42: Four Tips for Memorizing Science for the MCAT

Session 42 In today's episode, Bryan and I are going to dive into how you can better memorize the science facts for your MCAT test day considering the sheer volume of things you need to know. If you're still having trouble memorizing all these amino acids and mnemonics found online, Bryan spills out some secrets to help you finally remember science. [01:55] Apply What You Learn Bryan thinks We spend so much time studying psychology, including memory, and often forget to apply it to ourselves. We have to know how memory works for the MCAT and we have to remember that's how we remember our own stuff. Students make the mistake of trying to remember their MCAT science the way they would study for their mid-term for their immunology class like group forced repetition or somebody in the class gave them a mnemonic so they cram all that into their head and spew it back out the next day and promptly forget all of it. This doesn't work for the MCAT since you have to remember all of it all at once on test day. Therefore, you should be able to use the basic principles of good memorization for the MCAT itself.  Today, Bryan walks us through four simple yet incredibly important points. [03:00] #1: Try different learning modalities. Engage with the material using different modalities or approaches. Oftentimes, people get so hung up on the visual with those diagrams and tables or flashcards. MCAT books are certainly filled with images so everybody gets completely hung up on the visual. However, not all of us are visual learners. Instead, try to come up with something auditory such as mnemonics that rhyme or have a rhythm to them. Try to engage with it kinesthetically. Imagine the lever arm in your hand and twerking it by twisting your arm or remember the right hand rule. If you can engage the kinesthetic or the auditory in addition to the visual, you're much more likely to remember things. A classic auditory learner would approach things is writing song lyrics (just like what my wife, Allison, did while we were studying in medical school.) Even with Bryan the only reason he can name every nation in the world and every state and its capital is because of the song  about this in the cartoon show Animaniacs. And to further give you a basic example, we even sing our ABC's. [04:57] #2: Tell a story. Don't try to memorize isolated facts. Put those facts in context. Make connections between the facts. "Because" is one of the most important words in memorizing MCAT science. The human brain is terrible at remembering a random isolated fact. Whereas if you're able to make connections, you're suddenly better at remembering them. Plus the fact that as human beings, we are phenomenally good storytellers. If you could tell a story about the relevant science, you're much more likely to remember it. Then your repeat this through a process called “elaborative rehearsal” which means you rehearse it over and over again and elaborate each step along the way. For example, when memorizing electrochemical cells (for which every student hates electrochemistry and this is a universal law of MCAT students), start at one point like the classic mnemonics REDCAT which means "reduction takes place at the cathode." Repeat that. And then elaborate. Because a reduction reaction has to be paired with an oxidation reaction then oxidation takes place at the anode. So REDCAT (reduction takes place at the cathode). Reduction and oxidation are paired. So oxidation takes place at the anode. Then add another fact. Reduction is the gain of electrons so electrons have to be flowing to the cathode. Reduction takes place at the cathode. Because reduction is paired with oxidation, oxidation takes place at the anode. And because reductions requires electrons, electrons flow to the cathode. And so on and so forth until you've built out a whole little 5-10 minute lecture on electrochemistry. Now, it's no longer a single isolated fact but a story you're telling about how a galvanic cell is built. So now you're much more likely to remember it. [07:31] #3: Make it personal. Not only is our brain built to tell a story but they're also built to store information that has emotional content relating to the people we know. In terms of where we devote time, effort, and energy, number one is other people. We are tribal animals so if you could connect abstract MCAT science to other people, then you're much more likely to remember it. So instead of an abstract mnemonic, if you could make a mnemonic that relates to your best friend or your family member, or simply place all those personal connections, your likelihood of remembering them is definitely much greater. Personally create those flashcards and personally try to come up with your own mnemonics instead of taking stuff that's already created. Craft it yourself so it's based on your own family and your own story. In fact, the majority of learning with flashcards is actually creating them. [09:35] #4: Master the basics. Master the basics rather than learning halfway of everything. It can be intimidating how much is on the MCAT and literally just the AAMC's official science outline is 125 pages long. And because of that sheer volume of stuff you have to know, the temptation is to just quickly cover everything. However, you're better off just focusing on 20%-40% of real foundational stuff and make sure you have it mastered backwards, forwards, upside down and sideways than you would be trying to halfway everything. Otherwise you'd be "Jack of all trades, Master of bad MCAT score." Whereas if you mastered the basics, you can reason your way through much of the MCAT. Links: The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview (Text PREORDER to 44222 to learn more about how to win a free copy by June 4, 2017 and how you can preorder the book and get up to almost $100 worth of giveaways.)

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