Congratulations on choosing Psychology for your CLEP exam! It is a beautiful science which aims to improve the lives of humans through understanding of behavior and mental processes that goes beyond speculations, anecdotal evidence, and common sense.

The exam is structured to take you through the material typical for an undergraduate level one-semester introductory course. You’ll start by revising the basic approaches to the study of the human mind, as well as the influences which other disciplines (like ethology and biology) have brought to this field. Afterwards, you’ll go into more in-depth understanding of the main mental processes identified in humans, like emotion, thought, memory, learning, and the interactions between them. You will further look into higher order behavior concepts like personality, the executive function, and psychopathology (the types of psychological dysfunctions) and its treatment.

Fast Introductory Psychology
Study Guide

If you find yourself often wondering about the behavior of those around you and even yourself and what drives it, you’ll likely love learning about psychology and enjoy this test. Many of the findings in psychology are counterintuitive and have brought a great deal of understanding to how us humans develop and what shapes our behavior and thoughts.

The exam will be divided into thirteen major chunks:

  • (8–9%) History, Approaches, Methods

    Precisely because much of what we know now was possible only by scratching beneath the surface of our minds, it is important to understand the history of psychology and the approaches and methods that were taken to studying it. Since it is not a “hard” science, meaning that many of the tools used to study it aren’t as exact as in physics, there is debate regarding which is the best approach. Generally, most psychological researchers and practitioners use a mix of approaches, but the main paradigms of studying psychology are: biological, the behavioral (notable theorists: Watson and Skinner), cognitive (which views the human mind mainly from the perspective of information processing systems), humanistic (notable theorists: Rogers and Maslow), and psychodynamic (notable theorist: Freud). The beginning of psychology as a science is considered to come with the first experimental laboratory in 1879 in Leipzig, established by Wundt. Since then, many studies were performed, some even with questionable methods (see Stanford Prison Experiment or Milgram’s Experiment). That is why the question of ethical research is also important in this topic.

  • (8–9%) Biological Bases of Behavior

    As said earlier, one of the main approaches is biological, meaning that it looks at how biological processes determine behavior, especially through the body’s nervous system. As such, basic knowledge of the nervous system, the endocrine system, and genetics are needed as these are clear determinants of at least a portion of specific human behavior and mental activity. For example, many psychological disorders have a significant genetic component, meaning that they tend to appear in related individuals which share a significant amount of DNA configuration.

  • (7–8%) Sensation and Perception

    This section deals with the funda-“mental” processes involved in how our minds take in sensory information from the environment through our senses and use it to construct our awareness of the physical and social world around us. These were the first aspects of our minds to be studied experimentally and we have learned a great deal through them. These processes have important implications for higher order functions (like attitudes) since our perceptions shape our view of the world. “The map is not the territory” is a common saying in psychology and it refers to both these elemental processes and how they are sometimes skewed by their nature (see illusions), and also to how our frame of reference about reality is rarely 100% objective.

  • (5–6%) States of Consciousness

    Here you get to learn about what defines the usual states our minds are in (the two most common being sleep and wakefulness) but also what and how our normal wakeful state is altered through several methods or substances, and how these altered states can be used to solve certain problems, but also the myths and misconceptions regarding the use of such states. The most frequent and studied methods of altering our states of consciousness are hypnosis, meditation, and psychoactive drugs.

  • (10–11%) Learning

    Learning is something we do our entire lives and often, in order to improve, we have to unlearn what we once needed to learn. Don’t worry though, this chapter isn’t about studying, it is about the principles that guide how we acquire skills and information, often without intending to do so (as in operant conditioning or in social learning). The principles and processes learned here have expanded our understanding of many seemingly irrational processes that happen in human behavior (e.g. in gambling).

  • (8–9%) Cognition

    The superior and most complex functions of the mind are reunited under the umbrella-term cognition (from Latin cognosco = to know), referring to how we think and decide, our intelligence, creativity, language, memory, and problem solving. Even though in common language when we refer to someone as smart or intelligent, most people understand what is meant, defining intelligence has proven quite tricky and many differing approaches are supported. The above processes have clear interdependencies, meaning that one influences the other (e.g. a good memory will result in an increased level of measured intelligence) so these processes should be understood together, whereas they are separated in theory only in order to more efficiently study and analyze them.

