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  1. Well, you might also be low-key stressing about how to make all this information stick in your memory for the long-term. Don’t worry, this is a natural fear that many nursing students encounter. Well, what if I told you that the solution is actually way more simple than you imagined? In this two-part article, I’ll let you in on three powerful memory techniques, and if you integrate them in your study routine, you’ll find that you’ll quickly be mastering information for the long-term in order to be the best future nurse you can be. But first, we need to learn a little bit about how memory works, with a high-level overview of the foundation of the memory formation process. PART 1 The Foundation Ok folks, we all know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” right? Simply put, a complex idea can be expressed better with a single image than a wall of daunting text, and we’ll remember the picture better, too. So what if you took that concept and applied it to your studies? That’s where picture mnemonics come in. So, What Are Picture Mnemonics? Picture mnemonics are a visual representation of the hard-to-remember information that you're learning in nursing school, turned into fun stories with wacky characters; symbols to help trigger memories. Examples are like these below, provided by the picture mnemonic company, Picmonic, where Penicillin becomes a pencil-villain, beta-blockers become a beta-fish on blocks, haloperidol becomes a poodle with a halo. Picmonic’s learning methodology utilizes memory phenomena to ensure that you are encoding new information in the most efficient way to remember it for the long-haul. Combatting the Forgetting Curve The point here, is to combat the forgetting curve. Yes, the forgetting curve is a real thing. In 1885 Hermann Ebbinghaus coined this term, and it basically states; a memory, no matter what it is- a fond childhood memory of a trip with your parents to the beach, or a lab value your teacher said you need to remember- it's all bound to be forgotten over time. That may sound discouraging, but it doesn’t have to be. We can combat this forgetting curve with the help of a little science and research to support a better methodology. The Memory Formation Process Now at the base of it, we need to understand the memory formation process, which is a three-part process. Memories are encoded, stored, and then retrieved. Encoding Let’s break this down and first talk about encoding; the first step in the memory formation process. Encoding all starts with your senses, where external stimuli (visual, acoustic, tactile and semantic) are converted into electrical signals that are sent to the brain for processing. When trying to form new memories, you really want to engage as many of your senses as you can because you want them to be as strong as they can be. Based on how information is presented to us and how we sense it has a major impact on where and how well it is encoded in our brain. This then, is where a few memory phenomena come into play that you can leverage to encode more durable memories. Dual Coding Theory Dual coding theory says that we process verbal and nonverbal information through different channels in our brain. For example, if you see a picture of a circle, that is processed in a different neural pathway than when you hear the word “circle.” So to form a memory that is likely to be strong, you want to use both channels in conjunction when encoding information (look at a circle and hear the word “circle” at the same time). Multiple routes into your brain make it easier to get back out, kind of makes sense, right? Picture Superiority Effect Picture superiority effect basically states that we remember images better than we remember text. Think about the X-rays or skin disorder images you’ve seen in your textbooks versus just reading about it without pictures. You’re more apt to remember what you saw than what you just read. So if a picture isn’t included, doodle away or find a resource with images. Von Restorff Effect Mr. Von Restorff demonstrated what is more commonly known as the isolation effect; we remember weird things, odd things, things that are unique and stand out. So, for a real-life example, if you’re studying four viruses for an exam, and three of those viruses look very similar but one looks different, you’re more likely to remember that different one. In fact, the more something stands out, even if unusual or nonsensical, the better you’ll remember it. Humor Effect When our emotions run high, we tend to remember experiences better. Just think about how you can remember every little detail of that car crash, or more positively, every detail on the night of your first date to your significant other. Emotion improves memory, and the best emotion to consistently use is humor, because we remember things better when we find them funny. If the information presented to you is mundane, put a funny spin on it so it will make you laugh. Baker-Baker Paradox Above we talked about remembering things better when we can create a web of attaching associations. The Baker-Baker paradox shows us exactly that. If you were introduced to a man named John Baker at a party, chances are you would forget his name pretty quickly, you only have the face and the name tied together. But if you were introduced to John “the Baker,” you already know what a baker is, so that knowledge acts as a “memory anchor” and your brain weaves associations between the two. You might picture him in a white baker’s hat and think about the smell of bread baking. Because of these associations, you are more likely to remember the profession rather than the name. Curious if this really works? Try it out! Coming Soon! Check out Part 2 of this article coming soon, where I show you tools for how to use these memory phenomena and store memories for the long-term! For more about Picmonic, visit our Product Directory listing.
