In parts one and two of this series we discussed strategies for maximizing your brain’s capacity by getting rid of decisions you don’t need to make and writing things down to free up space for higher level pursuits. The discussion continues here.
Have you ever thought about how actors memorize an entire script? What does it take to memorize all of those lines in such a short period of time? Well it turns out that many actors associate emotions or actions with the words they are memorizing, and studies show that it works. They memorize faster, and have greater accuracy than those who use rote memorization and words alone.
Researchers have found that the more associations or connections with the information there are, the easier it is to commit it to the long term memory. Can you recall a particular topic in PT school that hit home with you, because you either had the condition, or someone close to you did? For instance, I am a chronic ankle sprainer. When we talked about ankle biomechanics and proprioceptive training in class, I had a personal connection to that subject, and it just clicked; so much so, that I felt that I really didn’t need to spend much time studying the concept. I did well on those exam questions and to this day, feel very confident about my ability to treat a patient with chronic ankle inversion sprains.
Since we probably will only have a personal connection to a few physical therapy topics, you can also try pairing motor movements with words when you are memorizing. This strategy works extremely well in physical therapy education, because we are, after all, studying to become motor movement specialists.
I always tell my students that their own body is a great cheat sheet during an exam. I don’t mean to suggest that you should write the answers on your hand and I certainly don’t condone that behavior in my classroom. I am talking about that association of body movements with words that will assist with memorizing.
Let’s say you are trying to memorize Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) patterns. You could look at a chart and try to memorize just the words, starting with the differences between D1 and D2 patterns. But instead of just memorizing the words, say them as you move through the pattern so that you associate the words with a motor action.
I suggest describing one joint at a time. For example, as you move your arm through the D1 flexion and extension patterns, say out loud, “shoulder flexion, adduction and external rotation … shoulder extension, abduction and internal rotation.” The theory is that your brain is remembering using two pathways now. There is the word association in the language area, as well as the motor area corresponding to your movement. Any time you can increase your association with a particular topic, via emotions or actions, you are increasing your capacity for memorization. In summary, this series encourages the following three strategies to increase your ability to learn and retain in physical therapy school:
- Reduce the number of daily decisions you make;
- Reduce the amount of tasks, events and other information you retain mentally, and instead transfer that information down on paper; and
- Add actions or emotions to words and concepts you are trying to memorize as you study.
Good luck and study smarter (not harder!).