Monday, November 26, 2012

Trick to reduce test anxiety

We all get it.  That nervous—sometimes paralyzing—anxiety just before a big exam.  Or worse—we panic and forget even the simplest things during a big test.

Test anxiety.  It’s not just annoying, it can affect your performance.  And your grades!

And final exams are almost upon us.

Recent research has revealed an easy and effective trick for reducing test anxiety during your next big test.  You do this trick just before the test.  I mean in the few minutes you have just before the text begins.  You know, that time you are sitting in the hallway nervously awaiting for the doors to open and the test to begin. Listening to your classmates talk about all that stuff you’re not sure you know well enough.  Frantically going over your notes one last time.  Making yourself a nervous wreck.

OK, so what is this nifty trick?

Journal your anxiety.

What?!  Write out my feelings like in a middle-school diary?

Well, yes—sort of.  Research shows that if you take about ten minutes to write out (not just think about) your feelings at the moment, you’ll feel less anxious during your exam.  And because of that (the research shows) you will do better on the exam! 

On average, students that use this technique raise their grade and average of one whole letter grade.  So even if you think it’s silly, isn’t it worth trying?

Students in a research study reported that by writing out their feelings, they quickly got to a point of calm and confidence.  The writing somehow took the energy out of the anxiety and replaced nervousness with readiness. 

So on exam day.  Get there ten minutes early.  Ignore the raving of your frantic pals.  And just write what’s going through your head.  When the exam starts, you’ll be ready for it.

Want to know more?

Read the story behind this trick:

Testing Anxiety: Researchers Find Solution To Help Students Cope

Check out my advice on breathing to reduce test anxiety:

Don’t forget to breathe!

Need some advice on preparing well for exams?

Previous articles on exam strategies

Brief video on preparing for exams

Another strategy with proven results: 

Tame Test Anxiety: Solid Anxiety Reduction Training



Photo by Josh Davis under CC license

Monday, November 19, 2012

Edraw Mindmap

Making concept maps or "mind maps" is a great way to learn A&P.  It's also a great way to study for your midterm or final exam!

As I've stated frequently in previous posts, a concept map is simply a drawing of a concept.  The simpler the better, so there's no need for artistic skills.

One of my students recently make me aware of another FREE tool you can use to make your own concept maps quickly and easily.  It's called Edraw Mindmap.

If you want to see how it works, check out the Edraw video Make an Effective Mind Map.  This video has a funky robotic narration, but it gives you a quick rundown on how easy the software is to use.  Maybe you should turn off the sound and play your favorite music (the narration simply speaks tips that clearly printed in the video).

Want to know more?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)

Having trouble visualizing the ventricles and canals that contain CSF (cerebrospinal fluid)?   Or the pathway of circulation of the CSF?

Here's a brief animated video that walks you through it all in a simple, straightforward way.

The video uses eponyms and other terminology you may not be using in your course, so here are some translations:
  • ependymal cavity = ventricle
  • foramina of Munro = interventricular foramina
  • aqueduct of Sylvius = cerebral aqueduct (aqueduct of midbrain)
  • foramen of Magendie = median foramen or median aperture (of fourth ventricle)
  • granulations of Pacchioni = arachnoid villi or arachnoid granulations

Click on the image above for a freaky animated MRI (magnetic resonance image) showing the pulsing of the CSF with the hearbeat in aa person with normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH). Image (c) Nevit Dilmen.

For more on differences in terminology, check out my video:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Master the trapezius

One of the most recognizable muscles of the human body is also sometimes the hardest to figure out.  I'm talking about the trapezius muscle.   How can it both elevate the shoulder and depress it?  And also produce so many other diverse movements?

The folks at Visible Body have offered a FREE helper to explore the trapezius.  It called the Trapezius Digital Kit and it provides both a downloadable mini eBook and a downloadable video.