  2. Hey there, my nursing student friend! I know nursing school is not a walk in the park, but I’ve survived it, and I know you can too. It’s just about studying smarter, not harder. In Part 1 of this article, we covered the bascis of the memory formation process and how picture mnemonics will help strengthen new memories. Now in Part 2, I am going to let you in on the three evidence-based techniques that you can use to help you master nursing school. The Memory Formation Process (Continued) Storage As I said before, the memory formation process is a three-step process; encoding, storage and retrieval. We went over encoding to understand how newly learned information becomes encoded into our memory, and how to make sure that those are really durable memories. But once we’ve improved the mediums we use to encode new information, how do we ensure it sticks? Here comes step two in the memory formation process; storage. This is where mnemonics come in, which are tools designed to help you remember something. A very basic form of a mnemonic and usually the most common is an acronym, which takes the first letter of every word in a list and create a new word. If we can remember that word, and spell it, we should be able to remember the list. Many of us have been using acronyms all our lives. Remember ROYGBIV for the colors of the rainbow? Nursing school loves acronyms as well (ADPIE anyone?). However, sometimes with acronyms, it's hard to remember what each letter stood for. Ever find yourself during a test thinking, “What did the “I” stand for again? Is it for identify? Is that for individualize? Is it for I have no idea?” So this is where we take it a step further. Time to bring back that Baker-Baker Paradox and make more associations. Instead of only the first letter of each word, we create a phonetic representation and a visual character to go with it, because remember, the more associations you can attach to something, the better the chance is that we’ll remember it. So let’s get creative with the little help of a picture mnemonic. Let’s turn that “I” into an Implementing-Imp character, and he's adding pie (for ADPIE) to the situation. Remember; according to the memory science, we want to make it weird and stand out! Now you're going to always remember that the “I” stands for implementation. Now if I can create an interaction with another visual character, (more associations!) then the stronger the memory will be. Let's add the Evaluator (for the next step; evaluation) into the mix, and when you visualize these characters interacting, you will be strengthening the web of memory connections even more. Retrieval Ok, we’ve now gone over the first two steps of improving the memory formation process, beginning to understand a little bit about the science and tools behind making strong memories. Now how do we ensure we can always recall these memories when we need them, like in a stressful exam? That brings us to step three; retrieval. First, to pose an interesting question; how many of you study by rereading your textbook, reviewing study guides and concept maps over and over, hoping that the information will somehow stick? Well, friends, this is actually a huge misconception. When you do this, you are trying to re-encode the information again and again, but you don’t actually know the information, you are just memorizing the visual text, which creates an illusion of mastery. Don’t feel bad though, just change the technique! Instead, you want to practice, practice, practice! Practicing recalling information makes it easier to recall than trying to re-encode that information time and time again, and it is a more efficient use of your study time. So practice that active recall, basically; quiz yourself! You can do this by using flashcards, question banks, or even having your friend ask you questions out loud, all to stimulate that active recall. That way you can really identify what you need to work on, and from there narrow in on those areas of weakness. Now the question becomes, when and how often do you do this? Spaced Repetition Have you ever over-caffeinated yourself, cramming all night in hopes to pass that test the next day, only to zombie out and forget the information as soon as you leave that exam room? I’ve been there, and not only is it no fun; it’s actually inefficient as well. Let’s go back to that forgetting curve to show you why cramming doesn’t work for the long-run. When you cram, sure, you might remember the information for the test, and that’s fine. But here’s what happens a few days later; that information you crammed all night to get in your memory is most probably long-gone, and may I remind you, you need to have this information committed to memory to be a successful nurse. Instead, you want to space out your review of information over increasing intervals of time, otherwise known as spaced repetition. When you start studying with spaced repetition; every time you review that information, the slope of the curve becomes less and less, until it’s eventually stored as a long-term memory. In the same amount of time spent studying you can remember for years, not just days! Now the key to reviewing that information is right at the moment you are going to forget it, but unfortunately, as human beings, that’s pretty difficult to predict. That’s why there are study tools out there that have software algorithms doing that for you, so you don’t even have to think about it. When you are evaluating your study tool, a good idea is to make sure they have spaced repetition incorporated, that way you can maximize your learning. Tying it all together Evidenced-Based Learning So, you might be thinking this sounds a little crazy. I get it, it’s not the typical way you would learn in your classroom, but let’s stop and think about how well that is actually working out for you. The thing is; research actually proves that picture mnemonics work, really, really well. An independent double-blind research study was conducted on the picture mnemonic company, Picmonic, a few years ago (check out the PubMed study) and the results were pretty outstanding. After one week, students who studied with the aid of picture mnemonics saw a 50% increase in exam scores. Even more significant is that after one month, they saw a 331% increase in long-term memory retention. Not so crazy after all! So all in all, you can see how these three evidence-based techniques are simple enough to use in your study routine in order to boost your scores and remember information forever; picture mnemonics, practicing active recall and spaced repetition. You can see that with these tools and techniques, you are very much combating that forgetting curve. So take that, Hermann Ebbinghaus! For more about Picmonic, visit our Product Directory listing.
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