MEMORIZING VS. UNDERSTANDING

I’m finaltumblr_lte7dhRyr91qbsx6do1_500 (1)ly in the last stretch of MD1! Exams are over and went extremely well, thankfully, considering that week of studying beforehand was pure hell. Among the many things I’ve learned while studying medicine, one outstandingly important tidbit of wisdom I can share with future students is the importance of understanding the material you are learning as you memorize it. Some students will tell you that memorizing material without understanding it is impossible. I disagree. It’s perfectly feasible, however doing this hardly lends to USMLE prep, 16 months (or 2 years for American med grads) down the road. Due to the nature of the material we learn in med, much of it can be crammed a week or two before the block. In classes like anatomy, embryology, radiology or ethics, where the concepts aren’t difficult to understand, all that is required to do well on exams is memorization. What’s the catch, though? We forget facts that register in our brains as meaningless! The important thing is to make facts meaningful by understanding them. By relating them to other concepts, by applying them to practical situations, and by visualizing how they can be implemented off our note sheet and in the real world. When we do this, recalling 1 fact from the 1000s learned throughout the basic sciences becomes a simple process of eliminating unrelated principles.

I say this as if I’m a pro. However, I’m writing this in part as a reminder that USMLEs are around the corner and cramming facts (when I don’t have time to fully understand them) will only make things harder for me down the road. They say that it takes about 10-12 months to really find your study groove in med school, but thankfully I feel like I’m getting things down much earlier.

That being said, we’ve got 3 weeks to learn everything head and neck in anatomy and the entire development of the reproductive systems in embryology. Plus, you know, 4 other courses worth of material. We will see how well I follow my own advice as I struggle to get through it.

All I can say to those students preparing for med right now is: enjoy having a life while you can, because enrolling is like pressing the flush handle on a toilette bowl of water called your life.

K

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