Mind Games

Have you ever taken an IQ test? A real IQ test. By real I mean it is not online, administered by a professional, and takes a few hours to administer. If you’re like me, this probably doesn’t sound like much fun. I had to take one of these back in high school, and it was really interesting.

One of the exercises was simple memory recall. The person doing the test read me numbers, which I parroted back to him. It started out with him saying something like “Four, six” and I would obediently reply “Four, Six”. Of course he kept going, and next thing I knew I was trying to remember upwards of a dozen random digits. Here’s a test for you to do at home. Read these numbers to yourself, out loud, then close your eyes and try to say them again from memory. Ready? Go.

14829731864

How many did you get? All of them? Most of them? Three of them? Doesn’t matter. Here’s the second part of the test. A different set of random numbers. Repeat the test above

1 583 548 9624

I bet you got most of them that time. Why? Well it’s a phone number! Turns out brains can remember things better when they are grouped into chunks like this. That’s why phone numbers have their distinct pattern of groups, and some states have license plates that consist of two groups of numbers and letters (the phone example isn’t as good as it once was, since most people my age don’t actually know any phone numbers, as they are stored in our iPhones and not our brains.)

That’s a memory trick. Sitting in that IQ test in high school, I began doing this naturally when the numbers I had to remember started to get bigger (more than six stressed my little brain).

So today we were handed our syllabus in class. In most classes the syllabus is a sheet of paper with basic course info and contact info for the professor. At my medical school, however, the syllabus is a set of phone books that, when stacked, are about as high as a coffee mug. They represent the sum total of everything we need to learn before October 4th, at which point we will be given a new set of books and start over. The administration itself has likened the process of learning all of this to “drinking from a fire hose”.

A Dean actually used this slide during orientation last week

So I’m pretty interested in memory tricks. I bet you are as well, whether you are in medical school or elementary school, much of your academic success relies on your ability to retain information and supply it when required on exams. Eventually, just knowing the information is no longer enough, and you are actually required to apply it solve new problems (gasp).

My school is offering optional memory training sessions for us later in the year, but I need to be learning things today. Thankfully, Year One of medical school is also just like starting 17th grade, so I already have some tricks up my sleeve. Hopefully I’ll learn more and share them with you all (both of you that read my blog 🙂

My first trick is to start with what I know best, then work my way to the hard stuff, then recap on what I know well. This is like…uh..building a bridge over a river, begin and ending with familiar, solid ground. I do this because it helps integrate the harder stuff with the easy stuff, which is my second trick. Some things are just stupid and impossible to learn (I’m looking at you, Organic Chemistry). In these instances, I’ve always benefited by trying to understand how something I don’t understand (that’s pretty much everything) is like something else I do understand (a very small and useless set of knowledge, by the way).

I also study actively. I don’t just read my notes while watching Netflix. I may have just lied. I sometimes do that, but I first go through and actively outline chapters, draw pathways, summarize systems, etc. This is not a very eco-friendly process. I use up lots of plain paper and sticky notes trying to put all of the pieces together, but then I’ve usually got it. Some people are freaking geniuses and can sort of glance over material, scan it into some freakish mental hard drive, and just recall it at will (I’m not bitter), but I am not one of those people, and you probably aren’t either. Grab your pen or start typing, and the info will stick better.

Final memory/study tip before I call it quits: go for a run. Or exercise somehow. If I were a responsible writer (which I’m clearly not), I would link to some journal article with a clear positive correlation between exercise and academic success. All I can share is my own personal experience with running, and I KNOW it has made me a better student. Also, I find it hard to believe that having gallons and gallons of highly oxygenated blood pump around your skull a few times can be anything but beneficial.

Class is going well so far. My greatest struggle has been staying warm in our ridiculously frigid lecture hall all day. I’m going to wear a sweater to class tomorrow in the middle of August…crazy.