What’s the best way to tackle anatomy and physiology and come out successful on the other side? Of course, a good memory helps plenty, but with a little advance planning and tricks of the study trade, even students who complain that they can’t remember their own names on exam day can summon the right terminology and information from their scrambled synaptic pathways.
Following are ten key things you can start doing today to ensure success not only in anatomy and physiology but in any number of other classes.
Write down important stuff in your own words
This is a simple idea that far too few students practice regularly. Don’t stop at underlining and highlighting important material in your textbooks and study guides: Write it down. Or type it up. Whatever you do, don’t just regurgitate it exactly as presented in the material you’re studying.
Find your own words. Create your own analogies. Tell your own tale of what happens to the bolus as it ventures into the digestive tract. Detail the course followed by a molecule of oxygen as it enters through the nose. Draw pictures of the differences between meiosis and mitosis.
When you’re answering practice questions, pay special attention to the ones you get wrong. Write reflections about why you answered incorrectly and what you need to remember about the right answer.
Gain better knowledge through mnemonics
Studying anatomy and physiology involves remembering lists of terms, functions, and processes. You can take just the first letter or two of each word from a list to create an acronym. Occasionally, you can go one step beyond the acronym to a clever little thing called a mnemonic device.
Simply put, the mnemonic is the thing you commit to memory as a means for remembering the more technical thing for which it stands.
Not feeling terribly clever at the moment you need a useful mnemonic? Surf on over to MedicalMnemonics, which touts itself as the world’s database of these useful tools.
Discover your learning style
Every person has his or her own sense of style, and woe betide anyone who tries to shoehorn the masses into a single style. The same, of course, is true of students. To get the most out of your study time, you need to figure out what your learning style is and alter your study habits to accommodate it.
VARK stands for Visual (learning by seeing), Aural (learning by hearing), Reading/Writing (learning by reading and writing), and Kinesthetic (learning by touching, holding, or feeling).
If you’re a visual learner, you may get more out of anatomy and physiology by seeing the real thing in the flesh. If you’re an aural learner, you may learn best in the classroom as the teacher lectures. If you’re a reading and writing kind of learner, you’ll get the most out of our first tip to write stuff down. And if you’re a kinesthetic learner, there’s nothing like touching or holding to commit something to memory.
Get a grip on Greek and Latin
If you keep thinking “It’s all Greek to me,” congratulations on your insight! The truth of the matter is that most of it actually is Greek. So dust off your foreign language learning skills and begin with the basic vocabulary of medical terminology.
Connect with concepts
It happens time and again in anatomy and physiology: One concept or connection mirrors another yet to be learned. But because you’re focusing so hard on this week’s lesson, you lose sight of the value in the previous month’s lessons.
For example, a concept like metabolism comes up in a variety of ways throughout your study of anatomy and physiology. When you encounter a repeat concept like that, create a special page or two for it at the back of your notebook or link the concept to a separate computer file.
Then, every time the term comes up in class or in your textbook, add to the running list of notes on that concept. You’ll have references to metabolism at each point it comes up and you’ll be able to analyze its influences across different body systems.
Form a study group
If you’re really lucky, someone in your class (or maybe it’s even you) has already suggested forming that time-honored tradition — a study group. The power of group members to fill gaps in your knowledge is priceless.
But don’t restrict it to late-night cramming just before each test. Meet with your group at least once a week to go over lecture notes and textbook readings. If it’s true that people only retain about 10 percent of what they hear or read, then it makes sense that your fellow group members will recall things that slipped immediately from your mind.
Outline what’s to come
As you read through a chapter of your textbook to prepare for the next lecture, prepare an outline of what you’re reading, leaving plenty of space between subheadings. Then, during the lecture, take your notes within the outline you’ve already created. Piecing together an incomplete puzzle shows you where the key gaps in your knowledge may be.
Put in time to practice
Flash cards, mnemonic drills, practice tests — be creative and practice, practice, practice! The more you know about the format of any upcoming exam, the better. Sometimes instructors share tidbits about what they plan to emphasize, but sometimes they don’t. In the end, if you’ve done the work and put in the time to study and practice with information outside of class, the exact structure and content of an exam shouldn’t make much difference.
Sleuth out clues
Okay, it’s test time! Take advantage of the test itself. You may find that the answer to an exam question that stumps you is revealed — at least partially — in the phrasing of a subsequent question. Stay alert to these blessed little gifts even when you think that you already understand all the anatomical structures and physiological processes. You won’t be the first student to change an answer after working your way through an exam.
Review your mistakes
The test is done and the grades are in. So there was a really tough question or two on the test and you blew it big-time? It’s hardly a missed opportunity — this is where rolling with the punches really pays off.
Go back over the entire test and pay extra attention to what you got wrong. Start your next practice sessions with those questions, and stay alert for upcoming material that may trip you up in a similar way.