USMLE Review Facts: Working to Long-Term Memory

Reference & EducationCollege & University

  • Author Gerald Faye Johnson
  • Published September 5, 2011
  • Word count 423

A medical student who's eagerly preparing for the USMLE Steps may ask, "If all I need is long-term memory, what will happen if during the USMLE review I can only process short or working memory? Will I not pass the USMLE boards?"

Factual knowledge includes beliefs, facts, opinions, generalizations, theories, hypotheses, and attitudes about oneself, others, and world events. You acquire this when new information is stored in your long-term memory bank. Long-term memory is represented in chunks and comprises basic information plus related categories.

Human beings store information as follows:

  • Receives new information;

  • The new information is translated into one or more data in your short or working memory bank. At the same time, related data in your long-term memory bank are cued;

  • The new data are associated with the related data in the working memory. At this point, you generate new data or knowledge;

  • All the new data or information – those you received and generated are stored together in the long-term memory bank.

Even when you have studied related materials, you may not be able to automatically link it with new information. Often the links need to be made explicit. Storage problems can occur when medical students have no pre-existing information with which to link the new information.

Students who have not heard of Kawasaki disease and do not know what it is will draw a blank when they hear the word for the first time. Conceptually meaningless information can be stored in long-term memory, but medical students learn better when new information is related to something they know. By mentioning John Travolta's son who has had Kawasaki disease when he was 2 years old, the term Kawasaki disease, with its signs and symptoms will be better understood and committed to the long-term memory bank of the medical students.

Information sharing a common element is linked in long-term memory bank only if they are active in working memory simultaneously. This point helps to explain why medical students fail to see how new material is related to an old material, even though the link is clear to the professor or the USMLE review mentors.

So the next time you encounter a disease you heard the first time you want to remember it, try looking for something in your past experiences or anything that could stir you to associate the new topic with. It is this simple: you heard someone planning to take a vacation after passing the USMLE Steps – and all the things you will do when vacation comes parading in your mind.

Gerald Faye Johnson is an Educational Content Consultant for various Step One USMLE Reviews produced by Apollo Audiobooks, LLC and Premedical Solutions, LLC. You can find the source interview podcast for this USMLE 1 resource at our website.

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