Question for you med students - do you become better at memorization over time?

Jan 4, 2010
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I'm a non-trad in a post-bacc program where we take accelerated science courses in 3.5 weeks. Each 3.5 week block gives us 4 semester hours of college credit - so this comes out to approximately the equivalent of a typical four class undergraduate load.

In any case, I just finished the first semester of A&P. Now I realize that this isn't medical school, which has me worried - med school will of course be far more intense. I ended up in a 2 or 3 way tie for the highest grade out of 27 people in the class. I say this not to brag - I don't have a phenomenal memory - but to point out that in order to do this it took me 25 hours per week of studying to achieve this - on top of the 20 hours per week we are in class and lab.

I was just barely able to memorize every factoid needed to ensure 100's on my exams given how fast the classes move (one or two tests every week). My study technique consists of recording the lectures (10 hours per week of lecture), then listening to 2 hours of lecture per day while writing an outline of the lectures and also a comprehensive "potential exam question" list. This 2 hours of recorded lecture is expanded into 4 - 5 hours because I am constantly stopping the recording to make notes, work on the outline, etc. Then I quiz myself on my question list, and mark each one I don't know. I then create a new list consisting only of the un-known questions (so as not to waste time repeatedly reviewing information in my lecture outlines that I already know).

I don't read the textbook (found it was a luxury I don't have in these fast classes because the test questions come entirely out of lecture) - just listen to lectures, create outlines and study the slides. So I can't point ot the textbook as a source of "study bloat" in terms of hours spent studying. I probably could have chopped 10 hours per week off of the studying, since the exam questions were multiple choice. I, however, studied to the point where I could - with a little prompting - essentially give the powerpoint lecture from memory, bullet point by bullet point. I don't feel I've really learned something until I can teach it. Being able to pick out a correct answer on a multliple choice test is obviously much easier and doesn't require as solid a grasp of the material.

I don't think I can do more than 45 hours a week of mental work (20 hours of class + 25 hours of studying) even when I'm in medical school. I feel like I'm at my "limit" for how many facts I can cram into my head in a 24 hour period.

So my questions are:

1 - Am I being inefficient? The 25 hours per week of studying are honest hours - not pseudowork. I use a stop-watch and I click it off if I go to the bathroom, shuffle papers, take a break, etc.

2 -The big question - for those of you who have been in med school a while - do you find that your ability to absorb information per unit time is higher than when you started? I wonder if the brain can adapt - somehow subconsciously realizing after a few months or a year that it is tasked with memorizing large quantities of facts - and start burning those neural pathways with less repetition of material.

3 -Do you know of any scientifically valid learning or training methods (besides neuroenhancers) that have been shown to increase the rate at which people can memorize information? I have used leitner box flashcard programs before with success - but for language vocabulary study. I found that using it for anatomy concepts wasn't much help for me personally.

4 - Are med school anatomy exams formatted like "point out corrugator supercilli" or are they "identify this muscle" (exam giver points to a muscle)? I ask this because the first type of question I find much easier. If you give me the name of some obscure structure that I've studied I can usually point it out easily (maybe I have a visual memory). But point out the structure and ask me to produce from memory the multi-syllable latin name, then I could be stuck if I haven't studied it five different ways on five different days.

I'm afraid this A&P class indicates I'm headed for the bottom of my future med school class. Undergrad never worried me before - this is the first time I've had the equivalent of four full undergrad classes that were just pure memorization of facts. I always breezed through classes requiring analytical reasoning and paper writing. And even when I had memorization heavy courses like bio, it was only one or two at a time.
 
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Premed Worrier

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I'm a non-trad in a post-bacc program where we take accelerated science courses in 3.5 weeks. Each 3.5 week block gives us 4 semester hours of college credit - so this comes out to approximately the equivalent of a typical four class undergraduate load.

In any case, I just finished the first semester of A&P. Now I realize that this isn't medical school, which has me worried - med school will of course be far more intense. I ended up in a 2 or 3 way tie for the highest grade out of 27 people in the class. I say this not to brag - I don't have a phenomenal memory - but to point out that in order to do this it took me 25 hours per week of studying to achieve this - on top of the 20 hours per week we are in class and lab.

