This page will review the types of questions that you can expect on my exams...

There are 5 basic types of questions.

(1) Straight Declarative Recall

(2a) Declarative Recall with a Twist

(2b) Declarative Recall with Deeper Understanding

(3) Understanding of Concepts and Theory

(4) Critical Application of Declarative Information

(5) Critical Thinking and Application

Declarative information means basic facts. You may recall from your introductory psychology class that "declarative memory" is your ability to recall information such as your telephone number, the capitol of France, or what a projective test is. Similarly, declarative information from this course involves basic definitions, terms, and facts about various disorders, research findings, etc. Basic declarative recall or recognition questions assess whether or not you know the nuts and bolts of the stuff presented in your textbook and in lecture. Application questions ask you to take this basic information and use it or manipulate the information in new ways not presented in the book or lecture. For critical thinking questions, there is nothing to memorize. To find the answer to these questions, you have to first know the basic facts, definitions, and terms. Second, you must be able to apply this information and third, you must use critical thinking skills to integrate various answers and information.

Below, I will present examples of each of these types of questions.

(1) Straight Declarative Recall

These questions are the easiest ones for professors to write - and certainly they are the easiest to prepare for. When I write these questions, I flip through my lecture notes and your textbook chapters and look for basic terms. The right answer is, obviously, the definition of the term. The foil answers (e.g., close, but no cigar) are the definitions of other terms from the same section of the text or lecture. That means if you only skimmed the reading, you are likely to recognize the words, but have trouble making the right match.

For example:

                    A synapse is a

                        a) chemical substance in the brain.

                        b) nerve cell.

                        c) fluid-filled gap between neurons.

                        d) cell body.

Answer (a) is just plain wrong. You may not remember what a synapse is, but hopefully, you know that it is not a substance. Now you have to figure out which part of the neuron it is. Answers (b) and (d) are close -- especially if you didn't read carefully. Though, upon close inspection they seem to refer to the same thing, which seems suspicious. That leaves you with (c) as the correct answer.

Now I know you are used to getting lots of multiple choice questions that are of this type in undergraduate classes. But I worry about them as a good educational tool.

First, for those of you who may want to go on in psychology, just because you know what a bunch of words mean, doesn't mean you really understand what they represent. Second, and more importantly, for all of you, learning a bunch of jargon definitions seems more like academic trivial pursuit than learning. Sure, it's nice to know what new words mean, and they are fun to use at dinner parties -- but does this kind of studying help to make you better thinkers?

Let me demonstrate my concern. When I asked students the following straight declarative question:

                    Holism is the idea that

                        a) behavior is determined.

                        b) human nature is basically good.

                        c) the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

                        d) humans have free will.

                                94% of the class answered it correctly. So we can conclude

                                that people know what holism and reductionism are ... maybe.

Later, in the same exam, I asked students to apply those terms to a concrete example. In response to the question:

                    A biochemical theory of schizophrenia is an example of

                        a) holism

                        b) reductionism

                        c) systemic approaches

                        d) equifinality

                                only 60% of the class responded correctly.

Therefore, it seems that just knowing the definition of a word does not mean students can use or apply that definition.

(2a) Declarative Recall with a Twist

Still, basic facts are things we need to know if we are going to have any sort of educated discussion about mental illness. So I tend to throw in a little "twist" that pushes you to think a little more. But really, the information I am asking about is of the same difficulty as straight declarative recall questions.

For example, instead of asking a dull question like:

                    Personality disorders are recorded on what DSM-IV axis?

                        (a) I

                        (b) II

                        (c) III

                        (d) IV

    I ask:

                       Wanda has been diagnosed as having a personality disorder and also suffering from a phobia. On which
                        axes of the DSM would these diagnoses be recorded?

                            a) II and IV

                            b) I and III

                            c) II and III

                            d) I and II

If you already know that most mental disorders are recorded on Axis I, that personality disorders and mental retardation are recorded on Axis II, and that medical conditions are recorded on Axis III, this question shouldn't throw you at all. The answer is that Wanda's phobia is an Axis I disorder and her personality problem is an Axis II disorder. The correct answer is (d).

