Three good memorization tips

That advanced anatomy course I took over the summer? A+, baby. I swear, I aimed for underachievement. I didn’t have the time for overachieving!

I got a reader request for some study tips. Nice idea, sure, I'll do it! And then another reader request that it not be a bunch trite crap about being organized and disciplined. So much for Plan A! So, three non-trite tips coming up.

If there was anything distinctive about my approach, it was based on what I think I know about how memory works. And of course anatomy studying is memory work, in a big way. I consistently used the following memory tricks, among others. (Fear not, mnenomic devices will not be mentioned.)

Repetition! With escalatin’ intervals

Who knows why one arbitrary factoid is hard or easy for your brain to hold onto, but that’s how it goes. So always sort your memorization goals (flash cards, say) into piles by difficulty. You can practically ignore the easy ones — maybe go over them again once before a quiz. But repeat the medium ones often. And the hard ones? Frequently.

And not just that: as you go, bump up the interval between revisits. Ideally, you revisit a memory when it’s just starting to fade. A hard card only graduates to the medium pile when it starts to feel easier.

Context! Hitch boring facts to more interesting ones

I follow little scholarly red herrings when I’m studying every chance I get, and it’s not just because I get dist—squirrel! There’s a great memory payoff in learning something, anything interesting about an fact that would otherwise be unanchored to anything else in your brain.

A great example from my course: I got so annoyed by the wrong-seeming and hard-to-rememberize name of the cephalic vein that I went a-studyin’ and learned that it actually is a wrong name, a translation error! facepalm Now I will never forget “cephalic vein.”

Another good example: after encountering conflicting stories about the dubious stabilization function of the fairly obscure ligamentum teres, I did some PubSys searching and learned about the kinds of actual testing that have been done to try to figure that out. And no wonder there’s conflicting information about it. But I had no problem remembering “ligamentum teres” after that!

Speed! Remember faster and faster

It’s one thing to know back musculature well, but it’s quite another to be able to rip through all those layers and logical groupings like an auctioneer on amphetamines. It’s a fun challenge to try — I ended up in giggle fits a few times — and there’s something about trying to race through recall that makes slower-paced recall start to seem relatively effortless.