Check out the free "digital kit" here:

Also, try out this video:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Blood typing game

typing blood before a transfusion
Here's a nifty little game that helps you practice applying principles of blood typing.  The game has you type the blood of a series of "patients" then figure out which blood units are appropriate to use in a transfusion.

It's pretty simple IF you know the principles of blood typing.

First, review blood typing in your textbook.

Then try your hand at this game:

If you can't see the game in this blog window, go directly to

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Skull puzzle

The folks at Visible Body are offering a FREE mini eBook that clearly illustrates and summarizes the 22 bones of the skull. 

This handy little gem will help you get started studying the bones of skull and provide a valuable addition to your set of  study resources.  The three dimensional views of the skull will help give you a deeper understanding of the structure of the skull.

It also gives you an introduction to Visible Body's computer-based anatomy study tools.

Check it out at

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blood viscosity and peripheral resistance

Learning about all the factors that affect blood flow can be daunting.  One of the tough things about it is trying to visualize how all the factors influence blood flow.

One factor affecting blood flow is peripheral resistance.  This is the resistance to blood flow in the peripheral vessels . . . the arterioles.

What kinds of things can cause blood to "resist" flowing as freely as possible?  Well, one factor is the viscosity of blood.  One way to think of viscosity is "thickness" of a fluid.  What makes blood thick?  One factor is how concentrated the red blood cells (RBCs) are in each drop of blood.  Is is often expressed as the PCV (packed cell volume) or hematocrit of blood.  The more blood cells there are in a drop of blood, the thicker--or more viscous--the blood is.  And the more it resists flow.

An analogy we can use to visualize this rather abstract concept is any of the classic TV commercials once used by Heinz to promote their ketchup.  Heinz claimed that their ketchup is better than other brands because it has more tomatoes per bottle of ketchup.  And that, presumably, can be demonstrated by the comparative thickness of their ketchup.  In other words, Heinz ketchup is more viscous than some other brands of ketchup.

As the commmercial below demonstrates, the extra thickness  or viscosity of Heinz ketchup means that it will flow at an incredibly slow rate.

So to summarize this analogy:
  • More tomatoes per bottle of ketchup make the ketchup thicker, or more viscous. The higher the viscosity of ketchup, the more it resists flow and thus the slower it will flow out  the narrow neck of a tipped bottle.
  • Likewise, more RBCs per drop of blood make the blood thicker, or more viscous.  The higher the viscosity of blood, the more it resists flow.  This resistance can be significant where the blood vessels narrow at the peripheral vessels called arterioles.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Planes of the body

In a previous post, I addressed that initial struggle with anatomical terminology when beginning a course in anatomy & physiology.  In this post, I'll pick up with another early--but essential--set of concepts: planes of the body.

As with any concept of A&P, one shortcut to understanding is to connect the concept to something simple that you already know about.  Let's see how that could work with anatomical body planes.

For planes of the body, think of them as ways you could slice the body if you had a big giant saw like illusionists use to saw people in half.

If you saw a person so that there is a top part and bottom part of their body, then you’ve cut along a TRANSVERSE or HORIZONTAL plane.  Either term can be used. They both mean the same thing.  It doesn’t have to be equal top and bottom halves . . . ANY separation of top and bottom is a cut along a transverse plane.

If you saw a person into left and right pieces, you are sawing along a SAGITTAL plane.  The word sagittal literally means “relating to an arrow” used in archery.  So imagine shooting an arrow into an apple that is sitting on top of my head . . . and then imagine the apple falling apart into a left and right piece as the arrow slices through it.  That’s a sagittal cut . . . a cut along a sagittal plane.

If the sagittal plane is exactly in the middle, dividing the body along its midline into equal left and right halves, we call that plane a MIDSAGITTAL plane.  If instead the plane is off to one side or another, splitting the body into unequal pieces, it’s simply called a SAGITTAL plan.

If you saw a person into front and back pieces, you are cutting along a FRONTAL plane or CORONAL plane. 

