Wednesday, December 5, 2018

How to Remember the Foramina of the Cranial Floor of the Skull

Learning all the features of the human skull can be intimidating at first. Especially all the many holes—or foramina—of the skull. 

To help us remember complex sets of information, we can use a helpful mnemonic phrase. Mnemonic phrases, sentences, and words are those that help us remember. That's what mnemonic means—related to memory.

A mnemonic phrase that I've used to help remind us of the anatomical locations and names of the paired foramina in the cranial floor is this: 

Old Rotund Owls Spin Lazily Across Jugs. 


Watch this brief video for an overview of the cranial floor foramina and a walk-through of the suggested mnemonic: Return to editingCranial Foramina | Mnemonic Phrase 

Want to know more?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Coloring Books Are Powerful Study Tools (And They Help Manage Stress)

When I was an undergraduate, a friend at another college showed me the coloring book she was using for her anatomy class. Yikes! A coloring book for a college anatomy class?! Honestly, I thought the idea was ridiculous. Even though my friend swore to me that it helped her learn anatomy.

But then I took a close look at that coloring book and realized that it wasn't exactly like those circus coloring books I loved as a child. These drawings were much more detailed. They included the important structures of the human body that I needed to know. Yet, it still looked like fun!

When I became an A&P teacher, I remembered that experience and looked further into coloring books as learning tools for human anatomy and physiology.

What I found was that coloring exercises have several advantages in studying when compared more traditional study methods—such as reviewing notes and highlighting textbooks. These include:

  • Coloring an anatomical diagram is multisensory. Besides reading and spatial vision processing, your brain is also processing your kinesthetic or "muscle" senses. Therefore, you are using more parts of of your brain to process the information. And that means that you are forming more memories than when engaging fewer senses. More "copies" of these memories formed makes it easier to retrieve those memories later, when you need them.

  • Coloring exercises take time. Therefore, doing them forces you to slow down. You can't merely skim over notes, diagrams, or text as you might when doing traditional study tasks. You have to spend time, thus making it more likely that you'll really engage meaningfully with the content.

  • Coloring a diagram can help identify and correct misconceptions. Because you want to fill in all the available blank spaces in a drawing, you won't miss details that would have otherwise escaped your notice. Besides that, you'll be forced to see where the exact boundaries of each structure are, how they connect with other nearby structures, and where some parts may "hide" beneath other parts. 

  • Coloring is relaxing. In fact, so-called adult coloring books are now very popular for the purpose of stress relief and relaxation. They can produce an almost meditative, open mindset. When dealing with the sometimes overwhelming nature of studying A&P, doesn't a bit of relaxation sound like just thing you need? Wouldn't some coloring just before a test or exam get your mind in a better place than the anxious fretting that you might otherwise be doing?

  • Coloring can support relationships. Coloring alongside your study buddies can be a good way to build rapport that helps learning in other ways. And you can help each other figure out tricky spots when you may not be quite sure which part should be colored—is it part of this structure or that one? But it's also good for supporting relationships with friends and family members who get to spend less time with you now that you are working so hard on your A&P class. 

There are many coloring books for A&P available. One I like is Mosby's Anatomy and Physiology Coloring Book. That one and others can be found at Amazon or in your school's bookstore.

I suggest using colored pencils. They are easier to carry with you than crayons and get into the finer details of the diagrams more easily. Felt-tip pens are a good second choice, but they sometimes bleed through the page onto other diagrams

I also suggest keeping blank sheets of paper between the leaves of the coloring book, to prevent colors smearing—or smudging onto facing diagrams or text. An even better strategy is to remove each page before coloring it. Then, when you are finished, the colored diagram can become part of your set of notes for that topic.

So yeah, coloring books for college seem silly at first. Really silly. But I can tell you that I've seen many, many students benefit from them in learning A&P! So really, they're not so silly, after all!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Use a Virtual Study Skeleton to Learn Bones & Markings

Learning the bones and markings of the human skeleton can be quite a challenge. Most students do their best learning by repeated practice with a study skeleton in the learning lab.

The problem is, one doesn't always have access to study skeletons. Wouldn't it be great if you had a study skeleton anytime you want to spend a few minutes of practice?

A free or "open" learning resource called eSkeletons let's you do that!

This online tool is not exactly a "real" study skeleton, but it's the next best thing. It's an always-on, always-available virtual study skeleton.

Check out my video walk-through to see if this A&P study tool might work you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Spacing Your A&P Studying

Learning scientists are busy discovering and confirming all kinds of tricks to make learning a lot more efficient than the strategies that many students believe work well for them. One of these proven techniques that works great for learning anatomy and physiology is called spacing

What is spacing and how does it work in real life when studying A&P? It's pretty simple...

  1. Don't cram. Cramming may help in the short term, but it's not going to give you the practice you need to truly learn what you need to learn. Giving a few hours to studying A&P spread over a week or two is much more effective than using those same few hours to cram right before the test.

  2. Review content after reading, after class, after lab, after assignments. But don't review right away--this is where the "spacing" comes in. Wait a little while.

  3. Don't cram. Really. NOT good for deep or long term learning. Don't tell yourself "it's what works for me." Nope—cramming doesn't work very well for anybody with a human brain.

  4. After reviewing new material, go back and review content from previous topics. That's putting "space" between what you learned a while ago and when you are reviewing now. By making a habit of reviewing previous concepts, you continue the process of spaced study as long as you are in the course.

  5. You will forget. By waiting a while after your initial learning before you study it, you'll forget some of it. By reviewing previous topics, you'll find that you've forgotten some of that content, too. But that's okay! Learning scientists have learned that when we forget, then push ourselves to review the forgotten material and pull it from our previous memory, it'll become easier and easier to remember it. It's all still in there. The spacing study helps us get better and finding it when we need it.

