mean might be required for an A.  But this means that, no matter how good overall class performance is, someone has to get a C, and someone has to fail.  And that doesn't seem fair.  

As an alternative, the traditional academic criteria for letter grades are as follows:

Standards like this mean that, in principle, everyone in the class could get an A.  That rarely happens, but it could happen, and standards like this seem infinitely more fair than a forced normal curve.  So that's the standard I follow, with some provisos.
In any event, exam scores contribute only about two-thirds of a student's grade in the course.  The rest is made up of discussion section scores.  A student who did about average on my exams, scoring 70% (nominally, a C-) can still get something B-ish as a final grade by accumulating all discussion section credits. 

In addition, I try to conform my grade distributions to that of the campus as a whole. Psychology is both a social science and a biological science; so I average the figures together for those two divisions of the College of Letters and Sciences.  According to the most recent data available to me, from the 2013-2014 academic year (Fall and Spring semesters combined):

For students taking the course on a "Pass/Fail" basis, the minimum for a passing grade is C-. 

With respect to grade inflation, the issue is not easy to resolve: what is the proper proportion of As in academically elite institutions like Berkeley?  At one point recently, 50% of Harvard students were getting As in their courses, and 80% were graduating with honors: Harvard is Harvard, but even at Harvard there was a general feeling that those figures were too high.  Recently, Princeton established a goal of giving no more than 35% As in any course.  They quickly abandoned this policy, but the fact that the faculty tried it in the first place tells you something about the general concern. 

Given the model of the normal curve, there should probably be more Bs than As, and more Bs than Cs.  But right now, that's not what's happening. 

But, if everybody got 90% on my exams, they'd all get As -- and, they'd deserve them.


This page last revised 12/29/2016.