Now, I can take that same basic information and present it in a slightly more challenging way, as shown below. Note, however, that to answer this question directly, you do not need to know anything more than what you did to answer the previous 2 example questions. For example:

                    Jose is a mentally retarded 10 year old with hypothydroidism. He has been feeling extremely sad and moody
                    lately. How would a psychologist who wants to explore whether his sadness is the result of depression or his
                    Thyroid problem record his diagnosis?

                            a) Axis I: Rule out Depression

                                Axis II: Mental Retardation

                                Axis III: Hypothyroidism

                    b) Axis I: Rule out Depression, Mental Retardation

                                Axis II: deferred

                                Axis III: Hypothyroidism

                    c) Axis I: No diagnosis

                        Axis II: Mental Retardation with possible Depression

                        Axis III: Hypothyroidism

                d) Axis I: Depression OR Hypothyroidism

                    Axis II: Mental Retardation

                    Axis III: deferred

To analyze this question, the first thing you may want to do is lose all the extraneous information. It doesn't matter what the patient's name is, how old he is, or in this case, what his symptoms are. It is really only the second sentence that asks where the possible depression and the thyroid problem are recorded. Plus, you know there is also a mental retardation problem.

To answer this question, start with the easiest issue. Axis II is used for personality disorders and mental retardation, so any answer that does not have mental retardation on Axis II can be eliminated. So say goodbye to answer (b).

Now, some folks can get needlessly confused because they don't know, can't recall, or aren't sure what "deferred" or "rule out" mean. But in this case, those definitions do not matter! [By the way- deferred just means the psychologist is ignoring the axis for the present time; you write deferred because if you leave it blank, it means there is no disorder on that axis. "Rule out" means the disorder is under consideration, but more evidence or information is needed.] Depression is always going to appear on Axis I. Any answer that places it anywhere else is wrong, so cross out answer (c).

Now you are left with two choices that seem possible. But if you know that Axis III is for general medical conditions and Axis I is mental disorders, you recognize that (a) is correct and (d) is incorrect.

(2b) Declarative Recall with Deeper Understanding

I also like to ask questions that draw upon a deeper understanding of the terms than a mere definition. For example, I could just ask you to define "what is a case study"? Not a thrilling question.

Instead, I ask:

                    What is the primary limitation of case studies?

                        a) useful only for rare disorders

                        b) necessitate breaking confidentiality

                        c) have questionable generalizability to other cases

                        d) subject to reporter bias

To answer this question, you need to: (1) know what a case study is and then (2) think about how a case study differs from other research methods in psychopathology.

Is a case study useful only for rare disorders? Clearly no. You can do a psychological case study on anyone you would like to. Case studies are often used for rare disorders because it is hard to find enough people with a rare disorder to form a sample size large enough for an experiment.

Do case studies necessitate breaking confidentiality? Of course not -- otherwise psychologists wouldn't use them. Patients in case studies are referred to as either generally "a thirty-year-old white male" or with initials, e.g., "H.M."

Do case studies have questionable generalizability? Yes. It is often helpful to examine one particular person's case or story in detail to generate hypotheses for future experiments. However, it is always hard to evaluate how information based upon one individual can be applied to other people.

Finally, are case studies subject to reporter bias? Well, sort of. The researcher can only report what they have asked about; and the patient may only disclose what they wish the researcher to know. But is that a limitation only of case studies? No. This is a problem with almost any kind of research endeavor, especially with regard to human behavior. So it is not a *primary* limitation of case studies. This was meant to be the "almost right" answer.

(3) Understanding of Concepts and Theory

Sometimes, it is important not just to know basic terms/definitions, but to understand the coherence of major theories. To evaluate how well you have gotten "inside" a theory, I ask you to select answers that are consistent with a particular theory.

For example, to answer this question:

                        According to the hopelessness theory of depression what are depressed persons likely to do?