To summarize, simply spread out your studying--and keep going back over previous material.

Here's a short video that summarizes the spaced practice technique (and why it works).

Click here for links to posters and other resources you can print out to help remind you how spaced practice works--until you get the hang of it and it becomes a habit. While you are there, be sure to sign up for the free newsletter from The Learning Scientists.

Need some tips on time management to make sure your spacing is planned out well?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The 30-Day Challenge: Craft Your Plan for Learning Physiology

My friend, Dr. Margaret Reece, is offering a unique "30-day challenge" mini-course in how to succeed in your Anatomy & Physiology course.

Margaret Reece PhD is an educator, scientist  and author whose expertise lies in the area of human physiology. Dr. Reece is presently CEO of Reece Biomedical Consulting LLC, a company dedicated to supporting undergraduate life science and graduate medical students in their efforts to master the complexities of human anatomy and physiology.

What strikes me most about Margaret Reece is her enthusiastic dedication to helping students "get it"—especially when they think they'll never be able to.

If you are interested in learning more about this course, which starts January 9, then click on this link:

And tell Dr. Reece I sent you!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Take a Nap Before Your Next A&P Test

New research shows that napping before a test or exam is just as effective as cramming.

I've offered advice on the value of sleep and napping in this blog many times before. We don't know exactly how it helps us learn and remember, but neuroscientists are getting closer. But why it works isn't as important as the fact that it does work when you are getting ready for that next exam.

The recent research points out that cramming can have a bit of an edge if your goal is short-term memory. But for the long-term memory needed for most exams, especially cumulative or comprehensive exams, napping works just as well. And let's face it—it's way easier than cramming.

You also need long-term memory so that you can "take it with you" out of your A&P course. You are required to take anatomy and physiology courses in your program because they give essential concepts you need in later courses—and in your career. So why waste your time and effort by purposely "throwing away" all those concepts by failing to get them into your long-term memory?

Of course, napping cannot be your only preparation for a test!  (I know where your thoughts were going with this!) There's a lot of work you need to do.

But in the brief time you have before your test, it may be better to get your brain in shape—perhaps allowing some sleep-time consolidation and organizing of knowledge—than to review and revise what you've already (hopefully) been working on. It might also prevent the escalation of test anxiety that often accompanies last-minute cramming.

Want to know more?

Advice from this blog about sleeping and studying:

Napping before an exam is as good for your memory as cramming.

  • This is an article giving more information about the recent research I mentioned.

  • Over a dozen brief blog posts about learning strategies and preparing for (and taking) tests and exams.
Photo: Jocilyn Pope

Monday, September 26, 2016

10 Things You Should Never Ask Your Professor (And What To Ask Instead)

We all say things we would avoid saying—or saying it in a particular way—if we knew their impact ahead of time. We professors often get questions from our students that are ill-considered—and often reflect badly on the students asking them.

The thing is, such questions are often innocently asked but usually come across as insulting to the teacher or dismissive of the whole learning process. Some of them may also be taken to imply that the student asking the question really isn't committed to success in the course.

So I'm going to give you a few of the common questions we hear from students that will probably have unintended negative impacts. For each of them, I explain why it can come across badly and offer suggestions for a better way to ask it.

Before I do that, however, I want to address the matters of tone and facial expression. Sometimes we are not even aware of it, but our demeanor when asking a question can come across as irritable, snarky, condescending, whiny, entitled, accusatory, or just plain snotty. Not good. You will not endear yourself to your professor (the one who assigns your grades), nor to your fellow students within earshot.

Make a habit of always checking your manner and tone before asking a question. Even if you don't like your teacher or the course. Everything will go much better for you.

Think carefully before asking these 10 questions!

  • When are your office hours?
  • Where is your office?
  • What is your email address and phone number?

These questions are okay to ask in a few, rare circumstances. For example, if you've already looked up your professor's office location, but are having trouble finding it on campus.

But in most circumstances, what a professor is likely to hear is, "I don't want to bother looking this up online or in my course syllabus, so take some of your time now to tell me."

What to do instead? Look it up, so you don't have to ask. This may seem like a small thing, but when a professor has several students asking these questions as they are busily trying to make room for the next professor to set up for their class, or get going to the next class or meeting, or set things up for your class, it can make a bigger, more negative impact, than you may realize.

  • I emailed you on Friday afternoon and you didn't respond all weekend.
  • I emailed you last night and you never responded.

We live in world where online help desks are often staffed 24/7, or at least for several hours every day. Often, there are helpers standing by on a chat line to give immediate help. And a lot of college-age people seem to continually check their devices for new messages. And so we have come to expect immediate responses to our questions.

Professors, however, have many responsibilities. The majority of us are part-time faculty who are trying to scratch out a living by teaching many courses at several different institutions. Both full- and part-time faculty have meetings, appointments, grading, lecture preparation, research, constructing quizzes and tests, setting up labs and demos, and more. And we have our additional "life" responsibilities to ourselves, our friends, and our families.

So it's just not possible to be available to respond to emails 24/7. We are not blowing you off. We are attending to our duties—including eating and sleeping.

Besides that, many of us are of a generation that simply does not "check in" with digital messages very often.

I realize that not having an immediate answer to your question can provoke anxiety. First, reflect on the actual urgency of the matter. Can it wait a day or two? If not, perhaps there are other resources to use, such as asking other students, asking someone else at your college, or looking in more places to find the answer (have you tried the syllabus?).

If you find that you really are having a hard time regularly connecting with your professor, ask them (nicely) what times and manner of contact generally work best for them? Who else might you contact if you have a truly urgent matter and the professor is unavailable?

