Anatomy is a notoriously difficult subject to master. The human body is incredibly complex, and the number of structures that require memorisation is massive. All is not lost, however, and there are some straightforward things that can be done to make mastery of this challenging subject easier. Here are our top 10 tips:
- Start learning early and study often
The first step in your anatomy-learning journey should be to acknowledge that your chosen path is difficult and that a significant amount of hard work is going to be required. There are no shortcuts, and you must be prepared for many arduous months of work in the run-up to your anatomy exam.
It will take many months, not weeks, to prepare adequately. Starting your revision early will prevent panic in the later stages and allow plenty of time to work through the syllabus and spot problem areas that will need more work.
- Understand the course curriculum
Try to get hold of a copy of the course curriculum as early as possible. This curriculum should be the centrepiece of your exam preparation and may well be the single most important document that you read. Knowing and understanding the curriculum can save you countless wasted hours reading irrelevant topics that won’t come up in the final exam.
The curriculum is an outline of the content of the course or exam that you are sitting. It will have been prepared by the medical school or college that has set the exam, with the aim of providing specific guidance on the information needed to pass the exam successfully. The curriculum is thought to be so crucial that some university courses now set a quiz on it to encourage students to read it.
It also serves to ensure that everyone sitting the exam has an equal and fair understanding of what the exam content will be. Therefore, if you have not read the curriculum, you will be at a considerable disadvantage compared with another student that has.
- Understand your learning style
A vital step in learning how to study and learn effectively is to understand the different types of learners, and more importantly what type of learner you are. Broadly speaking, there are three types of learner:
- Visual learners
- Auditory learners
- Kinesthetic learners
Most people learn through a combination of the three learning styles but usually, have a clear preference for one. I am predominantly a visual learner.
Here is a short online test, provided by Ashford University, that you can do to work out which type of learner you are: What Type of Learner Are You?
- Take detailed and clear notes
Your lecture notes will be of vital importance to you throughout your course and exam revision. There are numerous different methodologies available that help with this process, such as the Cornell Note-Taking System. Using a structured approach such as this will not only improve your note-taking but will also develop your overall study skills.
Make sure that your notes are clear and concise. You may have the best set of lecture notes in your year group, but they will be of no use to you whatsoever if you cannot read them later because they are illegible. If your handwriting is poor, or your struggle to write quickly, you may want to consider using a note-taking app for your computer or mobile device. There an extensive variety of these available, including Evernote, Scrble, WordPad, Simplenote, Sticky Notes, and many, many more.
Once you have compiled your notes, make sure that you dedicate some time each week to review them, as this will improve fact retention and increase familiarity with the course material when it comes to your final revision.
- Orient yourself to the human body
Looking at anatomical diagrams and references can be quite confusing initially. Many anatomy students have lost marks in their exams by merely confusing left and right. At the outset of your course, it is worth spending some time familiarising yourself with the standard anatomical position, the three anatomical planes, and the principal anatomical terms of location and motion that are used.
- Use the Internet
The advent of the Internet has undoubtedly made all forms of learning easier. There are now numerous online sites available specifically designed to help people to prepare for medical exams. Medical schools and colleges often have online lecture material available and there are numerous good online sites available. We recommend our website Anatomy Prep. YouTube and other online video sites can also be a useful source of information, particularly when it comes to the visual nature of nerve and vessel courses.
Other good places to look for advice and support are Facebook groups and other online forums and social networking sites. These groups and forums are filled with others such as yourself that are preparing for the same exams. Many people that contribute to the discussions in these groups have already sat the exam, and there are sometimes hot topics discussed and questions from previous sittings discussed. They can be a good place to gain insights into the anatomy exam you are sitting, get vital tips for your preparation and also to gain support from others in the same situation as yourself.
- Study in groups
There are a great many benefits to working in groups. Just having others around you to talk to and discuss ideas with can help understanding and stimulate learning. Different members of the group will have different strengths and weaknesses, and by working in a group together, you can maximise your individual strengths and minimise each other’s weaknesses. Group learning can be dynamic, fast-paced and a lot of ground can be covered in a relatively short period of time. It can also be more fun than working alone, and organising regular group study sessions can provide a welcome relief from the solitude of regular study.
- Use mnemonics and memory tricks
Using mnemonics and other memory tricks is a fantastic way to memorise difficult concepts or complex topics. A mnemonic is a learning technique that uses a pattern of letters, ideas or associations to assist in remembering something. The word ‘mnemonic’ is derived from the Ancient Greek word ‘mnemonikos’, which means ‘relating to memory’.
Mnemonics work by translating information into a form that is more easily retained by the brain. They make material more meaningful by adding associations and creating patterns and work best for material that is less meaningful to start with. They also help to organise information so that it can be more easily retrieved later and they typically involve visualisations that help make the facts more vivid.
A classic example of an anatomy mnemonic is “Standing Room Only’, which can be sued to memorise where the branches of the trigeminal nerve exit the skull:
- Practice as many questions as possible
Practising questions is an absolutely essential step in the learning process. It will not only assist with the recall and understanding, but it will also help you to prepare for the exam day itself.
Once you have started to get to grip with basics of each anatomy topic, it is a good idea to begin to supplement your learning with regular question practice using resources such as our website, which has over 3000 anatomy questions, and any of the various anatomy question books available.
Try to isolate areas of weakness and concentrate on these areas and spend less time on your areas of strength. It is a good idea to use your performance as a benchmark of your knowledge base in each area of the curriculum and use this as a means to support your revision planning.
- Repetition, repetition, repetition
This seems very obvious, but the more times you read and test yourself on a particular topic, the more likely you are to understand and remember it. The only way to memorise all the different anatomical structures and their functions is to continuously go over the topics again and again. Repetition is of the utmost importance!
For thousands of anatomy tutorials and questions visit: www.anatomyprep.co.uk
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