I was just barely able to memorize every factoid needed to ensure 100's on my exams given how fast the classes move (one or two tests every week). My study technique consists of recording the lectures (10 hours per week of lecture), then listening to 2 hours of lecture per day while writing an outline of the lectures and also a comprehensive "potential exam question" list. This 2 hours of recorded lecture is expanded into 4 - 5 hours because I am constantly stopping the recording to make notes, work on the outline, etc. Then I quiz myself on my question list, and mark each one I don't know. I then create a new list consisting only of the un-known questions (so as not to waste time repeatedly reviewing information in my lecture outlines that I already know).

I don't read the textbook (found it was a luxury I don't have in these fast classes because the test questions come entirely out of lecture) - just listen to lectures, create outlines and study the slides. So I can't point ot the textbook as a source of "study bloat" in terms of hours spent studying. I probably could have chopped 10 hours per week off of the studying, since the exam questions were multiple choice. I, however, studied to the point where I could - with a little prompting - essentially give the powerpoint lecture from memory, bullet point by bullet point. I don't feel I've really learned something until I can teach it. Being able to pick out a correct answer on a multliple choice test is obviously much easier and doesn't require as solid a grasp of the material.

I don't think I can do more than 45 hours a week of mental work (20 hours of class + 25 hours of studying) even when I'm in medical school. I feel like I'm at my "limit" for how many facts I can cram into my head in a 24 hour period.

So my questions are:

1 - Am I being inefficient? The 25 hours per week of studying are honest hours - not pseudowork. I use a stop-watch and I click it off if I go to the bathroom, shuffle papers, take a break, etc.

2 -The big question - for those of you who have been in med school a while - do you find that your ability to absorb information per unit time is higher than when you started? I wonder if the brain can adapt - somehow subconsciously realizing after a few months or a year that it is tasked with memorizing large quantities of facts - and start burning those neural pathways with less repetition of material.

3 -Do you know of any scientifically valid learning or training methods (besides neuroenhancers) that have been shown to increase the rate at which people can memorize information? I have used leitner box flashcard programs before with success - but for language vocabulary study. I found that using it for anatomy concepts wasn't much help for me personally.

4 - Are med school anatomy exams formatted like "point out corrugator supercilli" or are they "identify this muscle" (exam giver points to a muscle)? I ask this because the first type of question I find much easier. If you give me the name of some obscure structure that I've studied I can usually point it out easily (maybe I have a visual memory). But point out the structure and ask me to produce from memory the multi-syllable latin name, then I could be stuck if I haven't studied it five different ways on five different days.

I'm afraid this A&P class indicates I'm headed for the bottom of my future med school class. Undergrad never worried me before - this is the first time I've had the equivalent of four full undergrad classes that were just pure memorization of facts. I always breezed through classes requiring analytical reasoning and paper writing. And even when I had memorization heavy courses like bio, it was only one or two at a time.
Umm yeah. What you are doing in these classes will probably suffice for the top half of my med school class and maybe even top 1/4. I don't know how your school is doing it or other med schools, but it is often a lot more than just A&P. They throw in many other science courses and feel good courses to go along with it. If I remember right we had closer to 30-32 hours of in class time during A&P.
You might also want to consider burn out. I don't know you but it sounds like you could have a recipe for disaster there if you are really working 'at your limit' as you say you are. You can only do it for so long. For some (like me) it is about a week, others it is years so you have to know yourself on that one.
As far as it getting easier to absorb information, I am only towards the end of my first year but have found it much easier to pick things up from first and second go arounds without having to go over things 5 times. So yeah you get things quicker, memory works a touch better, and efficiency ensues....BUT...they start throwing things at you quicker and in much more bulk so the time of studying/learning doesn't really change much unless you have a solid foundation already from undergrad (which I didn't).
So yeah. Those are my thoughts.
 

