How to learn efficiently

I am frustrated by the difficulty of creating new memories and retaining them. People say that you lose recall for 90% of what you learned in a lecture in a matter of days. Even after I review/study for a test and pass comfortably, I find that I lose the majority of that knowledge after a month or so. Med school is about a ton of memorization. When our future as medical students and doctors depends so heavily on amassing a large amount of knowledge to form a foundation for clinical reasoning, finding efficient ways to learn is a priority for success.

This break I read the popular (read: dumbed down and interesting) non-fiction book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina, a developmental neurobiologist at University of Washington School of Medicine. My research mentor recommended it when I asked him for suggested winter break reading. Here are the main lessons I gleaned.

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Preclinical pass/fail

My last post was a long while ago, but I promised that the next one would address pass/fail grading. I’ve been working to get my school to reassess its preclinical grading system for two months now. My enthusiasm and the evidence presented below are apparently not enough for a change to happen, so it will take many more months of soliciting the opinions of various stakeholders at this institution before reaching a resolution. Such is the reality of educational administration.

The issue is whether the entire preclinical (aka preclerkship, basic science) curriculum should have medical students assessed based on a two-interval Pass/Fail basis or a more discriminating grading scale such as Honors/High Pass/Pass/Fail.

This simple matter has hypothesized effects on a number of outcomes, including 1) psychosocial factors like stress and well-being, cooperation in the learning environment, interactions with faculty, satisfaction with education; 2) academic factors like course performance, standardized exam performance, class attendance; 3) non-curricular factors like participation in research, student organizations, leadership roles, and professional exploration activities; 4) longer term effects on clerkship performance, competing for residency positions, and resident performance; and 5) impact on outsider perceptions of the students and culture during medical school admissions. This post will examine the arguments and evidence in most of these categories. Continue reading