Again, seeing this visually is a good idea. 
  • First, study the images of body planes in your A&P textbook and lab manual. If you are using one of my textbooks or manuals, you can find a handy diagram  of the planes of the body just inside the front or back cover.    By looking at many different diagrams, you'll get a better understanding of the essential concept of body planes . . . as well as plenty of practice.
  • Try constructing a three-dimensional "paper doll" model that resembles the diagram shown here.  Or any kind of simple, hands-on model.  Such activities may seem like a childish project, but it engages many parts of your brain and thus strengthens your learning . . . and your memory.
  • Here's a great YouTube video outlining the concept of body planes:

  • You may find this FREE mini-course to be helpful.  It's called simply Anatomical Directions and it's provided as a free service from Insight Medical Academy. It requires a free registration to use the course, so be sure to register before trying to access the course.  Here's a brief video explaining how the free course works.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Anatomical directions

When starting out in A&P, it's important to get a good grasp of how we talk about directions in the human body.  That's so that we can get down to business and really start describing human structures.  Describing them in a way that is accurate enough to be really clear on where those structures are in the body.

The problem is that most of us feel overwhelmed when a long list of rather foreign terms and concepts seem to suddently fall on top of us and make it hard to breathe!

A good approach is to stay calm and look for ways to connect these ideas to simple concepts that are already familiar to us. Following are some examples to get a good start.

Think of the directions of the body as you would ordinary directions like UP, DOWN, FORWARD, BACKWARD, etc.:

  • Superior UP
  • Inferior DOWN

  • Anterior FORWARD
  • Posterior BACKWARD



Notice that the directions above are grouped into opposite pairs.  This is a good way to think of them . . . as pairs of opposites.

Now try the same with these directions:

  • (Anatomical) Left
  • (Anatomical) Right

  • Dorsal
  • Ventral

  • Cortical
  • Medullary

Now look at the diagrams showing anatomical directions in your A&P textbook and lab manual.  If you are using one of my textbooks or manuals , you can find a handy diagram along with a list of direction terms just inside the front or back cover.  My books and manuals also use a an anatomical compass rosette in every illustration, pointing you in the right direction just like the compass rosette found on any ordinary map.

Then try to find similar diagrams by doing an internet image search for "anatomical directions." The more diagrams you look at, the more it will become clear how the directions are used.

Next, try searching for some YouTube videos that explain the anatomical directions of the body.  Here’s a really good one:  

But this is just the beginning.  To truly understand them . . . and to be able to recall them quickly and easily as you must during your A&P course . . . you need to PRACTICE using them.  How you ask?  Aha! I have some strategies that are both fun and effective:

  • Start using them in every conversation.  Explain to your friends or family that the remote is superior to to the television screen but you are about to move it to a position inferior to the screen.  Explain that your pocket is on the lateral side of your jeans.   "Hey look, my shoelaces are dorsal!"  Yes, it's goofy.  But that's part of what makes it effective.  And your friends and family will love helping you study.  Really. The important thing is to do it frequently and throughout  each day . . . until you have reached total mastery.
  • Label your body.  Yep, you read that correctly.  Remember when you were a little kid and you labeled one shoe "left" and one shoe "right" so you could learn your left from your right?  What?! You didn't do that?   Well, if you had then you'd have learned that lesson far more quickly.  Well, here's your chance!  Pin "proximal" and "distal" labels on your sleeve.  Pin a "superior" label on your hat.  Then add an "anterior" label to the front of your hat and a "posterior" label on the back.  Yes, another goofy strategy.  But it's one that works, while also letting others join in the silliness.
    • An extra advantage of this strategy is that when folks see the labels and ask about them, you will be reminded to practice them.  "Oh yeah, I forgot about those labels.  Here, let me explain them to you."  Both the reminder and your explanation of each one will continue to give you the practice you need to master your anatomical directions.
  • Use flash cards to practice anatomical directions.  If you're not already familiar with the many ways to use flash cards to quickly and thoroughly learn anatomical concepts and terminology, check out my many posts describing this method

 In an upcoming post, I'll follow up with some strategies for learning the planes of the body.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

10 tips for studying the skeleton

One of the first major challenges in learning A&P is learning all the bones and bone features of the human skeleton.  Many students have not had much experience in memorizing physical structures to be identified by sight.