Also consider that some questions take some time to answer. Perhaps the professor is researching a technical issue for you, or has to check with colleagues, the department chair, or dean before responding to you. Or is double-checking their facts. Or trying to hunt down "that page in the book that says..." for which you forgot to give the page number.

  • I'm going to be on vacation for two weeks this semester, okay?

Really? Assuming you are taking a 16-week course, you are asking to skip out on 12.5% of the course—and still expect to pass. That's a huge gap in your ability to learn what you need to learn.

Besides that, it implies that you want the professor to individually accommodate your "catching up"—if that's even possible. If it is possible, then you are asking your professor to take on a significant additional workload. For your vacation, which you may not realize is not even an option for your professor during the semester. What if ten or twenty students ask this? Yikes.

Professors often hear this question as, "I want to blow off much of this class and still get a good grade—and make you work harder—so I can lay on the beach for a couple of weeks."

So I can tell you before you ask it—it is NOT okay to take a two-week vacation during your course. But don't fret, we have a way around this! Take the course next semester instead. Sure, you'll be a bit behind your planned graduation date, but that's what it will take to make it work.

Once you understand that it's nearly impossible for most students to succeed in A&P when they miss that much of the course—and that it's a big imposition on your professor to accommodate this—it's okay to present your situation if it's something more important than a vacation keeping you out. Like a surgery that can't be delayed, for example. Or you must go to Sweden or Norway to accept your Nobel Prize.

I suggest laying out your circumstances, clarifying that you acknowledge the extra work an accommodation will mean for both you and your professor, and ask your professor for suggestions. Likely, they will recommend taking the course during a later semester—but they might have another solution they can offer.

  • That's not how my other professors do it.
  • It would be easier if you ran this course differently.

The first of these two questions can imply that you are questioning your professor's ability to design an effective course. One of the fundamental roles of a professor is to choose from a variety of proven strategies and examples, based on their professional judgement, training, and experience. This is an application of a core principle of higher education called academic freedom. Your professor probably already knows that their course is not quite the same as other sections of the same course. What is the constructive purpose in telling your professor?

A better approach is something like, "I've noticed that your course is different than some others I've heard of and I'm interested to know the benefits of your approach." Then ask them about specific things that you want to know about. For example, "why do give more tests than some other teachers?" Or perhaps, "not all sections have a term paper assignment—why do feel that's important for us?"

This leads us into the second question listed above. The role of a the professor is not to make the course as easy as possible. Learning is hard, not easy. So why even take the course if you want your professor to be easy on you? Maybe the professor has found that the learning benefits of more frequent testing or writing assignments have a big impact on learning outcomes. You want a good course—an effective course—not the easiest course.

Instead, consider asking, "What is it about frequent testing that works better than fewer tests?" But if there's something not likely to impact your learning, it's okay to bring that up in an office discussion with your professor. For example, you might ask, "you require that our paper be submitted as a PDF file, but most of us don't know how to do that--have you considered allow us to submit them as .docx files?" There may be a good reason for the requirement, and you'll get a chance to hear it (and appreciate it). But it could be something with which the professor can be flexible.

  • Are we going to be doing anything important in the next class? in the last class?
  • Did we do anything in the last class?

Just assume that your professor takes the role of facilitating your learning process seriously and is not going to be wasting the class's time. When you ask one of these questions, the message that is often heard is, "we normally don't accomplish anything in this class, so missing a class is no big deal, right?" Or worse, "I really don't value what you are doing for me." It's far worse when this is asked during class. But it's not something you want to ask privately, either.

Instead, privately tell your professor about an unavoidable absence—and it really should be unavoidable. Then acknowledge that you are missing a great opportunity for learning. Then ask if the professor has any suggestions for limiting the damage to your learning.

Sometimes, the real question behind these potentially insulting questions is really something like, "are we going to have any graded work during class?" such as a quiz or case study or something like that. In that case, apologize for the unavoidable absence and ask specifically if graded work was required and ask for suggestions on an alternate activity.

There are more!

These are only a few of the many such questions that students commonly ask, such as "can I turn in my assignment late?" When I first got the idea for this article during a discussion with faculty and students, I started jotting down examples—and before I knew it, I had dozens of them! So expect some additional examples in future postings.

Now may be a good time to subscribe, so that you don't miss any new articles as they are posted. And you'll know how to ask questions in a courteous, professional manner! And make it clear to your professor that you really do care about your learning!

(middle high) Benito LeGrand
(middle) Iwan Beijes
 (bottom): Holzi Holzer

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Get Your Head in the Game - 5 Tips for Success in Learning

If you have any awareness of sports—or any type of game—you've heard that the only path to success includes keeping your "head in the game."  In other words, you have to think about what you are doing (or about to do).  And you have to understand how you are thinking and make sure you are "thinking correctly"—that is, in a way that will let you perform at your best and get you closer to your goal.

This idea of "thinking about your thinking" is called metacognition (met-ah-kog-NISH-un).  And it works both in sports and in learning.  It is especially important and effective in learning a subject as overwhelming as human anatomy and physiology.

In other words, if you regularly step back from what you are doing and think about the strategies you are using (or forgetting to use) in your A&P course, you'll do better than if you just struggle along trying to "get it" all into your brain.

There's evidence that metacognition alone can improve your success in learning. That means that just the process of regularly thinking about how you are managing your learning—by itself—can make you more successful.  But that's probably because when you thus reflect on your own struggles in learning, you are more likely to tweak your strategies and watch for pitfalls in ways that make you a better student of A&P.

Some students do this kind of metacognition on their own because they've either learned it along the way, or they have a mindset that naturally tends toward metacognition.  But even if your mindset doesn't naturally think this way, it's okay—it's easily learned.

Following are some ways to get more "metacognitive" about your coursework—and thus get your "head in game."