  • (7–8%) Motivation and Emotion

    No matter how much some of us would wish so, humans are not strictly logical organisms which process information from the environment. Our emotions have evolved as a consequence of adapting to a changing and often ambiguous environment and they are intrinsically tied with motivation. As such, emotions reflect the extent to which are needs and desires are met. When our efforts are rewarded, we feel positive emotions and when they are not we feel negative emotions. This serves also to drive us further into achieving that which motivates us and to better adapt to our environment. Therefore, the best thing is to understand our emotions and accept them in order to be in touch with our authentic selves.

  • (8–9%) Developmental Psychology

    By studying how humans evolve mentally from the moment they are born much knowledge was acquired about the manner in which we think and feel, as well as about what are some of the key factors in ensuring a child grows up into a well-rounded individual. Human development has multiple dimensions (physical, cognitive, as well as social) and longitudinal studies (which follow participants throughout a given period of time) are very informative in terms of how these dimensions vary consistently with certain ages.

  • (7–8%) Personality

    Generally speaking, personality in psychology refers to the patterns of behavior, attitudes, and mentality which are stable in time. These patterns have been conceptualized in many ways with each major paradigm having its own take on human personality. One major categorization of approaches in personality is that of type versus trait. Some theories, especially earlier ones, talk of personality types, with each individual being part of one or the other of several mutually exclusive types. Other theories talk about major traits which can be understood as dimensions of personality with people being placed somewhere between one end or the other of each dimension in terms of their preferences or tendencies.

  • (8–9%) Psychological disorders and health

    Psychological disorders (also called mental disorders or psychopathology) refers to a wide spectrum of disruptions in the normal functioning of human behavior and mental processes. Abnormal is mainly defined as that which impairs human functioning and causes personal distress, while also partially considering the statistical criterion (what is normal according to the majority) and the cultural criterion (what is normal according to cultural norms). There are many forms of disorders and most of them are considered to be determined by more than one factor.

  • (7–8%) Treatment of psychological disorders

    Similarly to personality theories, most major paradigms have their own approach to the psychological treatment of mental disorders (named psychotherapy). The original form of psychotherapy was psychoanalysis. Some of the conceptual limitations of psychoanalysis and the results of different studies have determined other psychotherapists to develop their own take on how to treat mental disorders. To date, there are over 200 schools of psychotherapies, but most fall under the following typology: psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic-existential.

  • (7–8%) Social Psychology

    No man is an island. That is the main train of thought that stood behind the motivation of social psychologists to look at how humans behave and construct their social reality in their groups of affiliation. Consequently, many behaviors were more pertinently explained when they were put in a social context than when researchers only looked at individual mental processes. Some of the most interesting and intriguing studies and theories came from the social psychology school (see Asch’s experiments on conformity or Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory).

  • (3–4%) Statistics, Tests, and Measurement

    As a science, statistical techniques are very important for psychology. This is true for both researchers and practitioners in order to become critical consumers of research. Since there are many studies performed yearly, often with contradicting results, it is important to assess which studies are more valuable in terms of the techniques used. Additionally, the instruments used are often self-report measures and the validity (how good it measures what it sets out to measure) and reliability (how consistently it measures what it sets out to measure) of these standardized instruments is also critical. Thankfully, we have statistical techniques for assessing these two important criteria.

Introductory Psychology
Practice Quiz

Ready to give it a shot?  Dive into the 10 question quiz below to get a feel for how prepared you are! Once you’ve written down your answers, hover over (or tap on a phone) the question to see the answers and explanations.

Please do keep in mind that we can’t guarantee the accuracy of this quiz, so we do recommend you also run through a full-length practice exam.  The CollegeBoard offers a good one that we’ll share in the resources section below.

Question 1: A study showed that there is a positive correlation (meaning that both observed phenomena grow in frequency together) between how much children play violent video games and how aggressive they tend to behave. Should there be a ban on violent games based on these results?

a) No, the researchers were biased to believe that children are more aggressive as they play more video games and this contaminated the results
b) No, the children were selected to be more aggressive than usual and this sampling error is responsible for the results
c) Yes, playing violent video games obviously causes aggressive tendencies
d) No, correlation does not mean causation

Answer: d) No, correlation does not mean causation

Children that are more aggressive might tend to play more violent video games, therefore the cause of one variable might be the other or the other way around in correlational studies. Furthermore, there can exist moderating or mediating variables which influence the relationship between two correlated variables. Experimental studies are always needed to determine causation.