Jorski

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I'm a non-trad in a post-bacc program where we take accelerated science courses in 3.5 weeks. Each 3.5 week block gives us 4 semester hours of college credit - so this comes out to approximately the equivalent of a typical four class undergraduate load.

In any case, I just finished the first semester of A&P. Now I realize that this isn't medical school, which has me worried - med school will of course be far more intense. I ended up in a 2 or 3 way tie for the highest grade out of 27 people in the class. I say this not to brag - I don't have a phenomenal memory - but to point out that in order to do this it took me 25 hours per week of studying to achieve this - on top of the 20 hours per week we are in class and lab.

I was just barely able to memorize every factoid needed to ensure 100's on my exams given how fast the classes move (one or two tests every week). My study technique consists of recording the lectures (10 hours per week of lecture), then listening to 2 hours of lecture per day while writing an outline of the lectures and also a comprehensive "potential exam question" list. This 2 hours of recorded lecture is expanded into 4 - 5 hours because I am constantly stopping the recording to make notes, work on the outline, etc. Then I quiz myself on my question list, and mark each one I don't know. I then create a new list consisting only of the un-known questions (so as not to waste time repeatedly reviewing information in my lecture outlines that I already know).

I don't read the textbook (found it was a luxury I don't have in these fast classes because the test questions come entirely out of lecture) - just listen to lectures, create outlines and study the slides. So I can't point ot the textbook as a source of "study bloat" in terms of hours spent studying. I probably could have chopped 10 hours per week off of the studying, since the exam questions were multiple choice. I, however, studied to the point where I could - with a little prompting - essentially give the powerpoint lecture from memory, bullet point by bullet point. I don't feel I've really learned something until I can teach it. Being able to pick out a correct answer on a multliple choice test is obviously much easier and doesn't require as solid a grasp of the material.

I don't think I can do more than 45 hours a week of mental work (20 hours of class + 25 hours of studying) even when I'm in medical school. I feel like I'm at my "limit" for how many facts I can cram into my head in a 24 hour period.

So my questions are:

1 - Am I being inefficient? The 25 hours per week of studying are honest hours - not pseudowork. I use a stop-watch and I click it off if I go to the bathroom, shuffle papers, take a break, etc.

2 -The big question - for those of you who have been in med school a while - do you find that your ability to absorb information per unit time is higher than when you started? I wonder if the brain can adapt - somehow subconsciously realizing after a few months or a year that it is tasked with memorizing large quantities of facts - and start burning those neural pathways with less repetition of material.

3 -Do you know of any scientifically valid learning or training methods (besides neuroenhancers) that have been shown to increase the rate at which people can memorize information? I have used leitner box flashcard programs before with success - but for language vocabulary study. I found that using it for anatomy concepts wasn't much help for me personally.

4 - Are med school anatomy exams formatted like "point out corrugator supercilli" or are they "identify this muscle" (exam giver points to a muscle)? I ask this because the first type of question I find much easier. If you give me the name of some obscure structure that I've studied I can usually point it out easily (maybe I have a visual memory). But point out the structure and ask me to produce from memory the multi-syllable latin name, then I could be stuck if I haven't studied it five different ways on five different days.

I'm afraid this A&P class indicates I'm headed for the bottom of my future med school class. Undergrad never worried me before - this is the first time I've had the equivalent of four full undergrad classes that were just pure memorization of facts. I always breezed through classes requiring analytical reasoning and paper writing. And even when I had memorization heavy courses like bio, it was only one or two at a time.
#1 - It sounds like you are being as efficient as possible.
#2 - I feel like I am capable of doing more then I could when I started, but fear of failure and not having a way to pay off the loan money I'm accumulating is a huge motivational factor. I will say that although I can do more, I still study as much as I did when I started. Some people can ease off. I haven't been able to.
#3 - No. I think you have a working way of doing things right now that will carry over to med school quite well. The goal is to be able to tweak things and roll with the punches when you find that something hasn't worked as well as you've wanted it to.
#4 - On our anatomy tests, a specific muscle will be pinned, and then we are asked to ID the muscle. There are also several secondary questions related to the pinned structure, such as "what is the innervation of this muscle" or "what movement does this muscle promote". When we had our thoracic anatomy exam, we had embryological origin questions, like "what is the embryological origin of this heart structure?". So I dont think it will be as clear cut as you are hoping. The key to studying anatomy is putting in the lab time with as many cadavers as you can.

