Accelerated Learning for Medical School

by | Sep 12, 2018 | All, Learning Resources, Others, Study Skills & Memory

Accelerated Learning for Medical School

There is a TON of information out there these days about so called “accelerated learning” and how to implement it for personal use. The problem is, it’s not all quite the quality that those selling products on it may hint at. However, some of the tips and tricks are very useful, and even have a bit of research to support them. Here, we will discuss the top methods for accelerated learning for medical school.

As I began my first year of medical school, I thought I had a leg up on my fellow students. Not because I had great medical expertise, came from a family of doctors, or even had the most rigorous pre-med training. No, it was because I had dual majored for undergrad and was about to finish my Masters of Educational Psychology.

I was interested in how we learn and what techniques would maximize student learning. I even gave a short speech about some of the knowledge I had on the subject my first semester for an AMSA presentation at our local school chapter. However, these were some of the older study techniques. Though the most well studied, this presentation left out many (arguably more useful) skills and training. After practicing them myself for some time, I now feel secure enough to write to their use.

Mind Maps

Now, we already covered Mind Maps to a great extent, so I won’t go into too much detail here. The summation is that Mind Maps are a great visual concept-map style of note-taking. Using the 7 laws/rules of mind maps, with which these simple devices can be used to condense complex topics into a one-page colorful note. Beware, there is a lot of pseudo-mind map material and advice out there. Read the above post for warnings, and where many people go wrong. Some of the material may still be useful, but it is not a mind map. You can also find digital Mind Map software tutorials at Biggerplate .

Some studies have shown benefit to using mind maps for medical student retention, while others were not able to show benefit when compared to regular note-taking. The authors of the second article admit that, as a newer technique, the students may not have felt as comfortable with it at the time of the study. It is unlikely that these students had sufficient time to adequately learn and feel comfortable with the technique, especially already being under the stress of a medical education. Even according to Tony Buzan, it takes about 100 mind maps to become proficient (and 1000 to be an expert). And as a far-from-expert, I can say that working out the kinks at the beginning make your later maps much more useful.

Memorizing Numbers

Though memory champions often need to recall long strings of numbers, like 60,000 digits of pi, most medical students do not need to learn the techniques needed for this type of memory. Yes, you can do it. Nearly every memory champion out there claims to have average memory. They have just trained like Olympic athletes with a few unique visual techniques. However, we can still use a few of the simpler techniques to help with pesky memorization of numbers in medicine as well.

The peg method assigns an object to the first 10 digits; often a name rhyme (one is gun, two is shoe, etc.). Once you have created your own (or found one online) you can used these images to help you remember otherwise tedious topics. Ever get the chromosome number or gene translocation numbers mixed up? Why not use a cartoon-style shoe holding a gun and shooting it down at the ground to remember that chromosome 21 is down syndrome? Two is shoe, which is holding one (the gun) and pointing DOWN. It’s best to make up your own pegs and images. They stick better when you struggle to make them yourself then use other’s pre-made mnemonics. This becomes particularly useful when used with the methods below.

More advanced techniques for numbers include the Major Method/System , the Dominic Method/System , and the Person-Action-Object (PAO) System. Feel free to experiment with them on your own time. We may release a podcast in the near future to help student with examples on how to use these systems more efficiently.

Speed Reading

Now, let me preface this section with a warning. As a dyslexic, I’m possibly not the best person to talk to about this one. I’ve tried a few training courses and books and never reached anything close to what they claim an individual can achieve. However, much of the science behind this seems to also agree these high claims have yet to be proven. Without being able to conduct a multi-hour course, this will just skim over some of the important parts for now. I will try to revisit the topic for more details in a future article regarding Speed Reading for Medical Students.

Most articles and videos on the topic will state the common concept that we read between 2-400 words per minute (wpm). The more educated read a little faster. The more difficult the book, the slower. Makes sense so far, right? So how do some claim that they can teach you to read 2000+ wpm?!

The SuperLearner Course (a favorite on Udemy) claims to improve your reading and memory in 30 minutes. Others , like the long-running Iris Reading no longer put a number to the claim, but still don’t seem to back up their optimism with science. Both of these sources made it to a recent review of the best speed reading courses, so it makes one wonder what they are offering. But what are the actual skills being taught? Well, depending on the source, there are a few topics that you will likely see.

What They Teach

1. Vocalization is one of the first things most speed reading material will frown on. This is when you hear your voice in your head as you read. Apparently, many of us do this without realizing it is holding us back…then wish it didn’t take decades for someone to tell us this was wrong! It is thought to come from us training to read out-loud early on, but never being taught later on to quiet the voice. Then it just becomes an internal voice. When reading for leisure, this isn’t a problem. For speed reading, trying to silence the inner voice may pick up your reading speed a bit.

2. Saccades are the number of times your eyes move back and forth when reading (or backtracks a line), and fixations are a way to measure the time your eyes stay in one place in order to comprehend what they are looking at. Many training sources tell you to use fewer saccades per line in order to speed your processing of each line or sentence. According to this Speed Reading Review and this Truth About Speed Reading one, the human eye simply cannot transfer date comprehensibly to the brain as fast as some speed readers claim. They cite several research journals if you wish for the specifics.

3. Skimming is generally the last part to the game. Though some claim they do not skim, but use wide saccades (2-3 per line), peripheral vision to see the entire line plus lines above and below, and do not go back to re-read a word once moved on. This seems to also be contradicted by what Psychological Sciences says. This is one technique used by the man who holds the Guinness World Record for speed reading.

4. Tracers are also a tool for increasing speed. Usually it is a finger or note-card that you follow along with while reading. It is though to help focus your eyes on that word or line. Once you increase your speed with the tracer, however, it is recommended you ditch it as it will limit your reading by your hand speed.

So it’s a Fraud?

Well, part yes and part no. There are still ways to become more efficient readers, even if we will never reach several thousand wpm with high comprehension. And if you are like me, anything to get just a little bit faster is well worth the time to learn. What is probably most important is OPTIMIZING your own personal reading abilities.

For the past few years there has also been a speed reading championship, though I’m not sure the specifics on how the assess their reading and comprehension levels. There are obviously those that are more adapt at these skills and techniques than others so give it a try. Worst case, you go back to the way things were before. It takes a while to gain comfort with a new reading style, so do try to be patient if you try.

Memory Palace (method of loci)

The last one to speak about here is the most complicated. However, it’s the powerhouse that brings everything else together. In fact, it is so juicy and so powerful when used in combination with the techniques above that I’ve decided to save it for later! Plus, this post has run on a bit longer than intended. Keep an eye our for Memory Palaces for Medical Students, to be released in the near future. Like they say, leave them wanting more! If you haven’t done so, please follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel so you can keep up to date with these posts and other useful new releases.