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)
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.
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?
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
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!
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