Question 2: The most valuable information regarding the extent to which a behavioral or mental phenomenon is transmitted genetically comes from studies performed on:

a) Dizygotic (fraternal) twins
b) Monozygotic (identical) twins
c) Monozygotic twins that were raised in different families
d) Parents and children

Answer: c) Monozygotic twins that were raised in different families
Identical twins share almost 100% of their DNA (they are genetically nearly identical) which means that when the environmental influence of the family is different but a trait still appears in both, it can be concluded that the main determinant of that trait is genetic in nature. However, the environment is rarely if never completely different, so the nature versus nurture debate can never be exactly answered.

Question 3: How would most people describe the following set of circles:

a) Four pairs of red and blue circles
b) Two pairs of red circles interspersed with two pairs of blue circles
c) Four red circles and four blue circles
d) A red and a blue circle surrounded by three red and blue altering circles on each side.

Answer: a) Four pairs of red and blue circles

According to the Gestalt principle of proximity, subjects tend to group stimuli based on their closeness. Therefore, most subjects would describe the above set as four pairs of red and blue circles, even if all the above options are correct objectively speaking. Notice that even though the first couple of pairs are closer to each other and the last couple of pairs as well, option two is less considered because the principle of similarity also influences perception. As such, there are multiple Gestalt principles and sometimes these compete with each other. The law of Prägnanz clarifies this by mentioning that people interpret stimuli so that the simplest configuration will result.

Question 4: What is a good method of retrieving repressed memories?

a) Psychoactive drugs
b) Hypnosis
c) Dream interpretation
d) None of the above

Answer: d) None of the above

Even though hypnosis was used extensively to make subjects retrieve repressed memories in order to alleviate suffering, this practice is now considered obsolete and risky especially because research has shown that it may induce false memories through suggestion. The question of whether or not repressed memories even exist is still debated by scientists, but there is consensus that suggestive methods should not be used to retrieve such memories.

Question 5: Jean asks Martha to turn down the music volume and Martha says that she will do so only after Jean does the dishes. What is Martha doing in order to determine Jean to do the dishes?

a) Martha is positively reinforcing her
b) Martha is negatively reinforcing her
c) Martha is punishing her
d) None of the above

Answer: b) Martha is negatively reinforcing her

Negative reinforcement refers to a negative stimulus which is withdrawn after the person does the action which is aimed to be reinforced.

Question 6: Are intelligence and creativity associated?

a) Yes, the more intelligent a person is the more creative he/she tends to be as well (positive correlation)
b) No, there is no correlation between the two
c) Yes, the more creative a person is the less intelligent he/she tends to be as well (negative correlation)
d) Yes, but only to a point.

Answer: d) Yes, but only to a point.

Although correlations between intelligence and creativity consistently appear in research, these tend to be weak and manifest themselves especially in the lower spectrums of intelligence and creativity. The higher the intelligence or creativity levels in people, the less the two concepts are associated.

Question 7: Choose if the following statement is true or false:

In order to achieve maximum performance on a complex task, one should be highly motivated to complete it.
a) True. The more motivation one feels, the more his performance will increase.
b) True unless one is motivated mainly by avoiding failure, in which case performance anxiety sets in and the relationship is completely inversed, with the most performance coming out of the least motivation
c) False. There is no relationship between performance and motivation.
d) Neither true nor false. The most adequate performance in complex tasks is achieved by a relatively medium level of motivation

Answer: d) Neither true nor false. The most adequate performance in complex tasks is achieved by a relatively medium level of motivation.

According to the Yerkes–Dodson law, too little arousal (a commonly used indicator for motivation) as well as too much arousal will lead to lower performance, especially in complex tasks, while an optimum level of motivation is found around the middle point of arousal.