  1. Schedule regular self-strategizing sessions. Set up a brief daily session (just a few minutes will do) and a weekly session. Put them in your calendar.  You have to have a calendar to be successful in college—even if you're not a "calendar person."  This way, you'll get in the habit of doing it regularly. 

  2. Review your progress. During your scheduled sessions, go over what you've accomplished. This is most effective if you keep notes or a journal on your progress. What kind—and how much—reading, studying, class work, and other strategies have you done since yesterday?  ...since last week? How am I performing?  I can expect to do poorly on self-quizzing activities at first, but am I getting better?  Are there concepts that are giving me particular trouble?  Am I going downhill fast? ...or am I holding my own?

  3. Get help.  If an athlete has trouble focusing their thinking in productive ways, their teammates and coaches can offer great advice.  So discuss this with students, your college learning center, and your professor. Use their advice to tweak your strategies. Then in future sessions, think about whether the new strategies have helped—or if you need to try something else.

  4. Have a positive attitude.  The worse thing you can do in metacognition is to focus on possible failure. Learn how to avoid learning and test anxiety. Evidence shows that you have to fail—forgetting what you've read, heard, or studied—before you can really learn it deeply and for the long term. So learn to value those aspects of your learning, knowing that it's a necessary step to success. After decades of helping A&P students succeed, I can tell you that returning learners, underprepared learners, English language learners, and students with all kinds of challenges can succeed in A&P if they maintain a positive, self-improvement attitude. 

  5. Try new things.  There's always a better way to do things. You've probably heard of successful athletes who have broken through some plateau they'd reached by learning a new technique or shifting their mindset in practice and/or performance.  For students, that means always being on the lookout for new ways to read a textbook, study, or take class notes. Or new ways to focus on learning and avoid anxiety.
This is just the start.  Once you make a habit of thinking about your learning, and gain specific skills in keeping your head in game, you can be more successful in all your courses—and in your career!

Explore the resources below for more tips.

Want to know more?

Photo (bottom): yalcin Eren

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Don't Ignore Those End-of-Chapter Questions in Your Textbook!

Recent research shows that practiced, spaced retrieval of information (from your memory) is the key to long-term, solid learning. The kind of learning you need as you progress through your next courses—and need an immediate recall of the facts and principles of anatomy and physiology.

Retrieval practice can take many forms, such as flash cards or asking each other questions in a study group.

Research shows that one of the most potent forms of retrieval practice is testing. The more you repeat the testing, the stronger the brain connections (synapses) involved in remembering that particular information get. Stronger synapses mean better recall and longer-lasting recall. In other words, repeated retrieval practice gets everything into your long-term memory, so you won't forget it by the time you get to the A&P exam—or when you need it all later in your clinical courses and career.

So when your professor tests or quizzes you, they do not just measure how much you know—they also strengthen your ability to "keep" all that knowledge for the long term.

One of the easiest ways to put retrieval practice into your study routine is to answer the chapter questions in your textbook. I know that unless the prof assigns them as graded homework, most students just skip those textbook questions. Too bad, because they are one of the best ways to learn!

Researchers who study learning have clearly shown that rereading your chapter over and over doesn't do a thing to reinforce your learning. Of course, you have to read the chapter at least once, but testing yourself on the material works way better than rereading the chapter—or your notes—again and again.

Instead of ignoring those review questions at the end of the chapter, write out the answers to them. Then check your answers, using the chapter content or the answer key (often located in an appendix or the online textbook resources). Don't check each one as you answer them because it works better if you just move on to something else first, then go back later for feedback on your answers.

The spacing of your retrieval practices is critical for effective learning, too. So do your self-testing for short stretches, but frequently. Every day is best if you can manage that.

Don't get discouraged if you don't do very well the first couple of times. That's expected. I realize it's more fun to see immediate progress. But when it's too easy, you're not learning for the long term. You want to struggle—even forget some of it a few times—so that your brain gets a good workout. No pain, no gain. Eventually, you'll get better.

With repeated practice, practice, practice of information retrieval by spaced testing, you'll be learning more deeply—and more permanently.

Photo (top): Judit Klein

Monday, November 30, 2015

9 Proven Tricks for Reducing Test Anxiety

Let's face it. We ALL experience test anxiety, right? Maybe not all the time; maybe not on every test. For a lot of us, it's always there—even when we are well prepared and it's just a little quiz that won't affect our course grade one way or the other.

As we all know, test anxiety really does affect our performance on a test. So it's important to develop skills to manage it and reduce it as much as possible. But how does one do that?

Below, I briefly outline some of the best ways I know of to reduce test anxiety. As you look through them, it's natural to think "this one probably won't work" or "that one is just plain silly" or "I'm not doing that!" But the the thing is, these have actually proven to be effective. Okay, maybe there are some that won't work for you—or won't have a big effect during every test—but you won't know that until you try them!
  1. Own up to your stress.

    The necessary first step in fixing anything is to recognize—and admit to—the problem. If you're reading this article, you've probably already done that. However, it is too easy to stop there. Many students blame their poor performance on test anxiety, but do not take any steps to reduce anxiety and improve performance. So the trick here is admitting to the test anxiety AND taking responsibility for personal improvement.

  2. Be prepared.

    This is probably the most effective trick in reducing test anxiety—but the least often practiced. There are several kinds of preparation for a test, all of which are critical to reducing anxiety and improving performance. The most obvious preparation is to study the concepts that will be tested. The other kind of preparation is a bit less obvious—you need to make sure that you have the skills needed to study effectively. Many college students have not learned effective study skills and thus their preparation for a test is inadequate. Putting some time and effort into learning how to study improves test preparation and reduces test anxiety.

  3. Don't cram.

    There are two kinds of cramming that can increase test anxiety.

