In the first year of Medical school anatomy is probably one of the most demanding subjects that takes up most of your time. However, memorizing every piece of human body is not as hard as it may seem at first sight if you find a good study style that works for you. I do not study the same way for anatomy as I do for other subjects.
I will describe how I study and what I find most efficient for me but that does not mean the same way will work for you too. I will provide some other examples in the end that worked for some of my classmates but it is still best you find your own that will give you the best results.
- Make a plan
- Clean up study space
- Prepare the material
To keep on track with all your work it is best to plan it. Set your daily goal of what you wish to do in a day and stick to it. Make it realistic so it is not overwhelming for you (e.g. do not set yourself a goal to study the whole upper limb anatomy in a day as this probably is not possible if you do not have a perfect memory or taking some substances for faster learning). This is also a great way to keep track of how much you have already learned and how much you still have to do. I also plan my studying hours over the day, but this is not as important as just setting your daily goals and sticking to them.
Clean up study space
Clean and tidy environment is overall very important to me but when it comes to studying it plays a crucial role on how my study session is going to look like. If things are not in place when I start to study, they take my attention and I lose my concentration and eventually get distracted by cleaning so I do not get much done (I suspect I may have a mild case of OCD). That is why I always make sure my desk and room are clean and tidy before I start to study. I also like to open my windows for a few minutes so that I get some fresh air and bring my bottle of cold water so that I can stay hydrated during the process. Sometimes I bring some fruit or nuts for snacking, depends on my mood.
Prepare the material
Before I start with studying, I make sure everything I am going to need is ready either on my desk or in one of my desk drawers. I hate to spend time looking for something as this lowers my level of concentration and it takes some time that I gain it back. I also bring water and snacks before I start so I do not have to go to the kitchen while I am already studying.
I have already said that it is important to have a clean study environment, but now what I have in mind is more of a place or location where you study. I usually study in my room on my desk, sometimes, but only if I am already revising, on my bed. I like to have a consistent environment for studying because it is easier for me to keep my focus. Sometimes when I have classes all day with half an hour to two-hour brakes I am forced to learn at school because I do not have the time to go home as I live in another town and commute daily. In that case I usually study in school library but it is less efficient and I cannot concentrate as well as I could at home. I also have a problem with noise or any sounds actually. If I can hear something like TV, radio, someone talking etc. it takes up all my attention and I completely lose my focus so I have to either make sure no one is at home when I study or use ear caps.
Things I usually use for studying anatomy
Atlas of human anatomy
I use Sobotta anatomy atlas which is actually a set of 3 atlases; General anatomy and musculoskeletal system, Internal organs, Neck, head and neuroanatomy. For more detailed descriptions of the structures I also use Grey’s anatomy atlas.
I use Anatomyka Anatomy app and I have a 12-month subscription for 16,49€. I strongly recommend usage of such apps as they give 3D image that contributes to better visualisation and understanding. You can read more about it in my Apps for Studying article.
Notes from class
I take my notes in class on my tablet Samsung tab S6 which comes with an SPen so I can draw and write like it would be on paper.
As I have already mentioned I have Samsung tab S6 with SPen. At home I use it to go over my notes and Power point presentations that my professors provide for us.
I like to make some notes during studying because I can memorize faster if I write it down. But of course, I do not have the time to write everything down so things I write down are usually some branches of main vessels or nerves.
- Go over the topic
- Take breaks
Before I continue with studying, I revise everything I already know from the organ system I am studying so that by the end I do not forget things I have learned in the beginning. This is a very efficient way of making sure you remember things in long term. You are probably familiar with the forgetting curve, that was discovered by Hermann Ebbinghaus. If you are not, I will make a separate chapter on that topic towards the end, but the main idea is that the more you revise something, the longer it takes for you to forget it.
Go over the topic
When I start to study I try to remember as much as I can from class and visualise the structures I am going to go over. I go over the atlas, so I know approximately where the structures are located and what surrounds them.
