April 2019 Reading List


  • The Heart of the Buddha’s teaching by Thich Nhat Hhan
  • A man’s search for meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Savor by Thich Nhat Hhan
  • Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

Currently reading:

  • Organize Tomorrow Today by Jason Selk
  • The craving mind by Judson Brewer & Jon Kabat-zinn

Psychology Subject GRE Automatic Grading Answer Key [Excel Sheet Document]

The last time I post about the psychology GRE was in 2017, where I provided resources (e.g., old test copies, “cheat sheets”) for the Psychology GRE, as ETS does not keep archived copies of their practice tests on their website.

In that blog post, I wrote that I scored in the 80th percentile from the practice tests, but mentioned I was aiming for the 90th percentile (Note: I achieved that goal, and scored in the 91st percentile in September 2017!). Considering that when I wrote the exam I had only taken two courses of the six courses that compose the Subject GRE, I was happy to say that my study regime was effective. I’ll be writing a step-by-step guide on the subject GRE soon, but I first wanted to share an answer key for the psychology GRE.

Essentially, this document automates the whole grading process so all you need to do is type in the response to the question, and you will instantly know your response was correct, your subscale scores, and your total scores. Originally, the document I made to study was very basic, and simply marked right/wrong. I would then review the questions manually to see what domain of psychology they were (e.g. biology or clinical), then I would review those topics from my test materials.

This was good enough for me, but when a colleague told me he was writing his answers with paper-and-pencil and painstakingly scoring every answer, I just had to publish this system. Not everyone wants to store in their minds what questions belong to which domains, and so that is where the subscale feature comes in to help those who want to specify which domain of psychology they should study for.

Here is a preview of the document:


The document is fairly easy to use, just read the instructions and you’re good to go!

Download link:

Download excel document (includes two sheets)



January 2019 Reading list

Here’s a little update on the books I’ve been reading for January 2019!

Complete books:

Looking for Alaska by John Greene

  • Read it straight and fast. Hah.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (last updated: February 9th, 2019)

  • I can see why people recommend this after reading “The Republic” by Plato. The book shares a great deal about practical philosophy (i.e., how to live), specifically about living the “good life”, about “enlightening” others and not falling victim to the “darkness” within. I can see why people recommend this book following a read of Plato’s the allegory of the cave.
  • There isn’t much structure in this book, so it’s hard, speaking from a beginner in philosophy, to really make much connections. The book seems to be a composite of words of wisdom; a knitting of other different cloths. Still, what little sense I did make of the first read were great. I’m looking forward to revisiting this book again in a year or so.
  • I’ll be updating this book in particular because I find myself reflecting on it and wanting to write more about it. I can’t wait to write a well-written analysis on the book, but napkin notes will do for now.
  • Content: Marcus is a stoic so the book talks a great deal about a basic, ascetic life. The whole cave thing I talked about earlier is interesting and all, but what really resonated with me was the life’s purpose part. Essentially, stoics believe that people have purposes and to follow them is the goal. The ways they go about this route holds well with them, as third-wave books are saying the same thing. For example, some of the wisdom shared is about misperception similar to dharmas in Buddhism, movement in life independent of others told in every motivational book, and the concept of cognitive diffusion applied to emotions in Steven Hayes’s work with ACT.
  • Style: At first, I wasn’t a big fan of the organization of the book. Knowledge is scattered and themes jump from polar ends. But I’m coming to learn to love the abrasive hits of different insights. In fact, it’s not just the general style but the rhetoric involved where he switched from monologues to dialogues to scripture-like maxims to poetic metaphors. True the themes are scattered, but all are apart of stoicism at it’s roots. With the rise of positivity and gratitude journals, it would be interesting if a book came out on how to write “your way” effectively, and I think this book is a starting point.

Curently reading:

  • The Fault in our Stars by John Greene
  • Perks of Being a Wall flower by Stephen Chompsky
  • The Heart of the Buddha’s teachings by Thich Nhat Hhan
  • Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
  • Harry Potter A L’Ecole des Sorciers (Book #1 in french) by J. K. Rowling

Starting as a Research Programmer

One of things I’ve always wanted to do was to learn how to program. I mean, really programming, not just learning what variables or functions were. The notion of learning, and really getting what gears were turning behind all the applications and software we use everyday was exciting.

For the past few years, I tried picking up programming without must success. I would develop some random websites / programs such as a music organizer (PHP = MYSQL), user profile updater (python + JSON), but nothing really stuck. The programs worked, but I never perceived these as success in any way, because success to me doesn’t mean a product or result, but keeping to a direction of growth.

I’ve always been fascinated with Python for three main reasons. First, it’s glamourized in the programming community for it’s parsimonious characteristics. Second, it can be used for web, smart, and desktop applications. Third, it’s a popular programming language for research programs for psychology (my main field of study).