    The first is putting off your study of the concepts to be tested until a day or two or three before a test. Even though you hear the opposite all the time, NOBODY really works best under pressure—at least not the kind of pressure created by putting off your studying. So don't tell me that! You really need to study a little bit every day so that the day before the test, all you need is a light review. By trying to squeeze it all into a few days—or one very long night—you are increasing your stress levels tremendously. And that stress is going to carry over into the testing situation itself.

    The second kind of cramming is that fast and furious review of notes and flashcards while you are sitting in the hallway before you go into the test. Even if you have studied well and really know your stuff, this frantic one-more-time review can really ramp up your stress levels. One of the factors involved is when you do this with other students who are projecting their anxiety on to you. You may have arrived to the building with confidence, but that can all go out the window when surrounded by panicked classmates. So just stay away from them! What to do instead? Check out item 6 below.

  4. Don't forget to breathe.

    Okay, I know that you're not going to forget to breathe. What I mean by this is you you should try focusing on your breathing as if you might forget to breathe. A lot of research shows that you can reduce anxiety by putting everything out of your mind except a focus on your breathing. This is especially effective if you gradually slow your breathing to a very slow rate—maybe half your normal resting breathing rate—with long inspirations and even longer expirations. This works even better if you practice it every day—not just when you're getting ready to take a test. Check out 7 below.

    By the way, this breathing trick can also be very effective when you find your anxiety level increasing while you are taking a test. By taking just a moment to focus on your breathing and slow it down, you can reduce your anxiety. If you instead focus on your anxiety instead of your breathing, things will just get worse.

  5. Write your stress.

    It seems weird at first, but studies show that if you write out your stressful feelings right before you take a test, your test anxiety will be reduced—or even go away. Even if what you are writing is that you are way, way stressed out and that you hate the test and hate the material and hate the course and hate the professor and hate that you did not study, your anxiety will dissipate. At least a little bit, but often quite a lot. Try it—you may be surprised at how effective this is!

  6. Search out serenity.

    In trick 3 above, I mentioned that you shouldn't spend the minutes before a test cramming and feverishly reviewing your notes because that will ramp up your anxiety. So what should you do? One option is to induce relaxation with a breathing exercise, as described in 4 above. Another option is to write your stress, as described in 5 above.

    But there are other stress-relieving options. For example, leisurely stroll inside or outside the building before the test—trying to focus on what you see, rather than on the test or the course content. Is there an aquarium you can visit? Are there windows looking out onto a peaceful scene—or even just a parking lot where you can focus on the people and cars moving about? It's probably not a good idea to seek out digital serenity, however. Videos and social media and digital games are more likely to ramp up your anxiety than to get rid of it.

  7. Practice daily stress-reduction.

    In trick 4, I mentioned that slow breathing to relax is more effective if it is something that you have practiced regularly. There many other stress-reducing practices that you can do every day so that you are always starting from a less-anxious state. With many of these techniques, mastering them also allows you to take some control of your anxiety when it pops up in a stressful moment.

    What does it for me is tai chi. Others find that meditation, nature walks, yoga, fishing, and other relaxation strategies can have this effect. Besides helping you with your test anxiety, such a practice is a good life skill to develop ways of promoting relaxation and reducing stress.

  8. Take lessons in managing stress.

    The one "trick" that does not work to reduce test anxiety is to "just chill out." Managing stress is a skill—and like any skill, you need to learn it somewhere. Many colleges offer workshops and mini-courses in managing stress and reducing test anxiety. There may be other opportunities for such lessons in your community. Look around!

  9. Get professional advice.
    If your test anxiety is severe, this might be where you should start. Many colleges provide professional academic counseling that can help you learn to manage your test anxiety—
    or at least refer you to a professional who can provide you with specific help. Another option is to ask your physician for help or a referral. There are some professional counselors who specialize in test anxiety.

    Professional help can often have a dramatic effect in your life by helping you find the tools you need to reduce test anxiety and improve your academic performance.

Want to know more?

Scan test: David Hartman
Hand writing photo: Lavinia Marin
Tai Chi photo: Rayko Swensson

Friday, November 20, 2015

How the Ears Hear

When studying the rather complex structure and function of the ear and hearing, a picture is probably worth more than the usual exchange rate of a thousand words. But with this particular concept, I think a well designed, narrated animation can be worth a million words. Or perhaps it's just beyond words—making it priceless for learning. 

 Below is a great video that clearly explains the whole story of  auditory transduction—converting sound waves into hearing sensations in the ear.

 Before watching it, I recommend first reading the section of your textbook that covers ear anatomy and hearing, paying particular attention to the diagrams needed to understand the concept. That way, you'll get a lot more out of it!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Time Management is a Key to Success

The A&P course is one of the most rigorous courses you'll ever take—at least in terms of how much new information you'll be learning in a limited period of time.  It really cannot be done successfully unless you actively manage your time.

Simply going with the flow will NOT work for the A&P course!

It's easy to say to yourself, "I need to manage my time better!" but it's quite another to actually do it. Most of us just don't know the best practical techniques to make that happen.

Fortunately, the folks at the Dartmouth Academic Skill Center have put together a brief video that walks you through proven methods for time management in college. Strategies that I've used myself to manage my time to be more productive—and to avoid missing deadlines or falling behind.

And you'll learn that managing your time intentionally actually frees up more time for yourself!

Cartoon credit: dabnotu

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sleep Helps You Succeed

The results of a study by the National Sleep Foundation are just in—and they show that you need more sleep if you want to succeed in your A&P course.

A panel of experts analyzed all of the studies they could find that focus on recommended sleep durations and concluded that adults aged 18-64 should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night for good health.

Good health, for the purposes of the study includes performance, cognitive health, and executive function—all critical to success in your A&P course.

