USMLE Review Tips: Prerequisites for Long-Term Memory

Reference & EducationCollege & University

  • Author Gerald Faye Johnson
  • Published September 5, 2011
  • Word count 419

As with many memory processes utilized in USMLE reviews, meaningfulness, organization, and elaboration facilitate storing information in memory. Meaningfulness is important because meaningful information can be easily associated with pre-existing information in memory. Consequently, less rehearsal or USMLE review effort is necessary, which saves space and time of information in working memory.

To better see the role of meaningfulness in memory and comprehension, consider the following passage:

Apply distal traction by using your non-dominant thumb. This is an important point that is often overlooked. Traction stabilizes the vein and prevents it from "rolling" during the procedure. The catheter is gripped between the thumb and middle finger of the dominant hand. The needle is inserted bevel up with an initial angel of entry that is approximately 15-30 degrees.

Without prior knowledge, this passage is difficult to comprehend and store in memory because relating it to existing knowledge in memory is hard to do; however, knowing that it is about intravenous fluid insertion makes remembering and comprehension a lot easier. In fact, students who know the topic can recall it about twice as much compared to those who were unaware of it.

Organization facilitates storage because well-organized material is easier to relate to pre-existing memory networks than poorly organized material. To the extent, those materials that are organized into a hierarchical arrangement, provides a ready structure to be accepted into your long-term memory bank. Without an existing long-term memory network, creating a new long-term memory network is easier with well-organized information than with poorly organized information.

Elaboration, or the process of adding information to material to be learned, improves storage because by elaborating information, medical students may be able to relate it to something they know. Through this process, the material may be quickly linked with information in memory. For instance, in preparing for a Step two USMLE CK or Step two CS, your mentors would start to emphasize the importance of establishing rapport in the initial clinical interaction with your patient. Medical students can elaborate that knowledge by relating it to their personal knowledge of effective communication.

These processes make it easier to connect the new information you gained from the USMLE review. As such, being a passive review attendee means you are not working on developing your long-term memory bank. By active participation in the review discussions, you are better able to organize your previous knowledge and integrate it with the new information and then commit to your long-term memory – a much needed resource during the actual USMLE boards.

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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