An overview of first year psychology

Posted in: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Undergraduate

Despite it being only March there are actually only a few weeks left of first year. This is a bit daunting; ‘it’s fine, this year doesn’t count’ has been pretty much my mantra for approaching every deadline. Whilst my only exam this year isn’t until the end of May, the Easter break is just a few weeks away, and after that there are only 2 weeks left of teaching. It has flown by! It’s so crazy to think that just a few months ago my flatmates were strangers and that I thought I’d never learn my way around campus, but here we are! I’m enjoying university so much more than I expected and am already sad about not seeing my friends over the summer!

Before arriving I had very little knowledge of the psychology course. I signed up for the 4 year course which includes a year long placement during the third year. And this was pretty much all I knew… oops. The psychology course has about 180 people on it, most of which are girls. I went to an all girls school so this just felt like the norm for me!

The course is split into different modules, and the year is split into two semesters. During both semesters some modules are the same, these are Mind and Behaviour, Controversies in Psychology, and Quantitative Research Methods (I’ll explain what these are later!). As well as these, we had Applying Psychology in Semester one, as well as one optional module. We chose these at the start of the year, and I pretty much chose based on the unit names. There was a range to choose from, from sociology, education, a language module etc., and I went for Being a Psychologist during first semester and Psychological Skills during second. In second semester Applying Psychology was replaced by Research Methods and Design, and for those of us doing the placement degree we also had a weekly lecture about this.

This is probably a lot to take in and sounds a bit confusing, but I will explain it as it’s actually very simple. Nearly all of our contact hours take the form of lectures which have everyone on the course present. For Mind and Behaviour we also have people from other courses there, too, which is pretty cool as one of my flatmates studies Psychology with Education and so she’s in the lecture with us. The exception to the lecture format is Controversies in Psychology, which is a seminar. We have these for one hour a week and we’re split into seminar groups of about 13. We also occasionally have labs to do practical work, and the course is split into two groups for these. Lectures vary from 1 to 3 hours, though the majority are 2. My attention span is not great so I’m always very grateful for a break after each hour (which usually involves a snack…) The optional modules are a lot smaller too, and I think both of mine have probably had about 30 people in.

I thought I’d give a little description of each module! They are all compulsory apart from the optional module, but luckily they’ve all been really interesting and not too intense! Mind and Behaviour is essentially an introduction or overview to studying psychology at degree level. We’ve covered loads of different aspects, like memory, development, sleep, and consciousness. The lecturer, Ian Fairholm, is amazing, and the lectures are always engaging and cover a range of content. If you’ve studied psychology at A Level or IB you might recognise some of the content from that, but it’s not all of it, and if you haven’t it doesn’t matter either! But it’s nice sometimes to recognise the name of a study, nice to get some clarification that my brain still actually functions… This is the module which our summer exam is based on (it’s so nice only having one) and it’s multiple choice! What’s not to love, really?

I definitely didn't make as many notes for my exam as my flatmate did for his...
I definitely didn't make as many notes for my exam as my flatmate did for his...

Controversies in Psychology is, like I said, the seminar. We cover a range of stuff, and because of the small group size it’s a good place to ask questions and it’s quite guided. We wrote an essay during first semester and did a group presentation, and this semester we did an online debate, another group presentation and we’re currently working on an essay. There isn’t a theme as such for this module but we’ve covered a broad range of content and there’s a lot of opportunities to engage with other members of the group.

Quantitative Research Methods is probably the module I find most difficult. But my grades have actually been okay for it (Touch wood!). I’m not sure if it’s just a confidence thing, but this is the module where we face the dreaded stats. I didn’t do maths after GCSE and my parents were very worried I’d struggle with it at uni, but what I didn’t realise was that we only have to do statistical tests online using special software, and it’s very well explained and talked through, so it’s really not that bad. The lab sessions are SO useful. We learned a lot about knowing which statistical tests to use for data, which I covered briefly at A Level, but I feel like I understand it a lot more now. We’ve done 3 lab reports, which involve carrying out an experiment in class and writing it up. I find these challenging but nothing beats the feeling when you hand one in! This semester we are working on a research proposal, which essentially involves planning an experiment and I’m finding that really interesting which is good! We’ve even planned and carried out our own experiments in groups which has been so good- it’s really nice to do hands on work so early in the degree.

Applying Psychology was the module which we had our January exam on. This was an interesting module last semester, which involved hearing about different areas of psychology. We covered loads, including clinical psychology, organisational psychology, social psychology… The list goes on. It was good to learn about how broad the subject was, and the lectures even gave an insight into how to go into each area in the study. The exam was essay based and as much as I hate exams it really wasn’t too bad!

When facing a lot of deadlines I like to retreat to the coffee shops in town
When facing a lot of deadlines I like to retreat to the coffee shops in town

Being a Psychologist was my final module of Semester One. I wasn’t really sure what I had signed up for but I really enjoyed it! Each week someone from a different area of psychology came in and discussed how they got into the area they worked in and then gave a detailed description of some research which they had carried out. We wrote 2 essays for this module, one of which was a summary of one of the pieces of research, and the other comparing the methods used by 2 different psychologists. The module gave an insight into quite how diverse psychology is and it was really interesting! I don’t know what the other optional modules were like but I really enjoyed this one.

My optional module during second semester is Psychological Skills, which so far has been great. We’ve had a mixture of lectures and workshops about different areas of psychology. These have varied massively from risk assessment to reflective writing skills to mindfulness. We’ve written an essay on our experience preparing for the January exam and it’s been a really practical unit as we’ve learned skills which will help us with future exams and study! Would definitely recommend.

The final module is Research Methods and Design. I love research methods!!! Which I think is quite odd, as a lot of people regard it similarly to stats. But I love it! I really liked this topic at A Level and we’ve done it in more detail now, studying different data collection techniques like questionnaires, interviews and focus groups, practiced carrying them out, and during our research proposal we essentially plan a study based on gaps in current research. This is quite challenging but the topic area is so useful that I’ve ended up doing extra reading purely out of interest!

Reflecting on the year like this makes me feel like I’ve done loads… which is so weird because I spent so much of first semester in bed! The course is so varied and interesting that I haven’t got bored of a particular area, and whilst I want to go into clinical psychology this has given me a much better understanding of what other careers are available to me. We’ve had a lot of support- we can email questions to our lecturers and we have forums set up for each assignment where we can publicly post questions which has been sooo useful. Whilst I’ve had many late night panics in the library (who hasn’t?!) I honestly love the course and can’t wait for the next few years!

Laura x

Posted in: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Undergraduate


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  • Hi 🙂 Potential student here. I was just wondering what the lecturers are like in terms of approachability and what you would say the teaching standards are like? This article has actually been really useful as the deadline for picking my firm choice is next Thursday and this has me leaning towards Bath!