Pre-reg Learning Technique

To start, there is no "right way" to revise. Learning techniques are a very bespoke area as people differ greatly in their different inherent abilities. What is right for me might not necessarily work for you. This article hopes to present a range of techniques to help you find what might for you.


One ability above all, when trying to improve learning efficiency is memory. One question you may ask yourself is how can you improve your ability to learn lots of hard, scientific facts? Your second questions as a pharmacist and most importantly as a scientist should be: Are there any methods I can utilize which have been proven to work? 


Memory is a bit like a muscle - it can be hard work to keep it in top condition. At the moment it should be in top form as you have most probably been in full time education for the past decade or so. But how can you make it even better?


In November 20015, Chinese business man Chao Lu beat the previous world record by learning pi to 67,890 places. It took him nearly a year to learn and almost 24 hours to recite it fully. But how did he do it? One word, mnemonics. Mnemonics are techniques which convert seemingly random concepts/facts/numbers into a format which is more palatable to human memory. For example:

  • Phonetic system - numbers 0-9 can be assigned consonants and then grouped into 4 letter chunks. With the addition of vowels these chunks can be converted into words and groups of chunks into sentences. With a bit of imagination sentences can become stories which are a lot easier to remember than the original raw data. There are many examples phonetic systems in Pharmacy which you may remember from University, a popular one for example is Beta-blocker side effects mnemonic- "BBC Loses VIeweRs In Rochedale": Bradycardia, Bronchoconstriction, Claudication, Lipids, Vivid dreams & nightmares, -ve Inotropic action, Reduced sensitivity to hypoglycaemia.
  • Method of Loci - invented by the Greeks almost 2,000 years ago, this technique takes advantage of the brains innate ability to store information as location based sequential images, much like a journey through a "memory palace". To use the technique effectively you assign certain images to words that you need to know and create a story. Once you need to recall the information all you do is recite the story in your head. This technique is often very useful for very large amounts of words which need to be in sequence such as side effects of drugs ranked in severity or prevalence.


So what is the best method for the Pharmacy Exam? Come exam time, some students swear by illustrated mind maps. ie drawing a central topic in a circle and then creating a spider web of associated ideas around it. This technique is more attributed to essay style exams where you have a lot of time to explore a subjective topic. A more appropriate technique would be flash cards. A popular technique in the medical science, the technique gives you lots of associated facts in bite size pieces. All of these techniques are good, but one of the simplest techniques stands head and shoulders above the rest, simple recall. 


Aristotle more than two millennia ago wrote "repeatedly recalling a thing strengthens memory". Inspired by this Jeffrey Karpicke of Purdue University, Indiana created a landmark study. Karpicke asked 40 students to learn the meaning of 40 Swahili words. Despite receiving no feedback as to whether the students were correct or not they were regularly asked to recall the words. The average student aced the test with over 80% in respects to the control group who repeatedly studied the words without testing themselves only scored a meagre 36%. 


The best way to do this in respects to pharmacy is to practice exam questions and once you have done that do some more! A smart student would try and access as many sources of questions as possible and adapt their learning technique to accommodate testing their knowledge at regular stages. Instead of skimming through text books, stop at the end of each chapter and you will usually find a list of questions. Make sure that you you do them in detail and then try to identify gaps in your knowledge.


In all, it boils down to the old adage "practice makes perfect". Put in the right amount of effort doing this and you will not be disappointed.

Last modified: Monday, 7 December 2015, 12:12 PM