Question 8: John is shown two glasses, a shorter and wider one and a taller and thinner one. He is also shown two identical glasses with water, one being poured into the tall glass and the other into the short glass, all in front of John. If John is asked which of the two initial glasses has more water and he answers one or the other (typically the taller one), what is John’s stage of cognitive development, according to Piaget’s theory?

a) Formal operational
b) Concrete operational
c) Preoperational
d) Sensorimotor

Answer: c) Preoperational

In the preoperational stage, children have not yet acquired the ability to understand that the properties (e.g. volume, number, weight) of an object or substance remain constant even if their shape, position, or length is modified. This ability is called conservation.

Question 9: Which personality trait from the Big Five model is most consistently related to workplace performance?

a) Extraversion
b) Conscientiousness
c) Neuroticism
d) Agreeableness

Answer: b) Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is defined as the tendency to be well-organized, punctual, and disciplined. Increased levels of this trait have been associated with increased performance across multiple workplace environments and jobs, making it the most reliable personality related predictor of performance.

Question 10: What is the most important type of factors which are causal to psychological disorders?

a) Biological factors
b) Psychological processes
c) Sociocultural context
d) All of the above

Answer: d) All of the above

The biopsychosocial model for the etiology of mental disorders is the most accepted model and it states that all three classes of factors and their interactions are relevant in the formation of mental disorders, with certain types of disorders being impacted more by one or the other.

Question 11: What method of treating mental disorders has generally the most effectiveness?

a) Psychopharmaceutic drugs.
b) Psychotherapy.
c) A combination of the first two.
d) None of the above.

Answer: c) A combination of the first two.

For disorders like major depression, the most increased reduction in depression is usually registered when both drugs and psychotherapy is administered. The same holds for most mental disorders for which there are drug options.

Question 12: If a person is asked to conduct behavior that runs contrary to his beliefs (such as recommending a product he doesn’t believe in) what is more likely to happen with his beliefs?

a) He/She will modify his beliefs so that they may better fit his behavior (i.e. he/she will view the product in a more favorable light).
b) Nothing will change about his/her beliefs.
c) His/Her beliefs will be even stronger as a reaction (i.e. his/her view of the product will be even more unfavorable).
d) He/She will eliminate any belief (i.e. he/she will say they do not have an opinion anymore on the product).

Answer: a) He/She will modify his beliefs so that they may better fit his behavior (i.e. he/she will view the product in a more favorable light).

According to cognitive dissonance theory, discrepancies between incompatible attitudes or between attitudes and behavior cause a tension which results in the modification of one or the other until consonance is achieved. As such, experiments have observed that the attitudes of participants on an object were more favorable after asking them to talk about the qualities of that object to someone else, recommending it. Moreover, the less money participants received for their participation in this experiment, the more their attitudes changed favorably because they couldn’t justify their behavior as being caused by their interest in receiving money.

Question 13: Which quality is more important in an instrument?

a) Reliability.
b) Validity.
c) Both are equally important.
d) None of the above.

Answer: a) Reliability.

Since a psychological instrument cannot have validity without reliability, it can be considered that reliability is more important. Reliability refers to how much a measure will provide the same results if it is applied multiple times and to how much that measure is stable at all its levels (e.g. across the items of a questionnaire). This is not to say that validity isn’t important since a tool is truly useful only if both criteria are met, just that reliability is primordial in the value of an instrument.

More CLEP Study Resources

Looking for a study guide to fill a couple gaps, or just want a full length practice exam? You can find a few of my favorite resources below.  Note that some of the links are affiliate – meaning I’ll make a few dollars if you purchase, but I’m only sharing resources that were genuinely helpful during my own CLEP journey.

Official CLEP Study Guide: It’s quite short on the study side of things, but this is the go-to practice test bank.  I don’t think I’ve done a single CLEP test without taking the practice test in this book first.

REA CLEP Introductory Psychology: I’m not huge on reading, but this book series is fantastic if you’re into that kind of thing. It also includes some nifty online practice tests, though I always found the official practice tests more reassuring.

InstantCert Academy: The website looks like it was made before the internet, but it’s legitimately the single most useful study guide I’ve found. Basically it’s a series of flashcards that help you learn about Intro to Psychology in a fast paced and fun way.

Plenty of other resources exist – just do a quick internet search – but these are the three that I’ve personally found the most helpful back when I did CLEP.

Congrats on starting your CLEP study journey! Study hard, earn credit, and most of all remember to have fun.