                            a) make unstable causal attributions

                            b) believe that their fate is determined at birth

                            c) believe that aversive events will occur regardless of what the person does

                            d) make external causal attributions

you will have to mentally reproduce the class discussion about this theory and think about the examples used to illustrate it. In addition, though, you need to know what basic terms mean.

First, get rid of the no-brainers. Answer (b) is a toss-away just based upon common sense. Some depressed persons may be fatalists. But not only don't we know what these people's perspectives on free-will versus determinism are, this does not matter much for this class.

Answers (a) and (d) are meant as foils. They look like they might be right because they contain those pretty psycho-babble terms that certainly look as if they come from a textbook. To solve this problem, you need to know that the attributions people with of hopelessness depression make are stable (my life will always be like this) and internal (I'm not smart enough, I'll never pass this test), as opposed to external (that professor gives hard tests).

Answer (c) reflects the global nature of the depressogenic style.

(4) Critical Application of Declarative Information

Another type of question involves critical application of declarative information.

In the question below you must understand the definitions of terms like "dimensional", "polythetic", "categorical", and "monothetic". However, phrasing the question in terms of an example forces you to apply your knowledge of these definitions. This is a way of asking whether you really understand and can apply textbook definitions in real-life situations.

Look at this question

                        A psychologist is classifying people in terms of how anxious they are. If the psychologist classifies them         as either "anxious" or "not anxious," what classification system is the psychologist using?

                a) dimensional

                b) polythetic

                c) categorical

                d) monothetic

Here, the psychologist makes a clear boundary between "anxious" and "not anxious" people. This is a categorical approach, which implies a clear boundary between those who are anxious and everyone else. In contrast, a dimensional approach would measure the degree or extent of someone's anxiety.

(5) Critical Thinking and Application

By far, the most difficult kind of exam question I use is also the most important educationally. In critical thinking type questions, I present you with situations that were not explicitly covered in lecture or the textbook. The goal of these questions is to evaluate the extent to which you can take the basic facts and general principles discussed in lecture and apply them to new situations.

In one question you were exposed to the hypothetical Island of Knowdoze.

On the Island of Knowdoze people are bursting with energy and euphoria all of the time, for their entire lives. They have trouble sleeping and have difficulty concentrating. Although they feel that their thoughts sometimes race, which is unpleasant, they never complain because they love the sense of increased energy. A young psychologist from Wisconsin who specializes in this sort of fieldwork goes to Knowdoze and wonders of the entire population is chronically manic. The psychologist knows that this description does not fit any particular diagnosis, but what aspect of this situation presents the most trouble diagnostically?

            I. The people are not distressed

            II. There is no clear social harm involved

            III. This behavior may fit cultural norms

            IV. It cannot be a disorder if everyone has it

                        a) I, II, III, IV

                        b) II, III

                        c) I, IV

                        d) I, III, IV

It is immediately obvious that the behaviors described are intended to raise questions in your mind about mood disorders, particularly mania. But you are asked a specific question: given our discussion on assessment and classification of psychopathology, what creates the biggest problem in diagnosing everyone on the island with a mood disorder?

The first statement, that people are not distressed, does not create a problem. We know that there are many situations where people are not subjectively distressed about their psychological problems -- as in antisocial personality disorder, some psychotic disorders, and among young children -- but that doesn't mean they do not have a disorder. DSM-IV specifically points out that people can experience social/occupational problems even if they do not realize it.

But look at Statement II. If there is no clear harm involved, are we still willing to call people's behavior pathological? This creates a problem, because we know that just because others do not act the way we do, or the way we would like them to behave, doesn't mean their behavior is disordered. So this statement should be a contender.

Statement III asks about cultural norms. In this regard, there was an explicit discussion in lecture about the need to consider cultural standards in evaluating behavior. Always. This statement is certainly a contender.

Statement IV was tricky. Remember the class discussion about statistical rarity as an index of psychopathology. The number of people displaying behavior -- whether it is many people or just a few -- has no bearing upon whether the behavior is pathological. This statement is wrong. If it had explicitly referred to cultural norms or social context it may have been right, but as stated it only refers to the number of people, in this case everyone.

Therefore, only Statements II and III are correct.