I'm always looking for a better mousetrap (I won't say a
better way "to skin a cat" since I am a cat lover who had to endure dissecting
cats in an undergrad anatomy class). So the better mousetrap I'm looking for is
the most efficient study strategy for the vast amounts of knowledge that I must
somehow accomplish to be a PA.
And since I do not excel at brain stuffing, also known as
short term memory packing that undergraduate classes sometimes reward and
otherwise known as the pump and dump (you pump your brain full of information
and then dump it immediately after the final exam), I am in particular need of
a better way to master large masses of facts.
I'm pretty strong at getting the "big picture" and grasping concepts
and the WHY of things. It's the thousand little details that I have to hang on with
these concepts that challenge me.
So I'm constantly looking for that better way to study. Well,
spaced, timed card recognition seems to be a good place to start. As is often
the case, I discovered this from reading blogs. I rarely invent the wheel but I
sure like copying it.
I figured I would look to my medical student friends for
advice on brain stuffing. And I started gleaning some of my favorite "Dr.
Will-be" blogs. Again, why reinvent the wheel when I've got these super smart
guys out there showing me the way!
Well, here's what I found. It's called Anki. Anki is like a flashcard nanny. It is free
software that organizes your flashcards for you and then spits them back at you
at timed intervals according to how well you were able to answer the question
on each card.
So Anki manages your review for you. And like any good
nanny, it syncs itself across multiple platforms, too! They looked at how the
brain recalls and learns information and designed the program so that it
presents cards to you at spaced intervals in such a fashion as to cement them
into your long term memory.
You can download other people's card decks or create your own
from your study material. It holds and takes care of all your study cards while
you are off doing other things like going to class and sleeping (because isn't
that all you do anyway!?).
Then when you sit back down to study, Anki will show you the cards that you most
need to practice in a timed format that elicits the best long term learning for
you. I won't talk about HOW it does this because this is a computer thing and
there are other super brainiacs who have figured this out for me.
But it's easy to use once you get it set up -- though
admittedly there is a learning curve involved. There are several "how to Anki"
videos on YouTube that are helpful. There is also a phone app for Anki so you
can utilize those spare moments waiting in line at the coffee shop or grocery
There are other programs out there that utilize spaced time
recognition of flash cards. There's Firecracker
and Pathoma to name a couple that seem to
be popular with our medical student brethren. So my advice is pick a card nanny
and get cracking!