Anatomy & Physiology Study Tips

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I have been working as an anatomy and physiology tutor for undergraduate students for three years now. I'm now a Level 2 certified tutor!  It was by far my most favorite class to take in undergrad and I love the fact that I got the opportunity to tutor it for 3 years! As the semester draws to an end, I realized that I only have one more week left at this job and I will really miss being a tutor. Because this is a subject I’m very passionate about, I wanted to share some study tips to ace your undergraduate anatomy and physiology classes. I will probably have to develop new study skills for my Applied Anatomy class in PA school and might do an update post once I’m through that class.
The biggest challenge that my students faced was not that A&P was particularly hard, but they weren’t sure how to study for it. When you take A&P, it’s unlike any other class you’ve ever taken before, so you will need to learn how to tackle the amount of information you’re being taught. Let's talk about how you should be thinking about studying for this class.

For starters, let me tell you that this is one class that you cannot cram for two days before the exam and make an A. Just take my word for it and don't take it as a challenge. There is simply too much  information you're expected to know for a single test. This is especially difficult if each of your exams are comprehensive like mine were. That means we were responsible for all the material we were taught throughout the semester on every single test. While that sounds intimidating, it was actually not that bad and was very helpful when the finals came around. I was so surprised at how much information my brain could retain over the months. Alright, so let's get down to it.

Go To Class

This one should be a no brainer, but going to class is really important. Try to listen and actively learn instead of zoning out during lecture and not really being there. Ask questions if you don't understand something. I bet there are a lot of other people who are as confused as you might be. Also, there are a lot of professors who pull questions from the strange examples they mention in class, which you would definitely miss if you skip class. Also, you're paying a ton of money to be in college, so why not get your money's worth?

Study Frequently and Early

Keep up with the material being taught in class. Go home after every lecture and review your notes. The first time you should just read over your notes/slides without trying to memorize it. See what you are dealing with first and then go back over your notes again and try to reorganize them. I will talk about this more later.

Strategize and Study In Chunks

This kind of goes hand in hand with studying frequently. Don’t try to study a single chapter in one day. Split it up into smaller sections and study a little bit each day. Repetition is key. The more you look at the same material, the better your chances of remembering them. Also, before you move on to the next section the following day, go back and quiz yourself (more on that later too) and see what you remember from yesterday. If there are things that you missed or forgot, study that first before moving on to the new material.

Make Your Own Study Guides

I rewrote my notes and made flow charts, tables, or summaries to reorganize my notes in my own words. Rewriting and organizing my own notes after class (when I wasn’t trying to listen and write at the same time) helped me learn things SO much better! This is a tried and tested method and my students picked up on it, now make their own study guides, and have been kicking butt on their exams. I am so proud :) I also color code my notes to keep them organized, but this isn't really necessary. I just like to have colorful notes.

Quiz Yourself

Do you ever study for a test, think you know everything and then not do so hot on the test? Yeah, we’ve all been there. You can read your notes all day and think that you know it, but you won’t really find out how much you know until you quiz yourself. You should try to explain your notes to someone (roommates, family, or even your pet) and see how much you remember and how in depth you can go. Don’t be discouraged if they’re not very interested or are confused about what you’re trying to explain. As long as you understand it and can explain it, you’re doing great. Not everyone has an A&P background so they might not understand what you’re saying and that’s okay. This is more about how well you can talk about something without looking at your notes.

Go To Open Lab

You’re expected to learn all the bones, muscles, tissues, histology, arteries, veins, etc. for lab and it can be very overwhelming at first. It takes a LOT of time to memorize everything on the models. We didn’t do any cadaver dissections at my school so we mostly worked with models or dissected sheep’s heart, brain, and eye. Some schools have “open lab” hours for students to come and study all the models/dissections. At my school, we had access to our lab from 7 am – 11 pm throughout the week as long as there were no labs in session. Usually the lab is packed the weekend before a practical. You don't want this to be the only time you study in lab. Get there early in the mornings if possible because not a lot of people will be in there during that time. I took lots of pictures and even videos as I studied the models so I could watch them again at home. The lab became my favorite go to place to study and sometimes I even studied for lecture in there as most of the material goes hand in hand and it was nice to have a visual and hands-on experience to guide me through what I was learning.

Form A Study Group

One of my favorite parts of being a tutor was to meet new students and watch them all become friends throughout the semester. I (along with other A&P students) found it really helpful to have someone to study with and also someone to vent to when things got tough. Your study buddies will be in the same boat as you and will be able to relate to what you’re going through. It’s not only great for moral support, but a lot of times my students end up answering each other’s questions and teach each other how to memorize things or come up with really interesting mnemonics (sometimes inappropriate, but hey, who cares as long as you remember it, right?). The crazier your mnemonics, the better you'll remember them. Guaranteed! Study groups also give you a great chance to verbalize what you learned and get some feedback. Trust me, you need to hear yourself say things out loud and instead of just talking in your head! You’ll be able to recall it so much better on the test. Also, I always tell my students to study on my their own first and then go to study sessions with their classmates. If not, you’ll freak yourself out on how much you don’t know and you don't need that kinda stress in your life.

Talk To Your Professor

A lot of times students don't do well on their exams and come back and tell me that. My first question always is "did you take a look at what you missed?" and almost always the answer is no. A lot of professors don't give back their exams and so the students think they have no access to it. Wrong! Go to your professor's office hours and ask to see your exam. 9/10 times (unless they're in a rush) they will comply and will be willing to go over your test with you. If you don't know what you missed, how can you expect to make improvement? Try to find patterns in the questions you missed. Was it a certain topic? Was it an application question? Or did you just run out of time? Also, (most) professors love it when students ask them for help. No one knows better about your class & exams than your professor. Ask them how you should be studying, tell them what you already do, and what they think you can do differently to improve. You'd be surprised at how much you'll find out! 

Now not everything I mention here works for everyone. Everyone has a different way of learning and what works for me might not work for you. Ask around and see what your classmates do to succeed in this class.

How did you study for anatomy and physiology? Do you have any study tips you'd like to share?

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