Memorizing and then forgetting it, over and over again

Discussion in 'Medical Students - MD' started by vancouvergeorge, Jul 20, 2010.

  1. SDN is made possible through member donations, sponsorships, and our volunteers. Learn about SDN's nonprofit mission.
  1. vancouvergeorge


    Feb 19, 2010
    I keep finding myself forgetting things I have spent many times memorizing over and over since at least college. Like say the intricacies of G-proteins, or even the amino acids. People say repetition helps with longterm memory, but it doesn't seem to help me. Each time I memorize, I feel like this time I've finally stored it for good, but it's never to be. In the end I still forget my damn amino acids after six months of disuse (like for Arg, Lys, Met). Some things just don't retain in my long term memory even though I've tried to memorize it at least half a dozen times (writing it down, using flashcards, testing myself).

    Am I alone in this or is this pretty common? I do tests just fine, my short term memory is excellent. But I'm so tired of wasting time refreshing my memory on things I have no excuse for forgetting anymore. It's embarrassing too.

    Ugh. What to do?
  2. SDN Members don't see this ad. About the ads.
  3. crusadernm


    Jun 23, 2010
    I have the same problem. Med school is full of such useless information anyway.
  4. dude1344

    dude1344 10+ Year Member

    Jul 26, 2006
    I think this normal... At least I hope so. Ask some attendings if they remember G-protein signal transduction and all their AAs. I bet you they won't remember anything.

    Who in the world remembers this stuff half a year later unless they're constantly using it? The point is that it will be familiar enough to you later on when you need to learn it again.
  5. unsung

    unsung 7+ Year Member

    Mar 12, 2007

    It's because that kind of info isn't actually used to deduce anything (regularly).

    Compare the a.a.s to say, the anatomy/physio of the heat. That kind of stuff gets drilled into longterm knowledge bank 'cuz it's used a lot.

    Sometimes I almost feel like my brain unconsciously tries NOT to store the former type of knowledge into longterm because I know on some level that it's not useful knowledge :-/ ... does that make any sense?

    I do remember learning in neuro that when we try "deliberately" not to remember something that we encounter, a certain area of the brain is involved (anyone remember which area?), and that actually pans out in that we remember less well.

    So I almost feel like I'm unconsciously resisting learning some things which I find uninteresting and also likely to be not that useful to me (i.e. those damn biochem pathways...)

    It's sort of like when you meet someone at a work function or party and they tell you their name (pretend this is someone you're not interested in at all and know you probably won't see again)... how easily that name slips from the mind! Even if you run into that person a 2nd time or a 3rd time. I tend to think it's 'cuz subconsciously I realize the person is probably someone I won't run into again. Whereas if you're introduced to your new manager, it's probably unlikely you'll forget his name...

    In that sense, it's really just a matter of how "important" the info appears to be to you.
  6. mglavin

    mglavin 5+ Year Member

    Feb 20, 2007
    you might as well quit medical school now /sarcasm

    but seriously like previous posters said, if you find yourself forgetting things its ok because that stuff is not really important to medical practice. unless you are going md/phd to research neurotransmitters or such you will forget most of biochemistry except for things like how statins work or that LDL cholesterol is bad.
  7. bluegene


    Jul 20, 2010
    It seems like your problem is that you don't get to repeat whatever knowledge you gain as much as you'd like to keep the memory active, besides the initial repetition.

    Try Anki.

    It's a flashcard system (which you've tried), much of the benefits lie in the fact that it will repeat stuff in appropriate intervalls, rather than rapid repetition/cramming, you span it out during a long time (this thing handles your "memory" for years, knowing when to bring up a flashcard to 'spark' up that dormant memory of 6 months ago)

    Edit: Also, having a life-long dream of somehow discovering a way of developing eidetic memory, I found something...that produces a similar effect with some effort or google "memory palace", it's pretty much the only technique used at "memory" competitions.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2010
  8. cartoondoc

    cartoondoc 5+ Year Member

    Mar 10, 2010
    You sound entirely normal. You're not going to remember things unless you use them regularly. What sort of sane person has all the amino acids memorized? I dare you to find one physician (who doesn't regularly work with them) that can tell you the structure of even one amino acid.
  9. C5toC9

    C5toC9 2+ Year Member

    May 30, 2010
  10. Encephalectomy

    Encephalectomy PGY-0 5+ Year Member

    Apr 14, 2010
    I've seen a memory contest champion do this type of thing (worked in a memory focused neuroscience lab in undergrad), and it is absolutely amazing. The guy could perfectly recall a string of over 100 randomly generated numbers several minutes later.