I will say, its certainly valid to ask questions like these to try to prepare yourself for whats to come, but there really isnt a whole lot you can do until you get a feel for whats going on when you are actually there. It took me 3 mo before I was comfortable and felt like I belonged in medical school. Good luck :).
 

ar2388

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sounds like you are in a good place.. in med school it will probably be more than 45 hours a week of studying, but youll also be doing less.. no jobs or EC's bogging you down..
 

ensuii

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You're in a good place right now. Be more worried about burning out than being able to cut it in med school.
 
Jan 4, 2010
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Thanks for the feedback guys. I am a bit worried about burn-out. I need to develop the ability to study long hours day after day without stressing about it. Maybe I should study some meditation techniques. I've always been someone who is motivated by and works best under a certain amount of pressure. But like you said - must avoid burnout.
 
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Out of curiosity - to whichever mod moved this thread - why did this thread get moved to the pre-med forum? The questions were specifically asked of med students, to get their feedback since they have perspective and experience in med school.
 
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hey cali, I think you're very lucky to have developed very efficient study methods prior to medical school. A lot of times people get to med school to find that they don't have the discipline to sit down and study every single day and they have to develop it fresh.... You are spot on with studying daily, coming up with practice questions, and quizzing yourself. My only advice is to worry less and keep doing what you're doing.
 

GoSpursGo

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Out of curiosity - to whichever mod moved this thread - why did this thread get moved to the pre-med forum? The questions were specifically asked of med students, to get their feedback since they have perspective and experience in med school.
I didn't move it, but I can answer the question. Traditionally, pre-allo is the place to ask these kinds of questions; Allo is really a forum FOR med students, not a place for pre-meds to come ask them questions. As you can see, lots of med students also frequent pre-Allo, and I'm sure you'll get some good help here. :)

As far as your actual question, it sounds like you're doing great to me. 20 hours in class + 25 hours outside of class sounds like more than enough to pass in med school (with the caveat that in the weeks leading up to exams that maybe you should ramp up your studying some).
 

URHere

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1 - Am I being inefficient? The 25 hours per week of studying are honest hours - not pseudowork. I use a stop-watch and I click it off if I go to the bathroom, shuffle papers, take a break, etc.
I have many classmates who study exactly the way you have been preparing for this class. Personally, I'm not a fan of listening to audio-recordings and making outlines, but it does work for a number of medical students.

2 -The big question - for those of you who have been in med school a while - do you find that your ability to absorb information per unit time is higher than when you started? I wonder if the brain can adapt - somehow subconsciously realizing after a few months or a year that it is tasked with memorizing large quantities of facts - and start burning those neural pathways with less repetition of material.
I don't think that it is my memorization ability specifically that has improved, but as you spend more time in medical school and you get better at understanding the big picture of the body, more things will just make intuitive sense. For example, if you don't understand how the kidney functions as a unit, you will waste time memorizing the exact electrolyte levels that go with every disease. If you do understand the kidney as a whole, all you need to memorize is which part of it the disease damages...and the rest of the info will be common sense.

It's also a plus that medical school becomes more interesting as it goes on. I care far more now than I did when I was a brand new student.

3 -Do you know of any scientifically valid learning or training methods (besides neuroenhancers) that have been shown to increase the rate at which people can memorize information? I have used leitner box flashcard programs before with success - but for language vocabulary study. I found that using it for anatomy concepts wasn't much help for me personally.
I have always been a fan of taking short naps between bursts of studying, and there are papers out there that show increases in memory consolidation after sleep. The other thing that I would argue helps is to make sure that you are happy in your own life. Have a hobby, make time to go to the gym - if you are not happy your mind will not be at its best, period.