Yeah, I know, it's HARD to get a full night's sleep when you have to work, have family responsibilities, have too much on your plate, want to hang with your friends, have a roommate with insomnia, are too stressed, etc., etc.

However, there ARE ways to get around these issues and improve your sleep times.  Your physician or counselor can help you find sleep strategies that work for you.  This video from Dartmouth's Academic Skills Center may also be helpful to you.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Easter Eggs, Cheats, and the ESRB

I'm not up on the latest video game lingo.  I never got past Pong, which became popular when there weren't enough video games around to generate a whole new language.  But by listening carefully and asking a few questions, I've figured out these terms:

  • Easter egg - An extra little undocumentsed feature hidden away unobstrusively in a game
  • Cheat - This is a trick used to gain extra points or unlock extra powers or otherwise gain an advantage beyond just playing a game "straight"
  • ESRB - This is an organization that rates games for content (age-appropriateness, violence, etc.)

Two of my children are really into video games and when they talk to each other, I don't understand half of what they are saying because they're using all of this video-game lingo that I never picked up.

What does this have to do with your A&P course?  Terminology.  The language of A&P.

You are feeling overwhelmed with all the new terminology you have to learn, right?  And yet you've already mastered the specialized terminology of sports or video games or hobbies or SOMETHING in your life without too much pain—and without your head exploding.

So do the same things you always do to pick up the terminology of A&P:

  • Actively listen for new terms
  • Look at (and learn) new terms before you need them
  • If you run across a term that's unfamiliar, look it up—or Google it
  • Ask for help (your teacher, your classmates, your librarian)
  • Realize that it's going to take a few tries to pick up each new term
  • Don't ignore new terms—you might need it again, and soon

For specific tips on learning the terminology of A&P, check out

If you want some more specifics on the terminology of human science and medicine, check out my other blog o-log-y.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why You Should Write Out Your Notes

You have that great, expensive laptop to use for school.  You see other students taking notes in class, making concept lists, taking reading notes, and other learning tasks on their laptops—so why not do the same?

Here's the reason it's a good idea to skip the laptop and write out your notes:

You learn better when you write it out.  

Our brains just work that way.  If we slow down to write things out, it's easier for all that information to be fully processed by our brains—and makes it more likely that we'll remember it.

Besides that, by using the part of our brains that functions in the act of writing words and drawing sketches, we not only process the information in another way—we have another place in our brain to reinforce and remember the information for the long term.

Sure, if things are going too fast for you to keep up, it's a struggle.  But your brain works to sort out the essential information and how to condense it.  That helps you learn it even better!  If you do write out your notes, you'll struggle less in the long run.

This a great strategy for learning the overwhelming amount of new information you encounter in your A&P course, eh?

Want to know more?

Strategy: Here's Why Writing Things Out By Hand Makes You Smarter

  • D. Baer  Business Insider  DEC. 16, 2014, 10:56 AM
  • A brief article summarizing why this technique works.

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking

  • P. Mueller & D. Oppenheimer Psychological Science January 16, 2014
  • Abstract of a recent research report summarizing experimental results.

Here are some related posts from The A&P Student

Image: Wellcome Trust - William Harvey's lecture notes

Monday, February 9, 2015

How Much of This Is Going to Be on The Test?

You are not the first A&P student to run into this issue!

That’s always a problem—especially near the beginning of A&P 1—figuring out what’s important to study for the test and what’s not.  Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.

First, every teacher is different.  So I could give you some precise guidance if I was teaching your class, but not so much for another teacher’s class. So really, your only option for really focused help in figuring out what'll be on your test is to go have a chat with your professor.

I'll never forget the first time I went to chat with a professor about this back in the olden days when I was a student.  It was after our first test, when it became clear to me that I'd missed the mark in my studying. Our professor was very serious in class—not the sort I would think wanting students bothering him outside of class. But after class, my buddy said "let's go" and led me down the hall.  I thought we were meeting up with another friend or something. But my buddy just walked right into our professor's open office door and asked, "can you help us figure out how to study for your tests?" I don't think I'd ever have visited a professor's office on my own.

You know what happened?  He gave us a huge smile, offered us each a chair, and chatted with us for almost an hour.  And wow, did we learn a lot about what to expect on his tests—as well as some general study tips that I still use to this day.  I think most students hesitate to take this step.

Your professor is the one making up the test, after all.  So bring your notes and your other course materials with you and ask for some pointers.

Before doing that, I would look carefully at the course syllabus.  Often, there are hints (or outright guidance) on what’s important.  One hint would be any course objectives or learning outcomes.  If the instructor put them there, then this is what they want you to know.  The problem is that often they are very general, but at least it gives you a start.  If the syllabus tells you to do specific things to prepare, like answer questions in the book at the end of the chapter, then the teacher expects you to know that particular information.

Then, think about what the professor presents in class, online, and in discussions. Most instructors often say something like, “when you get this on the test, be sure you know it” or some other hint like that.  I tell my students to put a star in their notes EVERY TIME I say something like that.  Because we teachers don’t say that unless we KNOW it’s going to be an item on the test.

If it's too late for that in studying for your upcoming test, you can still go back over your notes and perhaps jog your memory about whether they said anything like that.

I always tell students to ask if there are copies of old tests you can look at.  Sometimes instructors will let you see them, sometimes they won’t.  But you won’t have a chance if you don’t ask.  Looking at old tests helps you figure out an instructor’s approach to testing—a huge step toward preparing for their tests.  The good news is that the more of that professor's tests that you take, the better you will get at taking them.  The bad news is that you may not have really had that chance yet.