    But in regards to the OP...I think you are completely normal and I think that all of us feel like this more or less. Information that you don't use on a regular basis gets forgotten, though it is easier/faster to relearn it a second or 3rd time. I'm currently trying out spaced learning via GT, but haven't been doing it long enough to get a good bead on whether it really works.
  11. physics junkie

    physics junkie 5+ Year Member

    Nov 20, 2006
    Here is my 0.02.

    You memorize it and then review it the next day and again a few days later(or whatever schedule you want). Then forget about it until the midterm. When the midterm comes you can read your notes and it will all come back to you for a few days.

    I made the mistake in MS1 thinking that I needed to know the material as opposed to just be able to answer questions about it. :)
  12. dozitgetchahi

    dozitgetchahi 7+ Year Member

    Oct 20, 2008
    Ah, but it is easier to refresh your memory on topics like that than it is to learn them for the first time...right?

    In some ways, I think that's why we're expected to learn so much of this soon-forgotten material anyway. It "inoculates" us against it in the future, so that when we see it in a journal article or elsewhere we can recognize it and respond to it adequately.

    Plus, two weeks after the exam everyone seems to forget stuff like the amino acids anyway. It's not as if your memory is subpar or anything.
  13. HopefulDoc2007

    HopefulDoc2007 5+ Year Member

    Nov 2, 2006
    I think one thing to focus on is learning big picture topics and patterns. (as Dr. Goljan would say, "It's a concept!"). As a side note one good thing about board studying is that you start to consolidate information in your head and come out really feeling like you know a lot of what you feel like you should know. Although I am looking forward to realizing on the 1st day of rotations that I don't really know anything. :)
  14. SB100

    SB100 7+ Year Member

    Mar 22, 2007
    Cambridge, MA
    To quote the dean of education at our med school, who went here and was taught by our immunology course director: "I remember there is an IgG and IgM"

  15. Blok468

    Blok468 7+ Year Member

    Jul 19, 2008
    what is GT?
  16. Encephalectomy

    Encephalectomy PGY-0 5+ Year Member

    Apr 14, 2010
  17. Phur

    Phur 7+ Year Member

    Mar 2, 2010
    Repetition will probably eventually get you there. A couple friends and I found that information would stick better when you could associate things with something/someone that has significance to you. For example we'd make up stories for micro bugs and the pertinent information, but would make it about/including a classmate. Just a thought.
  18. InquisitiveGuy

    InquisitiveGuy 2+ Year Member

    Aug 12, 2009
    Understanding things is more effective than memorization. When studying, ask why? rather than what. From a neuroscience perspective, this will lead to more associations and thus more pathways for retrieval of knowledge down the road.
  19. ArcGurren

    ArcGurren only one will survive 2+ Year Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    Is that even any good? I've heard mixed things about it
  20. WashMe

    WashMe 7+ Year Member

    Jul 4, 2008
    I like it
  21. snemo


    Aug 20, 2017
    Hopefully this may still interest folks. I got into memory palaces initially via competitions (I've won the last two World Memory Championships). A little shameless self-promotion here: I run a site ( along with my wife, Cathy, where we explore memory palaces as learning tools, predominantly for use in medical school. We're both currently M3s. There are plenty of tutorials out there that will tell you what a memory palace is, but we look at how to actually implement them for medical school. It took some experimenting, but we've found the techniques to work exceptionally well for medical school when used properly (here are a few of our primary tips for those already familiar with memory palaces). We've got content about pharmacology, anatomy, and pathology, as well as lots of general tips for using memory palaces for heavy subjects like medicine. Best of luck!

Share This Page