How to Master EPPP Material
How to Master EPPP Material

How to Master EPPP Material

by Dr. Renee St. Jacques, Coach for AATBS

The skills required to successfully pass the EPPP are like three legs of a stool: If one leg is broken, the entire stool will fall apart. Specifically, success on the EPPP involves:

1. Content Mastery. This means knowing the content so well that you would be capable of explaining it to someone else. More specifically, you should be able to take any one of the books for the highly weighted domains, pick a random concept out of it, and be capable of teaching it without any notes.

2. Exam-Taking Skills. No matter how much you study, you’ll encounter things on the exam that you haven’t seen in your book or practice tests. Good exam-taking skills are crucial for being able to respond to these challenges and to make educated guesses. Recently we listed some of these key exam-taking skills in our article, Tips for Choosing the Best Answer on EPPP Questions.

3. Management of Anxiety and Cognitive Distortion. Even if you have stellar exam-taking skills and know the content inside and out, your success can still be sabotaged if you haven’t learned to manage cognitive distortions and test-taking anxiety. We’ve discussed this in our resources, How Cognitive Distortions May Affect Your EPPP Success and How to Manage Test Anxiety and Gain Confidence for Exam Day.

In the article and the one to follow, we want to explore specific steps you can take for achieving the first leg, content mastery. But first, let’s go a little deeper into the meaning of content mastery and why it’s so important for EPPP success.

What is Content Mastery?

Many people think that content mastery simply means being able to answer questions correctly on practice tests. However, since the questions on the EPPP are not the same questions you’ll encounter in TestMASTER, getting the right answer on practice tests is only of value if you actually understand the concepts behind the questions.

As mentioned previously, a good rule-of-thumb for assessing mastery is to ask yourself, “Would I be able to pick any concept, at random, and then teach it to someone without any notes?” If the answer is no, then you haven’t achieved content mastery, even if you happen to get isolated questions about a concept correct.

Of course, no candidate can be prepared for everything on the exam. There will inevitably be an odd question that catches you off guard about material you haven’t studied for. However, candidates who have achieved content mastery in the highly weighted domains will be able to get enough right answers to buffer themselves against the impact of these oddball questions. Content mastery also helps you develop conceptual schemas that will assist in being able to guess the correct answer on questions that catch you off guard.

Learning How to Learn

How does one go about developing content mastery? It begins with knowing how to learn. You may have grown weak in basic study habits. Years may have elapsed since grad school. Moreover, grad school typically does not require a student to engage in lots of rote memory. Consequently, when candidates suddenly find themselves needing to memorize mountains of information for the EPPP, they sometimes flounder.

The solution is to first slow down and refresh yourself about the learning process. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What techniques help me learn best?
  • What are some effective memory aids I can use to cement this material in my long-term memory?
  • How can I really make this material my own, so I understand it inside and out?
  • What are some ways I can study smarter not harder?

I am reminded of one person who phoned us up the other day and said she had failed the EPPP 10 times. When I think about her case, I consider how many have fallen into the common trap of thinking that because they are going through the motions of studying (e.g., spending dozens of hours re-reading the materials, taking hundreds of notes, making tons of flashcards) that they are successfully preparing for the EPPP. However, a person might only be spinning their wheels yet assuming they are making progress simply because they are putting in lots of hours.

Study With Quality, Not Quantity

What is needed is a shift of mentality from quantity studying to quality studying. Quality of studying is reflected in how well you actually understand the material, which should be apparent over time in your scores on the practice exams. Within at least 2 months of studying, your scores should be showing a noticeable improvement. If your scores are not at least incrementally improving, it is likely you are wasting your time by studying inefficiently.

If there is not improvement, then you need to take a step back and reassess the quality of your studying techniques. Many people will retake practice tests after having re-read the materials, hoping to see improved scores. But you should only retake a practice exam after active study aimed at helping the material make sense to you. What this looks like in practice is instead of passively reading the entire domain book beginning to end, take one or two key concepts within the domain and then really go deep into those concepts. Only after mastering those concepts should you retake the practice exam. Those key concepts within the domains are like building blocks—over time you will accrue more and more of those building blocks until the full picture is there for a given domain. Gradually your scores in that domain will begin to increase.

Study Smarter, Not Harder

The importance of studying smarter, not harder, was confirmed in February 2012 when the Journal Training and Education in Professional Psychology published research analyzing data from the experiences of 7,402 EPPP candidates. Jack B. Schaffer, the lead author in the study, was quoted by the APA summarizing the research: “What's surprising is that beyond 200 hours of study, there's very little additional improvement.” He went on to add that the pass rates begin to fall off beyond 300 hours and has an even more dramatic drop beyond 400 hours.”

The take-home point from Schaffer’s findings is that simply pouring time into your studies will achieve little good—and might actually do harm—if you are do not have a specific plan for cementing the material into your long-term memory. You might simply be pushing papers around.

This doesn’t mean that if you study beyond 300 or 400 hours that you’re justified having a fatalistic attitude. The amount of time you study is actually irrelevant; the important point is that you are studying in the right way, with quality and mastery in mind.

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