4 - Are med school anatomy exams formatted like "point out corrugator supercilli" or are they "identify this muscle" (exam giver points to a muscle)? I ask this because the first type of question I find much easier. If you give me the name of some obscure structure that I've studied I can usually point it out easily (maybe I have a visual memory). But point out the structure and ask me to produce from memory the multi-syllable latin name, then I could be stuck if I haven't studied it five different ways on five different days.
Anatomy practicals are more like the latter. There is usually a piece of string tied around something and you have to write down what it is. There may also be questions with a string tied to a bone and a question asking, "which nerve innervates the muscle that adducts this bone?"

Written exams tend to be a bit different (at my school at least). You may have clinical vignettes where a patient is unable to complete certain movements and you will have to indicate which muscle, nerve, etc is damaged.

I'm afraid this A&P class indicates I'm headed for the bottom of my future med school class. Undergrad never worried me before - this is the first time I've had the equivalent of four full undergrad classes that were just pure memorization of facts. I always breezed through classes requiring analytical reasoning and paper writing. And even when I had memorization heavy courses like bio, it was only one or two at a time.
Don't psych yourself out. It absolutely does not help. Just get to medical school and see what happens - if you fall towards the bottom of your class, then just give it everything you can. If you soar, then enjoy the ride.
 
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da8s0859q

2 -The big question - for those of you who have been in med school a while - do you find that your ability to absorb information per unit time is higher than when you started? I wonder if the brain can adapt - somehow subconsciously realizing after a few months or a year that it is tasked with memorizing large quantities of facts - and start burning those neural pathways with less repetition of material.

3 -Do you know of any scientifically valid learning or training methods (besides neuroenhancers) that have been shown to increase the rate at which people can memorize information? I have used leitner box flashcard programs before with success - but for language vocabulary study. I found that using it for anatomy concepts wasn't much help for me personally.

4 - Are med school anatomy exams formatted like "point out corrugator supercilli" or are they "identify this muscle" (exam giver points to a muscle)? I ask this because the first type of question I find much easier. If you give me the name of some obscure structure that I've studied I can usually point it out easily (maybe I have a visual memory). But point out the structure and ask me to produce from memory the multi-syllable latin name, then I could be stuck if I haven't studied it five different ways on five different days.
Answering your post in part.

2. Somewhat, yes. As with anything else: the more you do something, the more acclimated you become. I'm an M1 right now, so take it for what it's worth, but having gone through quite a few exams, several practicals, and a shelf thus far... I'd say that over time, things have gotten a little smoother (note my avoidance of the word "easier"), if only because I've settled on what I'm most comfortable with in terms of covering/organizing what we need to know.

3. Spaced repetition systems are popular (think Mnemosyne and some other commercial offerings in terms of board prep), but beyond that, dunno. I'd be curious myself. The only things coming to mind are very boilerplate: exercise/sleep in the interest of helping cognition and whatnot.

I will say, though, that I am a fine example of "screw what others are doing -- stick with what works for you". I'm a whole lot more comfortable now that I've resorted to going back to what worked for me in college as opposed to trying new approaches because I thought, "well, I'm in med school now, gotta change." Some people do, some don't. Just have to find your spot. Personally, I have thus far found the idea that change is necessary upon matriculation to be bull****.

I mention this because that's what has gotten me through the material at the best rate and with the least amount of pain possible.

4. As far as the practicals go (this is probably mentioned earlier in the thread, but I haven't read all the replies), most questions are second- or third-level. So instead of sticking a blue pin in vastus lateralis surrounded by other structures with other colors and asking, "Identify by color the vastus lateralis muscle", they'll ask "Identify by color the muscle innervated by the femoral nerve" (one step removed from identification, in which case you say "blue!") or "Identify the spinal segments providing for the nerve which innervates the blue-pinned structure" (two steps removed from identification, where you know that the femoral nerve serves, among other things, the vastus muscles, and that the femoral nerve is via spinal segments L2-L4). You'll still get the occasional "hey, what's this?" question; you should embrace those questions as the (typically) easier points to be had on the practical. :)

Written exams vary a bit from school to school and will be everything from figures to clinical vignettes to straight recall to ... .