This video from my friend Paul Krieger is a good place to start.  It summarizes some of the basic shortcuts and tips that will help you learn the human skeleton . . . tips that will help you learn any anatomical structures of the human body.

Here are some additional links related to Professor Krieger's "10 tips"

Here's another resource from Professor Krieger that my own students find to be very helpful in learning the human skeleton as well as other concepts of A&P

A Visual Analogy Guide to
Human Anatomy & Physiology

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Protein folding game

A&P students should be aware of the basic elements of protein folding:

Your textbook describes how the primary structure (a sequence of amino acids determined by the genetic code) is folded into a twisted and pleated secondary structure, then folded again into a complex tertiary structure.  Sometimes, tertiary proteins are combined to form quaternary proteins.  Sort of like origami, but way more useful. And way tinier.

I'd like to mention a interesting phenomenon related to protein folding and "citizen science" using an online game called Foldit.  

The Foldit game is an online puzzle game in which anybody can try their hand and finding which way a given protein folds most efficiently.  Interestingly, this has proven to yield useful results for biochemists not obtainable by traditional methods.

If you like video games . . . and the idea of actually contributing to scientific knowledge intrigues you . . . why not try your hand at Foldit?

Want to know more?
Online Gamers Achieve First Crowd-Sourced Redesign of Protein
Jessica Marshall & Nature magazine
Scientific American Online January 22, 2012
[Brief article about recent redesign of a protein by online gamers using Foldit. Original paper published in Nature Biotechnology]

Foldit Online Protein Puzzle
Scientific American Citizen Science accessed 23 January 2012
[Brief description of the online game Foldit and the goals of the project.]

Foldit - Solve Puzzles for Science
[Direct link to portal for the game Foldit]

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Homeostasis: life on the wire

A couple of weeks ago, I watched the live broadcast of Nik Wallenda's walk across a high wire suspended above Niagara Falls.  I've been a fan of the famous Wallenda family ever since I saw Karl Wallenda cross a high wire suspended above the baseball stadium in St. Louis. In my A&P classes, we often use the image of a Wallenda on a high wire as a model to help us understand a central concept of physiology . . . homeostasis.

This "Wallenda model" of homeostasis teaches us that to stay alive and well, our body must remain in "balance."  That is, our internal environment is at risk every moment . . . risk of losing the delicate balance of "just right" conditions inside our body that keep us functioning.  If we lose that balance, as Karl Wallenda (Nick's great grandfather) did in the late 1978, then we die.

Like a Wallenda's position on the wire, any physiological variable (any condition in our body that may change) has an ideal range called the set point. The oxygen content of our blood has an ideal range that keeps us healthy, just as the position of a wire walker's center of gravity must remain within a narrow range to stay on the wire (and thus alive).

When a wire walker is affected by wind, rain, distraction--as was Nik during his recent wire walk--this pushes the variable (body position) away from the set point.  If the wire walker reverses the shift by moving left when the body starts to fall to the right, then the set point position is recovered and all is well.  Likewise, when exercise causes a fall in blood oxygen content, the set point can be recovered by an increase in breathing rate . . . thus reversing the fall in blood oxygen content.

Such recovery by sensing a shift away from set point, then responding to the shift by reversing the direction of a disturbance, is called negative feedback.  This is a basic principle of how the body's organs function to keep us alive . . . they continually work to reverse disturbances to the balance of the body.

If you want to learn more about how to use my Wallenda model of homeostasis to understand the balance of the body, check out these resources:

Survival Guide Anatomy & Physiology: Tip, Techniques, and Shortcuts
Kevin Patton
Elsevier Publishing
[Includes a complete rundown of the Wallenda Model of Homeostasis]

Mini Lesson: Homeostasis
Kevin Patton
Lion Den
[Outline summarizing homeostasis.  Includes three different models to help in understanding the balance of the body, including the Wallenda Model.]