In January 2019, I asked my supervisors at one of the labs I wanted to take a chance with me and allow me to work as a researcher programmer instead of a research assistant. One of the first tasks they asked me to do was to standardize their facial stimulus. I was a bit overwhelmed by this request at first, and here’s why:

There were thousands of photographs of varying sizes and colours. My goal was to expand or shrink these images, move these images, crop these images, and colour balance these images to fit a “template” image. The problem stemmed from a lack of protocol in gathering stimulus (e.g. RAs did not over an cross-hair overlay on the camera or did not have participants sit the correct distance).

I created two programs: facial standardizer and colour correction. Together, these programs not only corrected the earlier faults of the stimulus gathering protocol but probably saved hundred of hours of RA hours in correcting the work.

I learned a lot of lessons from these projects, but I’ll state two less obvious ones. First, a lot of programming is actually research. That is, researching if libraries already exist to do what you want to do, saving you hundred of hours yourself. Second, programming, like almost every other thing, isn’t as hard if you break things down into little, digestible chunks.

I’ll be posting these programs for public use in a short while!

Writing Inquiry emails to Potential Supervisors (Undergraduate perspective)

First, a lot of this advice has been compiled from resources that refer to universities in Canada in the science/humanities field. Therefore, the advice may not be applicable if you are in a different country or different field.

I’ve broken down this post into 6 sections:

  1. Sample Inquiry Letter
  2. Greetings and goodbyes
  3. First Paragraph
  4. Second Paragraph
  5. Third Paragraph
  6. Contradictory Advice
Sample Inquiry letter

Dear Dr. Last Name:

I recently read your paper, Snails are way cooler than slugs, and am very interested in your work on the importance of shells in determining awesomeness in invertebrates. I am a senior a the University of Science, where I am working with Dr. Advisor on a senior thesis about how beetles are also very cool, using tools our lab has developed linking wing shininess to coolness. Until recently, my background was in plants, and I was wondering if you’ve considered testing whether the plant the snail is on affects how awesome it is? (First paragraph)

I’ll be graduating this fall with a BS in Biology, and I was wondering if you have any graduate opportunities available in your lab? In graduate school, I’d like to apply my research to conservation, particularly in relation to climate change and other threats. My goal is to be a research professor working at the interface of conservation biology and landscape coolness, with a strong policy relevance. (Second paragraph)

I have attached a copy of my CV for your consideration, and would be very interested in discussing possibilities with your lab. (Third paragraph)

First Name Last Name
Greetings & Goodbye:

The general consensus is to keep these formal. This means “Dear Dr.” and “Sincerely” or “Yours sincerely”

First paragraph:

Here you want to state:

  1. State your year of study, degree, school, and current relevant research experience.
  2. You also want to include that you are interested in the working for the professor. The sources I’ve read have suggested to say:

I am curious about [so and so on x], [so and so on y], and [so and so on z].

instead of:

I have an interest in joining you lab.

I think for the younger professors, you can have a “hook” paragraph where you draw in your reader slightly informally by not immediately introducing yourself, but referring to the research first. This may not be as popular for the older professors, who prefer formality.

Second Paragraph:

Here you should state your interest in the lab. There’s a difference between:

I would like to join your lab.


…if there will be any available opportunities in your lab.

The professor probably has cued in the intent of the email, so being indirect (option 2) may be better.

Further, you should state why you want to attend graduate school, and career goals. Again, these goals are related to research. General answers “I want to make the world a better place” are not advised.

Third Paragraph:

Express your interest in continuing to discuss research interests (not opportunities). You an also add a quick gracious message for the professor reading through the email if they got that far. “Thank you for taking the time…”

Contradicting advice:

Some contradicting advice in the resources were the following:

Include your transcript as an attachment

50/50 on this. Some professors want to see it, some don’t. The resources I looked at don’t really explain why that is.

Include your contact information

Some resources say to include contact information. Some say your email is sufficient, and that you can.

Include your GPA in the email body

No response from the professor

Some say to email back after 1 week of no response. Others say 3 weeks. The latter says 3 weeks because any earlier may be seen as a nuisance.

Well, I hope this post was useful to those applying! Leave in the comments what school you’re applying to and what program!


Old psychology practices test + Study aid

Update (January 30th, 2019): I wrote a new blog post with an excel sheet to accompany the PDFs I’ve posted in this post. The excels sheet grades your responses, and presents your subscale and total scores.

While studying for my Psychology GRE, I believe that I needed to see what exactly the test was going to be like. The 2017 Psychology GRE test on the ETS website was great, but I needed another reference to see what other questions would be on the test. After some digging, I found an older copy, that I believe was published after 2013 (DSM-5).