Another tip is to form a study group.  Talking things out among several students often helps each of you focus your learning.  Be sure to meet with your study group just AFTER the test, too.  Then, y’all can talk out what happened on the test and look for things that will help you in future tests.  For example, “wow, she tested only on what was on the slides” or “wow, she tested on some things that were not on the slides” or whatever.  That’ll help you prepare for the next test.  Study groups have been shown to be the BEST way to prepare for a test.

Lastly, I’ll tell you that my experience talking to students in A&P classes that come to me wanting to know how to focus their study for a test is that I often give them some specific advice that I didn’t have time to talk about in class.  Sometimes even saying things like, “no, that topic won’t even be on the test” or “there will definitely be a matching section on that concept” or “I’ll ask you to identify the functions of ALL the organelles.”   Make sure you write all that down while you chat.  Or at least do that out in the hall just after leaving your professor's office, so you don’t forget.

So, in a nutshell, talking to your teacher about your next test is the best strategy.

Click here for more tips on taking A&P tests.

Top photo: Creative Ignition
Bottom photo: Tbuckley89

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cells of the Immune System

Cells of the Immune System interactive

Confused by T cells and B cells?

Need help from "helper" cells?

Having bad dreams about natural killer cells?

Do you have an innate fear of immunology?

Then use this FREE interactive overview to help you sort out the "big ideas" of human immunity.

Get your B's and T's straightened out!

Learn how to properly serve up an antigen for supper!

Click here to start! And don't forget to click on the embedded videos—they are very helpful!

To get the maximum benefit from this "click and learn" activity, then fill out this worksheet to solidify your learning.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Heart Song

I've always thought that silly songs are great mnemonic devices in the human sciences.  I've seen them work from kindergarten (remember the ABC song?) and up through medical school (even in pharmacology).

If you find them "catchy" then you'll find yourself repeating them in your head.  Or maybe even out loud.  And that's the kind of thing that helps your brain form long-term memories!

One I recently ran across is in a music video original produced to help 6th-graders learn about the heart.  But it may help you as you begin your study of the heart in A&P!

Watch it here.

Another one is a classic favorite: Pump Your Blood

Want more silly songs?  Check these out!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blood Types

Learning about blood types can be a bit confusing at first.

But the concept of blood types is important for several reasons:

  • Blood typing is used frequently in clinical medicine because the use of blood transfusions is common, and therefore so is blood banking and related activities.

  • Knowing one's own blood type is important for future medical procedures—perhaps even a life-threatening emergency.

  • Concepts of blood typing carry over into other types of tissue typing—a concept useful in transplant medicine.

  • Blood typing is a great introduction to basic concepts of immunology (something you'll be coming to soon in your A&P course) like antigens, antibodies, agglutination reactions, self vs. nonself, and more.

  • It's just one of those things you have to learn in A&P.  Trust us, we know this will be useful to you later on—even if you don't think so now.

Here's a great video that lays out the essential concepts very briefly—in an easy-to-understand way. Sometimes, an explanation that's a bit different than that in your textbook or class discussion helps a new concept "click" in your brain.

Watch the brief video What are Blood Types:

One brief note: the video states that antigens are proteins.  That's often true.  But in blood typing, the A and B antigens are actually sugars.  The Rh antigens are proteins.  Not a big deal—they were trying to keep it simple for you.

Here's a copy of the chart of ABO blood types used in the video.  You may want to copy-and-paste it into your class notes to supplement your learning resources.

Click on the image for other sizes.

Here's a chart showing donor-recipient compatibility for the ABO-Rh combined typing system.

Click on the image for other sizes.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Five Things You Should Do Between A&P 1 and A&P 2

Ah, there's a break between semesters!  You've survived A&P 1 and have temporarily put it—along with everything else related to school—out of your mind.  You even wonder to yourself, "why am I reading THIS?  School is out!"

The answer to that question is, "because somewhere deep inside, I realize that A&P 2 is looming in the near future for me."

Here are five tips for being ready for A&P 2:

  1. Relax and refresh.  It's a break, after all!  Academic calendars purposely have breaks in them to allow you to "take a breather" and get your head out of  your books for a while.  Sort of like dreaming, it gives your brain time to assimilate what you've learned and get ready for the next round.  If you don't take some time for yourself to relax and refresh yourself, A&P 2 won't be so easy for you.

  2. Attend to "real" life.  A&P 1 was more rigorous and time-consuming than you thought it was going to be.  You found yourself putting friends and family "on hold" while you focused on keeping your head above water.  Now's a good time to reconnect.  And explain why you've had to be so focused.  It might also be a good time to make sure they're all on board for another semester or two of not seeing you so much—making them true partners in this "training phase" of your life.

  3. Review what you've accomplished. Take a small amount of time to review what you learned in A&P 1—which was an awful lot!  As I mentioned in #1, this is the time your brain is consolidating all those concepts into something useful.  Something you can take forward with you into later courses—and into your career.  So help your brain along a bit by taking a few minutes each day to skim over a chapter's worth of notes, the illustrations from the book, the chapter summary.  This simple trick can have a huge impact on how much gets into—and stays in—your long-term memory.

  4. Plan your strategy.  Besides the concepts you learned last term, you also learned—perhaps the hard way—that you can't succeed in A&P without a plan.  Now, when the pressure's off, is a great time to figure out how you are going to schedule your life next term.  Actually put it into your Google calendar (or on your whiteboard) now. Then, when your new course starts, you'll have it all mapped out.  This trick gets you in the right frame of mind to start a new semester in a low-stress way!