Wallenda Model
Kevin Patton
Lion Den Slide Collection
[Animated PowerPoint-compatible slide summarizing some points of the Wallenda Model.]
"Life is always on the wire.  The rest is just waiting."
Karl Wallenda
Photo (c) dpape

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


T-charts are a simple way to help visually organize concepts when studying anatomy and physiology.  T-charts are a type of graphic organizer or concept map.

Basically, you just take a sheet of paper and draw a huge T on it. Above the crossbar of the T, write a title for your chart.  Then just below the title, create a title on each side of the crossbar.  These are headings for what each area (left and right) below the crossbar will contain.

Then fill in the spaces below the two sides of the crossbar.

 Fill them in with what, you say?  Glad you asked!

The sky is the limit, but here are some ideas (with simple examples). 
  • Put new terms on one side and their definitions on the other.
    • Example: nucleus; central membranous structure of cell containing DNA
    • Example: diffusion; tendency of particles to spread out and reach an equilibrium of concentration
  • Put the names of organs on one side and their functions or descriptions on the other.
    • Example: small intestine; digestion and absorption of nutrients
    • Example: kidney; filtering and balancing of blood plasma, resulting in the formation and excretion of urine
  • Compare/contrast two functions by putting on each side.
    • Example: anaerobic pathway; aerobic pathway
  • Organize structures or functions by area or type.
    • Example: humerus; upper extremity
    • Example: brain; central nervous system
  • List two divisions of a system or organ
    • Example: central nervous system; peripheral nervous system
    • Exampl: sympathetic division; parasympathetic division

Want to know more?

[A FREE online tool for fast and easy creation of T-charts.]

T-chart graphic organizers
[Blank, printable T-charts in a variety of styles. FREE.]

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Say it 18 times

Want to learn your A&P terminology quickly and easily?  In a recent post, I told you that one way to do that is to work on six new words every day.  My friend Jane, the foreign language professor, gave me another tip to help learn new terminology: say each new term out loud at least 18 times.

Apparently, there's evidence suggesting that to "own" a new word, you have to say it out loud at least 18 times.  The vocalization, along with the repetition, apparently help to reinforce memories in the various language areas in your brain.  Which means that you can recall and use the terms easily.

I know that seems silly . . . even childish.  But think about it.  Silly as it may seem, isn't it worth reducing your study time and improving your knowledge quickly?

Want to know more?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Heart attacks in women

Tomorrow is National Wear Red for Women Day!

In the past, heart disease and heart attack have been predominantly associated with men. Historically, men have been the subjects of the research done to understand heart disease and stroke, which has been the basis for treatment guidelines and programs. This led to an oversimplified, distorted view of heart disease and risk, which has worked to the detriment of women.

Because women have been largely ignored as a specific group, their awareness of their risk of this often-preventable disease has suffered. Only 55 percent of women realize heart disease is their No. 1 killer and less than half know what are considered healthy levels for cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol. The Go Red For Women movement works to make sure women know they are at risk so they can take action to protect their health.

To help spread awareness at a time that many of you are studying the heart's structure and function, I'm sharing this brief video:

Need help studying the cardiovascular system? 

See previous helps posted in this blog!

[Text source:]

New look!

Your favorite blog for A&P students is now sporting a new look!

The new design is easier to read, easier to navigate, and easier to potty train.  It also facilitates sharing on social media (see the icons below each post on the blog).

Have comments on the new design?  Click the COMMENTS link below this post on the blog, OK?  I want to hear from you!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Six a day

As you begin a new anatomy and physiology course, you will likely feel a bit overwhelmed with the flood of new terminology.  Or a lot overwhelmed with all the new terms.