There were older copies floating around, but I didn’t download them, as I believe some of the information may have changed. That is, the questions/answers had outdated information. I decided to use the two tests (circa 2013-2016, 2017) for my study regime.

When I took the first psychology practice test before studying (late july), my score was 500. After studying for a month (Intro, GRE-specific text, practice tests), I retook the test and now have a score of 720, which puts me above the 80th percentile (good enough for grad. school).

Still, my goal is to improve.  I have three more weeks left before my GRE. I think that I can score in the 90th percentile if I put my heart into it!

Additionally, I uploaded a 70 page psychology cheat sheet that you may find help you study. I only got one look at it, but it seems to be good quality!

Signal detection theory, terrorist detection, base rate fallacy

Hi everyone. As I’m studying right now for my Psyc. GRE, the question of detecting dangerous items with a scanner came up. You may recognize this problem as the “terrorist problem”, “base rate fallacy”, etc.

I think for the Psyc. GRE, we really only need to know the most basic relationship between statistics, hits, and misses.

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 9.08.28 PM.png

First, an explanation of what the terms are:

In detection tasks involving yes/no decisions, there are two ways to be right and two ways to be wrong. In searching for a bomb among airline luggage, for example, a security person responding “yes, I’ve detected a bomb,” can result either in a “hit” (the correct detection of a bomb), or a “false alarm” (saying “yes” when no bomb is present). As with “yes,” the decision of “no” also carries dual consequences, one right and one wrong. An inspector deciding “no” can either correctly deny the presence of a bomb (a “correct rejection”), or produce the dreaded “miss,” the failure to detect a bomb when one is present.

After some searching, I came across a really good explanation for this question:

As in the task of bomb detection, the only way of increasing “hits” (e.g., terrorist detection) is to lower the criterion for saying “yes,” an act that necessarily yields more false accusations. No method of improving detection rates magically escapes the costs of more false alarms.

So essentially, the only way to not let any bombs in, is to increase the # of hits, which will in turn increase the # of false alarms.

Though there are questions to ask: What happens if we say “yes” (in other words, lower the threshold for a hit) over a period of trials?… I think that for the GRE, understanding the relationship above is sufficient.

Source: https://www.edge.org/response-detail/11525

GRE study tips and materials

As an undergraduate entering their senior year, I am stressing over GREs!

I have to write both my Psychology and General GRE within the next few months.

I will be posting some tips regarding both these GREs.

One thing I have for certain is audio tapes for the GRE Vocabulary. I’m currently using the Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcard App to study, and I record audio words I don’t know. I will be uploading these by the deck, once I complete them.

Another thing I want to do is to get over my perfectionism in my blog posts. Screw being professional. This is my blog, and I’ll share what I want!

Parts of Speech

There are seven functional parts of speech:

  1. Nouns
  2. Verbs
  3. Adjectives
  4. Adverbs
  5. Pronouns
  6. Conjunctions
  7. Prepositions

1. Nouns

Nouns are defined as a person, place, or thing. There are different types of nouns:

  • Proper nouns (Abraham Lincoln, John McCain, Sir Wilfrid Laurier)
  • Common nouns (president, presidential candidate, prime minister)
  • Pronouns (I, You, He/She, They)
  • Indefinite nouns (a dog, a cat)

2. Verbs 

A verb is used to express an action or a state of being. There are two types of verbs:

  • Action Verbs (Donald laughed, Jane wrote a novel)
  • Linking Verbs (Donald is funny, Jane is a writer)

All verbs have three tenses: Past, present, and future.

3. Adjectives

There are two roles adjectives can have. Adjectives in italics, Noun in bold:

  1. Noun modifiers (An awful noise, That dreadful old man)
  2. Predicate adjectives (The play was terrific, That old man was dreadful)

Noun modifying adjectives have determiners. There are five determiners:

  1. Articles (definite – the; indefinite – a or an)
  2. Demonstrative (this, that, these, those)
  3. Number words (Cardinal – one, two, three; Ordinal – first, second, third)
  4. Possessives used as adjectives (John’s, Mary’s, Kim’s)
  5. Quantifiers (Some, many, several)

Noun modifiers can take the form of comparative and superlative:

  • Comparative (John took a smaller piece of pie than I did)
  • Superlative (John has the biggest piece of pie)

4. Adverbs

Adverbs have three functions. They modify verbs, adjectives, and another adverbs. We’ll begin with how they can modify verbs.

Modifying Verbs (Verbs bolded, Adverb italicized)

  • I ate there yesterday.
  • walked quickly.