  5. Preview your next course.  You already have the textbook right?  You know what's coming in A&P 2.  Take just a few minutes each day to skim through the summary material of a chapter in the second half of your book.  I suggest that you start with the new words.  Read them out loud, so your brain is prepared for them next term (this is the best way to learn any new language).  Say the trickier ones—like carbaminohemoglobin—several times, to get the rhythm of the word in your head.  Then skim over a brief or detailed chapter outline.  Then, if you have time and haven't zoned out yet, look over the chapter illustrations.  This trick will give you the "lay of the land" of A&P 2—further reducing stress going forward.
Photo: Ryan Mahle

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ten Exam Strategies for A&P

exam answer sheet
It's close to exam time for many A&P students and you may be a bit anxious about that A&P final, eh?

Here are ten tips for preparing for exams and taking exams that have proven useful for many other A&P students.

  1. Determine what will be on the exam.  Your syllabus or other course resources usually map that out for you,  If not, chat with your instructor.  Ask about the format of the exam: will the questions be of similar style, range, and depth of prior tests?  How many items?  Has your instructor given you any hints about what to expect?

  2. Practice the exam. Use previous tests from the course (if available) to practice the exam. One way to do this is to cut up copies of your tests and draw individual items randomly from an envelope. Sometimes professors will provide a practice exam or copies of some old exams. If not offered, it wouldn't hurt to ask.  Go to for more.

  3. Study with a group. Pooling your thoughts, and helping each other review and practice, work surprisingly well to solidify what you already know and to fill in any gaps. Go to to find out how to find others for group study.

  4. Manage your time well. Don't cram at the last minute . . . do a little preparation each day for a week or more before the exam. Go to for more tips.

  5. Be healthy. Do NOT stay up nights studying . . . sleep deprivation will reduce your ability to perform well. Eat well in the days leading up to the exam. Try to reduce stress.  Exercise (it'll help you think more clearly).  Check out and and

  6. Get to the test in time. Duh-uh, of course you should be there in time. But for the exam, try to get there early. I've seen SO many students cut it close, then something comes up (bad traffic, for example) and they come in LATE. Not only does that cut down the time you have to take the exam . . . you'll be flustered and unable to think clearly.

  7. Skim over the exam before taking it. This will give you an idea of what's ahead and you can use your time wisely.

  8. Don't waste time on something you really don't know. Do all the parts you are confident about. Then use the remaining time to work on the real puzzlers. If you start with the puzzling parts, you won't have time for the parts you know well . . . and you might get flustered and bomb the whole thing.

  9. Double check your responses. Make sure you read the question accurately (a common mistake). Makes sure things are spelled correctly. If you use a scan sheet, make sure you answered on the correct line. If there are complex problems, and you have time, do them AGAIN--just to make sure you got the right answer.

  10. Don't skip anything. Well, if you absolutely run out of time, you have no choice. But if time gets away from you and realize that you have only a few minutes for the remaining items that you'd prefer to take more time with . . . then just "go with your gut" and fill in some fast answers. You'd be surprised how many may turn out to be right (especially if you've prepared yourself well).
Check out this video, too!

There are even more tips at:

Some content has been adapted from prior posts.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Three-dimensional Brain

Having trouble figuring out the shapes and locations of the various parts of the human brain?

Well, join the club!  Even experienced neuroscientists sometimes have to take a moment to wrap their brain around the structures of the brain.

Here's a great tool for helping you see what's what in the brain:

The 3-D Brain from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Besides being a fun way to "dissect" the brain and highlight specific structures, this interactive visualizer also helps you learn and review the names of structures and regions of the brain.

I recommend you add a bookmark for the 3-D Brain to your growing library of A&P resources.  This is one that you'll be using many times, even after you've finished your A&P course.

Thanks to Veneliza Salcedo for this tip!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Your A&P Bookmark Library

As you find tools for learning anatomy and physiology on the internet, be sure to save them for future use!

If you "favorite" or bookmark the URLs of animations, videos, interactives, references, and other resources, then you'll always be able to find them again.

Not just find them tomorrow or next week, but also find those great helps in your next course when you have either review your A&P or delve deeper into it.  And even later, when you are out there working in your profession and have to review or upgrade your knowledge.

When you bookmark your A&P resources, you don't want to just pile them all into the same folder.  You want to create a master "A&P" folder and then put folders for each topic into that master folder.  I suggest using the chapter topics of your A&P textbook as names for your folders.

If you keep your A&P bookmark library organized in folders or subgroups, then you'll find it easy to go back and find any particular URL that need.

As your library of bookmarks grows, then consider subdividing your existing folders or subgroups even further—making easier to navigate to the exact resource that you need.

There are many different ways to bookmark URLs, but the simplest is to use the bookmarking feature of your favorite browser.  Be sure to back up your set of bookmarks, though, so you don't lose all those valuable bits of information!

Here are some bookmarks you'll want to make sure are in your bookmark library:

The A&P Student 


Lion Den—Study Tips & Tools

Kevin's YouTube channel

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Having trouble learning all those facts about the many bones and muscles of the body?

I recently ran across a great set of resources that help you quickly learn the bones and muscles of the body.  A group called Humanatomy, led by teacher Paula Jaspar, has a YouTube channel loaded with short video clips that quickly help you through the parts of the human body's framework.

And they are putting the finishing touches on an iPad game that helps you learn anatomy in a really fun, multisensory way.  You can get the Humanatomy app when it's ready in a few weeks if you contribute to their Kickstarter campaign.

Learning experts tell us that we learn more efficiently (faster and deeper) if you use multiple senses, if you practice in many short spurts, and if you make a game of it.  The Humanatomy approach incorporates all of these ideas in their resources!

To check out their library of FREE videos go to The Humanatomy Channel on YouTube.

To check out their fun app for learning anatomy, go to the Humanatomy Kickstarter page.

You can learn even more by following the Humanatomy blog, where you can also sign up for their free newsletter with learning tips and follow them on Twitter.

Here are a couple of their videos to get you started:

Bones: Elbow Complex

Muscles: Sternocleidomastoid Muscle