However, it need not be as big a struggle as you might first think.  There are some tricks and shortcuts . . . and I'm here to let you in on a few of those.

Today's tip comes from my friend Jane, who is a very talented professor of foreign language.  She told me that research as shown that most people can easily learn five to seven new words a day.  That is, if you work at it, you can add about six new words to your vocabulary each day without too much trouble.

That doesn't seem like a lot, but if you spend a few minutes a day you can easily pick up about 45 new terms a week.  That's over 700 new terms in a semester!

But of course, the trick is to put a little bit of effort into every single day.  Simply make yourself six or seven new flash cards, each with a new term, every day.  Review them for  just a few minutes, but do that several times throughout the day.

Don't forget to spend a few minutes reviewing your cards from the days before . . . you don't want to forget those new terms.

If you make this a habit, then you'll find that those few minutes a day can really make a huge difference in your mastery of the terminology of A&P.

Here are some more tips to help you get started learning the terminology of A&P:

There's more! 

Click here to browse my many tips for mastering the terminology of A&P.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why be honest?

What if your health professional
cheated their way through school?
As you begin a new semester of anatomy and physiology, the notion of academic integrity is worth thinking about.

What is it? Academic integrity is the honesty with which you participate in your course and other learning activities.

Characteristics of students with academic integrity include:
  • Honestly represent personal work as their own. These students do not copy the work of others and represent it as their own work. 
  • Communicate with the instructor and others truthfully. These students do not make false statements about computer failures, family emergencies, etc., in order to extend deadlines, excuse absences, or gain sympathy.
  • Engage other students with integrity. These students do not enable academic dishonesty by illicitly providing test answers or other academic assignments to other students. They do not "look the other way" when they observe dishonesty, but instead report it to the instructor.
The main reason you want to be honest in your anatomy and physiology course is that you need to learn these concepts. A&P is the foundation of everything else you will encounter in your professional training program and your career. If you use dishonest shortcuts to give the illusion that you have learned more than you actually have, then you will be under-prepared for the rest of the course and the rest of your academic program. It's likely that you won't be able to successfully begin your career.

If you get through your program by cheating, which is not very likely, you may later cause death or illness in a client! How? Because there will be concepts missing from your professional knowledge base.

Now is a great time to develop an ethical, professional mindset. And that mindset MUST include integrity because this is so important for health professionals. You don't want to set yourself up for  failure as a professional and as a person, do you?

Research shows that people who practice dishonesty become more dishonest over time. Yikes. Apparently, it's so easy to get in the habit of cheating that it soon becomes part of who you are and what you always do! Don't let that happen to you . . . it will only cause misery.

A few more reasons students want to practice integrity in the A&P course:
  • They want to avoid the risk being removed their course, removed from their school, or (later) having their degree rescinded when their cheating is discovered.
  • They want their credentials from their course and their college/university to be "worth something" . . . and the credentials won't be worth much if integrity is not the norm.
  • They don't want to be one of the folks listed in the professional newsletters that have been censured, suspended, license revoked, jailed, sued, etc., for offenses that are essentially failures of integrity. Often, the listed offenses are supposedly "one time, this won't hurt anyone, itty-bitty" cheating incidents, as often claimed by the offenders.
  • They don't want their classmates caring for their family and friends (or handling their health records) if their classmates made it through school by cheating, even a little.
  • They want to be prepared fully for the next class, the next program, the next profession. And you cannot be fully prepared if you have pieces missing from your training.
  •  They don't want to be known by their colleagues, friends, and teachers as a cheater.
  • How will they find folks to give them acceptable references if they are known to be dishonest?
When it comes right down to it, you should ask yourself . . . what kind of person do I want to be? You'll sleep better every night for the rest of your life having made the better choice about integrity. This is a big deal when you are older and suffer from insomnia. Just wait.

You may want to review my prior article Why are you here? addressing the importance of learning everything you can in A&P . . . rather than just trying to get through it.

Updated September 2017

Trust image: Lukas Plewnia