I look at the structures in my atlas simultaneously with my notes and try to remember as much as I can. I create a picture in my mind and try to fully visualise every single structure and its surroundings. Then I try to repeat everything and describe it with my own words so that I know I have the orientation and understanding of the structures, not just know them by heart. For nerves and vessels where you have to know the branches and where they go, I usually make a list (it is easier for me to remember). Sometimes I try to draw some structures for better understanding, usually some fossaes so that I have a better view of the walls and structures around it. For better understanding I also watch you tube videos and use anatomy apps that give me better 3D perspective of the structures.
Before I finish with studying, I try to revise everything that I have learned, remember as much as I can. If some topic is still a little rusty, I go over it more in details till I know it well. I also revise everything from before, like I do in the beginning.
I study on average for 3 or 4 hours per day, although I have had days when I studied for 6 or 8 hours and days when I studied for like an hour. Staying fully concentrated for 4 hours is not easy without taking any substances, so to maintain the quality of studying it is important that you take breaks from studying to boost your concentration and focus back on top. During the brake I usually get something to eat, maybe stretch a little or go for a run or walk if I take longer breaks. My breaks usually last from 10-20 minutes, sometimes if I feel tired or I just do not feel like studying anymore I take longer breaks and go watch some series or just do something else to ease my mind. You can take even longer brakes if you wish but just make sure you reach your study goal by the end of the day. Also, make sure that your brake lasts at least 10 minutes.
When I first started with anatomy classes (October 2019) the biggest issue for me was probably the huge amount of information I had to memorize in Latin. As probably most medical schools do, we learn anatomy in Latin. It was a bit overwhelming for me at first but there is a lot of resemblance with English so that made it a bit easier. When Latin started to make sense to me, studying was much easier and more logical. My first language is not English, but speaking it fluently was one of the conditions for being accepted to medical school.
Ebbinghaus forgetting curve
I took psychology class for my final exams in high school, where I got familiar with Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. This is not crutial for you to be familiar with if you want to study efficiently, it’s just some additional information to explain why revision is so important for long-term knowledge.
It was hypothesised by Herman Ebbinghaus in 1885 and describes the decrease in ability of the brain to retain memory over a certain period of time, hence the name. The theory suggests that we start to lose learned knowledge in a matter of days, weeks and months if there is no attempt to retain it.
The curve shows how information is lost (in %) over time if you do not consciously renew it. You can see that almost 60% of information is lost in the first hour after you finish with studying and about 76% after 24 hours, after a month you still maintain 10% of the learned information. Of course, the percentage of forgotten information also depends on your strength of memory (the stronger the memory the longer period of time that a person is able to recall it) but you still won’t be able to recall everything without revising it.
If you take time it will take longer for you to forget it and will actually save you time on learning it again from the beginning.
The message to take home is, that it will be harder for you to forget something that you have learned if you revise it every 24 hours. Maybe you don’t have to revise the whole topic but just its main ideas so that you don’t forget it. This is a very efficient way to remember things long term as you usually have to in medical school.
Other study styles
As promised, I will briefly describe some other ways of learning anatomy that might help you discover your study style if you still haven’t found it.
- If you are more of an acoustic memory type (easiest way for you to remember things is by hearing them), start by reading the structure descriptions aloud and try to repeat what you’ve read. It may seem as if you are talking to yourself, but trust me, it will pay off. Then look at the schemes in atlas and describe to yourself what you see. That may help to memorize it better. It also helps if you record yourself and then re-listen.
- For some people it works well if they draw and write a lot. That usually works for me too, but I cannot write everything down in anatomy however, I do try to draw a much as I can. I will share my notes and my drawings with you soon.
In conclusion, studying anatomy is not easy, there is a lot of information that needs to be memorized but if you organize your time study systematically you can remember more information in less time. By revising daily you also make sure that it will take longer for you to forget something which is very important for a medical student.