6 Study Techniques Every Clinical Student Should Know

Shiv M. Gaglani; M. Ryan Haynes, PhD


October 02, 2018

Technique 3: Interleaved Practice

Let's say that you want to learn concepts A, B, and C. The traditional model of education has you master each in turn through massed practice: AAABBBCCC. Interleaving mixes this up, for example: ABCBCABAC.

Similar to spaced repetition, interleaving may not be as effective in the short term but is more effective in the long term. This is because massing often becomes a passive process, where your brain goes into cruise control and you default to mechanically applying knowledge; interleaving forces you to think through each concept every time and helps you figure out how they overlap and differ.

Thus, for example, when you learn about the various diuretics, do not practice all the thiazides followed by all the loops; instead, interleave them. These first three techniques all fall under what UCLA psychology researcher Robert Bjork and his colleagues call "desirable difficulties." These are counterintuitive strategies that lead to reductions in short-term performance but improvements in long-term performance.

Technique 4: Memory Associations

Have you ever had difficulty recalling someone's name even though you remembered a seemingly obscure fact, such as where that person is from? This can in part be explained by the Baker-baker paradox, which essentially describes why it is easier to remember what someone does (baker) than what their name is (Baker). The name is simply a string of letters, whereas the profession is an evocative concept that helps you quickly form associations, such as your favorite baked good or the bakery near where you live. The more associations you can form to something you're trying to learn, the more likely you are to remember it in the future because there are more paths you can take to retrieve it.

These associations can range from visually compelling images or "memory palaces," which is the basis for the education company Picmonic (which found up to a 331% improvement in memory 1 month after learning disease topics), to actual patient cases, which can be accessed through such tools as ReelDx Education and Celebrity Diagnosis. We recommend combining two or more of these tools to ensure that you're forming strong associations to the thousands of otherwise seemingly discrete facts that you encounter during your medical training.


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