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I tend to stray away from too many specifics with studying different subjects but this question caught my interest because I had a little experience with it myself.

Hey Aaron,

I’ve been struggling to get through A&P (Anatomy and Physiology.) It seems like there are countless new words to learn. Most of those words are ridiculously obscure sounding. And naturally, they have definitions that are filled with even more words that I’m struggling to understand. I feel like I might be in a little bit over my head and I’m not quite sure where to start. Any ideas?

Fortunately I’ve passed my A&P and learned a few things (in a misguided decision to head towards a medical degree before learning that medicine kind of sucks.) I can’t get too specific because it’s been a while.

I see most of A&P as fitting into two different categories.

1. Obscure Definitions

The first category fits those obscure definitions that you mentioned. How you described it is perfect. They are words that are defined by words that are hard to understand. They’re just plain old scary to think about learning.

In an ideal world, you’d probably learn these difficult words by first learning the words within the definition of those words. For example, if a Wiggledoodle is a elongated Shampooderoo then you might think learning Shampooderoo is essential to understand before learning what a Wiggledoodle is. In most cases I’d recommend that but, quite frankly, A&P sucks pretty damn bad for that. You’re going to be busy organizing this stuff for a very long time to do that. Instead…

Forget about learning exactly what every word means. It won’t happen fast enough without a crazy amount of effort. Even if you put in that effort, you’re probably going to fail because it’s just not natural. You don’t need to understand a definition to pass the vast majority of the tests you’ll be given. You just have to be able to remember it.

You will figure out what the word really means. Forget about letting everything sink in intellectually. Look at the problems in as much of a straight up memorization problem as you can. If you can’t remember some obscure word then come up with some silly memory trick. (For example, I always forget strcat for some programming I do. Instead I just remember “stray cat” and tearing the extra letters off is easy.)

2. Understandable

The second category of words is my preferred part. These are words that are physically understandable. They’re the names of the bones in your body. You can literal point to them and call them by their proper name. They’re the muscles in your body. It gets more difficult in certain sections like your foot. They’re accessible. They’re just tough to get to. They’re not biological concepts that require a microscope to watch.

Put things that you can’t quite touch in this category. If you’re memorizing the parts of your brain, you may not be able to physically touch them but it’s relatively easy to conceptualize. You can imagine touching part of your brain a whole lot easier than you can imagine some strange cellular interaction.

Memorizing this information is again a brute memorization task but it offers the possibility of some fun study tools. You can actually poke around your body (or perhaps a partner’s body. Wink wink. Nudge Nudge. NOOO!! Not inside their brain!) This will make the names easier to remember.

Most of Anatomy is a memorization task. Don’t worry if it doesn’t all click for you. You’re going to be exposed to that information many times in your life (if you’re going into a medical profession.) You don’t need to understand it now. In a few years you’ll be knocking out these same tests like they’re absolutely nothing at all. It will come together.

Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to check out the archives and follow along for all the nitty gritty details. The ebooks in the sidebar can help you find even more tricks even faster.

Q/A – How To Memorize For Anatomy

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10 thoughts on “Q/A – How To Memorize For Anatomy

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  • January 28, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    This is really going to help me start tutoring some of my friends. I am typically good at Anatomy, but when it comes to explaining how I remember the information, I stubble and I am not able to explain myself. This was a really good post! I look forward to more like it.

  • January 25, 2016 at 11:35 am

    I share OP’s issue, even if I never had to study for med school, I remember biology lessons being a nightmare for me for the exact same reason. I can NEVER remember words or strict definitions. Probably that’s why I hate studying.


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