Bathroom Osmosis & Moonwalking with Einstein
When I was studying for the Fellowship exam I was overwhelmed by the amount of information I had to cram into my little brain, and frequently would read a list or a summary, and promptly forget it. I found I needed repetition to get these facts cemented in my brain, but going over and over lists while sitting at a desk was excruciatingly boring, and time consuming. So I began to think about all of the “dead time” I had during the day and how I could put this to better use. I figured if I could read one list every time I had a shower (average once/day), brushed my teeth (twice/day), and went to the toilet (say, 3 times a day at home), that’s at least six lists per day I could read, with essentially no effort. If you do this every day for 6 months before the exam, that’s over 1,000 exposures to your lists. Add to this lists on the fridge (how many times a day do you open your fridge? At least 4 or 5 right?!) and you can double that exposure.
So I set about plastering my bathroom with lists. Causes of a non-anion gap metabolic acidosis, management of Digoxin toxicity, ECG changes of hyperkalaemia… if it could fit on a post-it note or a 5 x 4″ index card, I stuck them all over the bathroom mirror, the shower and in front of the loo. There was no system to it, just randomly pick a list, and read it a few times whilst brushing my teeth, having a wee, or standing in the shower. (Tip: put the lists on the outside of the shower glass facing inwards – so they don’t get wet). I made them all a bit different, used bright colours & highlighters for the ones I had trouble remembering which made them much easier to picture later on.
I found that when I was writing answers to practice questions, I didn’t just remember the lists, but I could picture them, in detail, in the exact spot on the wall where they were. The familiar surroundings and constant repetition had seared them into my memory. I think this is a similar practice to the “memory palaces” described by Joshua Foer in Moonwalking With Einstein. ( Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything )
I could picture myself walking into the bathroom, looking up to the top right corner of the mirror and see the list for “causes of QTc prolongation”.
My wife, and our friends who came over and used the bathroom, initially thought I was crazy. But eventually our friends came to love the lists too, as they’d come out saying “I love using the loo at your house, I always learn something when I’m in there!”
Learn to like the sound of your own voice:
I also did a lot of driving to tutes, teaching sessions, practice exams and clinical practice sessions during my exam prep year, not to mention all the usual driving to work, shops etc. This was more “dead time” that I wasn’t learning anything in, so I started reading my lists out loud and recording it onto my computer, saving it as an .mp3, adding it to a playlist in iTunes, and uploading it to my phone, so I could listen to the lists whilst driving. Even doing this once or twice a day meant I had hundreds of more exposures to the lists that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. There’s loads of free audio recording software for Mac & PC, just Google “free audio recorder”, or use the built in Voice Recorder on your iphone, it’s so easy, and will really drive those hard to remember lists into your brain.
So if you’re like me, and don’t have a photographic memory, get narcoleptic when trying to read lists whilst sitting at a desk, or just want some variety in your study routine, then start using the passive learning techniques I’ve described above, and I guarantee you’ll improve your recall and your exam marks!