How I study Anatomy

Hello everyone!  The anticipation waiting for my exam results has resulted in my inactivity but, by the grace of God, I have passed my first year of medical school.  Therefore, I felt that it was appropriate that I shared my methods of learning anatomy as it can be an arduous task figuring out what study techniques and resources are the best aid without breaking the bank.  


Google. More than textbooks, my biggest resource was simply google images of pro-sections that were fully labelled.  If your exam includes an element where you will have pro-sections that you need to discuss/label, then this is a very vital way to learn.  Unfortunately, the human body is more mono-toned and muscles/nerves/arteries tend to look like spaghetti.  Thus, getting use to labelling parts in a pro-section will aid your learning far more.  

Netter's Flashcards - £26.94Despite flashcards being the most effective learning method, I can be quite lazy at utilising them.  Making the flashcards itself is what drains a lot of time.  Hence, these anatomy flashcards were perfect for me.  Not only does it have the body parts labelled, it discusses their purpose, insertion/origin, and common clinical conditions associated with that specific part.  These cards permit access to an online flashcard deck with questions and answers to facilitate your studying.  It saves you a lot of time in the long run and you can get stuck right in with learning! This is a fantastic memorisation aid. 

Complete Anatomy 2019.  I was blessed that my university actually equips medical students with an iPad and discount codes for this application.  However, I am aware that this is a luxury many cannot have.  If you have a smart phone or tablet that can support the app, I do recommend considering complete anatomy.  During the semester, I used this app frequently to consolidate my learning but during revision I mainly focused on the flashcards, pro-section pictures, and lecture notes.  This app is perfect at gaining a better understanding on particular insertion and origin points of tendons, muscles, etc. alongside memorising and visualisation about each part's location.

It must be surprising that I didn't mention any specific textbooks.  Personally, I did not use a textbook for my exam revision because sometimes there can be a surplus of information present that you do not need for your exams, but do require to consolidate understanding.  A textbook that I do refer to is Gray's Anatomy Student Edition which is a simplified version of the original textbook. It is more concise and the language is easier to follow in comparison. 

Revision techniques

Repetition repetition repetition.  I cannot emphasise the importance in revisiting the material you learnt in anatomy.  A majority of it is rote learning and memorisation above everything else.  Most of my revision techniques discuss how you can increase your memorisation power in the context of anatomy.  Thus, for this tip, make sure you try to keep up during the semester or if that fails, give yourself enough time to revise anatomy thoroughly.  

Teach the material.  As everyone says 'your ability to teach others dictates how well you know the material yourself'.  I will either teach my mother, talk out loud to myself, or teach my stuffed animals (who are now very intelligent).  It is a fun and great way to self-assess how much and how well you know the information.  

Use your own body. Online, there is a wealth of resources that demonstrate how we can learn the dermatomes and myotomes for example, through various movements.  In the exam, don't hesitate to move subtle movements with your body (plantar flexion, finger hyperextension, etc.) to jog your memory. Obviously, try to be discrete as you do not want the exam invigilators to get suspicious.  Nonetheless, this is a great movement and tool to use.  Some even suggest drawing the muscles, tendons, nerve fibres, etc on your body (wash off before entering exam hall of course) to fully understand where these parts are present and their size. 

It's in the name! A lot of muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. are named in such a way that it informs the reader of their role and location.  For example: flexor hallucis longus muscle.  

Flexor = flexes the joint it crosses- muscles only act on the joint that they cross!
Hallucis = big toe, therefore this muscle acts on the big toe
Longus = it is a 'long' muscle which suggests it would insert in the distal (distant) phalanx of the big toe.  

This is a great way to eliminate potential answers, for example in multiple choice questions where you aren't sure if a muscle would aid in a specific movement. Similarly, if you are asked to look at pro-sections, this enables you to determine the accurate muscle movements involved if asked 'which muscle aids in flexion of the big toe?'.   Thus, be sure to take a few deep breaths and look at the information logically if you are unsure.

Clinical conditions.  In my experience, learning the clinical conditions really facilitated my memorisation.  When you study what went wrong in a clinical condition, you can solidify the role of that particular body part.  For example, if the the big toe cannot be flexed, because there is something wrong with flexor hallucis longus muscle, its action on the joint makes more sense. Although it may feel irrelevant when learning about pure anatomy and physiology, it actually highlights the importance, position, and movement of particular body parts.  

Drawing. Unleash your inner artist! Drawing furthers your memorisation as it requires you to actively recall the length and location of the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and arteries.  I would draw on my white board instead of a paper personally but I feel using colour on paper will make the information stick faster and better. Sometimes, its more efficient to review your own drawings than pictures from textbooks. 

Mnemonics. These are your best friend.  The number of mnemonics that have helped me study anatomy is unreal.  In the bones of the hand:  

Start - Scaphoid
Left - Lunate
To - Triquetral 
Pinky - Pisiform
Here - Hamate
Comes - Capitate
The - Trapezoid
Thumb - Trapezium

I have heard positive reviews about Mnemonics for medical students and study tips by Khalid Khan and recommend purchasing this.  My professors even suggested this book and you can purchase it here. 

Those are my main tips!  Anatomy involves finding the most suitable revision technique for you prior to memorising the information.  Afterwards, it is a very steep curve of success.  Do not be discouraged and enjoy the journey.  My tips and resources are simply potential tools that anyone can utilise but if you find they do not work for you, feel free to ask your personal tutor, friends, lecturers, or google other blogs that discuss ideas on how to efficiently study anatomy.  The beauty of anatomy - it never changes!

Thank you for reading.  

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