Modifying Adjectives (Adjective bolded, Adverb italicized)

  • The really big sandwich
  • The terribly hot afternoon

Modifying Adverbs (Adverbs bolded, Adverb italicized)

The adverb that modifies another adverb can be easily spotted by a simple test. Try removing either adverb and see which makes sense. Generally, if the sentence does not make sense, you’ve removed the adverb that does not modify another adverb.

  • I always answer my calls very promptly.
    • I always answer my calls very. <= Adverb-modifying adverb
    • I always answer my calls promptly.
  • The student answered the question quite easily.
    • …answered the question easily.
    • …answered the question quite. <= Adverb-modifying adverb
  • Harvard fought rather fiercely.
    • Harvard fought rather. <= Adverb-modifying Adverb
    • Harvard fought fiercely.
  • I did even worse on the test than I had expected.
    • I did even on the test… <= Adverb-modifying adverb
    • I did worse on the test…

5. Pronouns

There are four types of pronouns that exist:

  1. Personal
  2. Reflexive
  3. Indefinite
  4. Demonstrative

Personal pronouns have three groups: Subject (he, she, they), object (him, her, them), and possessive (his, hers, theirs).

Reflexive pronouns end with -self or -selves and require an antecedent.

You cannot say:

  • The queen looked at the dwarves and myself.
  • He picked them and myself.

But you can say:

  • I looked at myself in the reflection of the water.
  • The girl imagined herself winning the gold medal in her mind.

Indefinite Pronouns are used to refer to unspecified persons, things, or groups.

  • All, another, many, most, several, other, none

But they must not be confused with Adjectives.

  • I would like some
  • I would like some water
  • I saw several
  • I saw several people
  • I would rather have the other
  • I would rather have the other option

Demonstrative Pronouns are composed of four pronouns: this, that, these, and those.

As with indefinite pronouns, demonstrative pronouns must not be confused with demonstrative adjectives.

6. Conjunctions

There are two types of conjunctions. Coordinating and Subordinating.

Coordinating conjunctions join words of equal status. FANBOYS is an acronym for seven single-word conjunctions.

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

There is a subgroup of coordination conjunctions called correlative conjunctions. Correlative conjunctions are two-part conjunctions. For example:

  • They had both cake and pie for desert
  • I had to ether exercise more or eat less
  • Not only was this fun, but it was educational

7. Prepositions

Prepositions are always bound together with their objects to form prepositional phrases.

  • In the morning
  • Under the bridge
  • By Shakespeare
  • To them

Some common prepositions are by, to, with, about, over, etc.

Demonstrative determiners

Demonstrative determiners(This, that, these, and those) can be used to accomplish a variety of linguistic techniques. Here are a few that I’ve noticed.

Sign of intelligence

Determiners can be used to signify a level of intelligence. Take this scenario as an example: There are two men in one room, both are on other sides of the room but both notice the same lady entering room.

The first man says:

Look at that.

The second says:

Take a look at the girl in black that just walked in.

The first man uses that to completely describe his observation. The person he’s talking to has to look at the first man to see where he’s looking to understand what he’s talking about. It can be assumed the first man speaks from a personal point of view, and does not care about attention drawn to his stares.

The second man describes his observation. The person he’s talking to does not need to look at the second man. The person can simply look around the room for the girl in black. It can be assumed the second man is more coy, and more intelligent.

The usage of demonstrative determiners can be used to portray people who are more sensory-focused than verbal. Similarly to children at a restaurant who point at menu items and say:

I want that.

The above comes across off as unintelligible. Compare this to how parents order at a restauraunt:

I’d like to try the Shrimp Alfredo please.

The next two topics are concepts I learned from a linguistic class. The book is cited at the bottom of the post.

Given vs. New information (Short, 266)

Using the demonstrative determiners in prose can indicate prior knowledge of the topic, and thus a level of rapport.

To begin a conversation with:

The school…

Begs the question, what school? If a male professor is telling his wife a story and begins with, “The school” then it can be assumed the wife knows which school he’s talking about. If the addressee is not mentioned in the text beforehand, then we can still assume a level of rapport between the addressor-addressee because of the use of the demonstrative determiners.

The same can be used for pronouns:

He did it again…

This could be in reference to a lethargic student continued to sleep through another lecture.

She’s out of control…

This could be in reference to the poor behaviour of their kin at school.

In media res (Short, 267)

The in media res is the using the concept from before (given vs. new information) but using it to achieve a sensory reaction (suspense, fear, excitement) from the reader not knowing what the speakers are talking about rather than a level of rapport.

The deal went through.

What deal? Is it drug-related? Why is the speaker being vague? There must be something illegal going on.

We can’t let that happen again

If the scene starts off like this, immediately our interest is piqued. What are the characters talking about? Let what happen again? Was it so bad that there must be an agreement between people to prevent the same event happening twice?

Books Cited:

Short, Mick. Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose. Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1996.