Studying with a memory palace in medical school. What is it anyways and does it work?
Every medical student has been told that medical school is like drinking out of a fire hydrant. There’s why too much information to consume it all, and thus you’ll have to do your best to prioritize.
As you progress through medical school it becomes easier to follow and retain the flow of information.
Unfortunately, there will still be things we’ll have to memorize.
This is why using a memory palace in medical school comes in.
What is a Memory Palace?
Using a memory palace in medical school has been critical for me. It’s been particularly helpful for classes such as microbiology and pharmacology.
When it comes to the numerous organisms you’ll have to learn in medical school, there is rarely any logic to how they’re named. You’re just going to have to memorize them.
Unfortunately, rote memorization becomes ineffective when you’re expected to know the name and properties of countless bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.
A memory palace is a technique which creates a mental image of things you’re trying to remember.
Here’s a great TedTalk that explains how a simple journalist used memory palaces to win a memory competition with little time practicing.
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If you’re interested, he also wrote a popular book on the idea of memory palaces. Check it out here.
As you can see, memory palaces are commonly used by memory athletes, but it is also helpful to mentally remember a grocery list for example.
It’s also a great tool for medical students.
These images are often silly, but the sillier the better. I’m sure you’d agree that studying in medical school would be much more fun if you had to remember pictures instead of similar sounding words.
Your brain also remembers better when you combine multiple senses to create your picture.
How Do You Create a Memory Palace?
If you’ve ever heard of SketchyMicro then you know understand the gist of what a memory palace is. Learning how to make one yourself is critical.
My approach to creating a memory palace in medical school is simple. I write down all the terms I need to know in a list. I then add in any critical information for each term.
For example, if I were trying to memorize medications I would have all the names plus any important side effects, uses, and warnings.
Then I will go down the list and attribute some type of image to each medication.
Some names will remind you of another word. Other times you’ll have to be more creative.
For example, the cholinergic drug pilocarpine reminded me of a pile of cars stuck in a pine tree. Yeah, it may be a stretch but it was crazy enough for me to remember it (hopefully you will too).
Now that I have an image of a what pilocarpine looks like, I’ll add in features of the drug.
For example, pilocarpine is commonly used in glaucoma emergencies. To remember this I may imagine a pair of glasses (or eyes) that are exploding on the tree to reflect the pressure glaucomas can create.
I would continue to add more aspects to my image of pilocarpine until I was satisfied with what I had remembered.
Prior to going onto the next medication, I will practice remembering the whole image for that drug. Once I’m satisfied I’ll move down the list.
Connecting Mental Images
It’s also effective to make crazy transitions between terms. Imagine walking down the street seeing each of your crazy terms one by one.
This will help avoid forgetting one of the terms in your sequence.
To make it easier to create a memory palace every time, it can help to have a mental “path” you always take.
For instance, many memory athletes picture imagine walking through their homes in a specific way. Along the way, they will picture the crazy images they created.
Because the home is so familiar it’s easy to visualize a “walk” through your palace and add in your images every time you learn something.
Here’s a great picture to demonstrate this.
Let’s say for this example you had 9 terms (medications, bacteria, etc.) you had to remember. Envision yourself walking through your living room and stopping at each of the designated areas.
At each area, you will have the silly description of your word, like the pilocarpine example from above.
Won’t a Memory Palace Take Too Long?
Initially, it may take some time to create your stories, but you’ll find yourself recalling more after your pass.
In addition, with practice, you’ll be able to form your images much better and quicker. I’m successfully able to go through a list of 15-20 items and remember them in detail in under an hour.
More importantly, my long-term recall on each of the items is quite good for just an hour of “memorization”.
You’ll find that not only does your mental picture of your “palace (your living room, drive to school, etc.) become more vivid, you will also become quicker at creating memorable images.
So there you have it! I encourage you to sit down for 30 minutes and try this out. The initial time investment goes into building your memory palace before you add the terms in. Once this is completed it becomes a breeze.
Give this a go next time you’re studying pharmacology, microbiology, anatomy, or anything that requires a great deal of rote memorization.
Want to learn an even faster way to study? Check out my free 9-part video course where I show you how I cut my studying time in half!
Thanks for reading!
Until next time…
1 thought on “Studying with a Memory Palace in Medical School”
I’m glad more people are beginning to use the memory palace and other advanced mnemonic techniques. Acronyms were always very weak memory devices for me, so I started reasearching more advanced and personalized techniques around the beginning of my fourth year in medical school. That led to the creation of the Medical Mnemonist Podcast and being able to interview dozens of learning and mnemonics experts! Hopefully the topics covered in those interviews will help students for a long time to come 🙂