Tips for Success in Anatomy Lab
- Find more time in your schedule. This may require dropping other activities or courses. The anatomy lab is widely considered one of the most difficult courses in the IPHY program. (Also, the muscle unit is the most difficult because of the extra information you need to learn.) You cannot expect things to change simply by willing them to change and feeling motivated. There must be a measurable change in your study habits. In most cases, adding more study time can make a difference. I suggest keeping a log of how many hours you studied each day.
- Most of your studying should take place outside of lab. Just because the lab materials are not available outside of lab, does not mean that you cannot study in other ways. The bulk of the mental challenge before you is memorizing the terms. That is a task that is best accomplished on your own time. For many people, learning to correctly spell a long term, and avoiding confusion with similar terms, is an enormous task, and they underestimate the effort and time required. The second half of studying, in most cases, is easier: Now that you have memorized the terms, can you correctly link them to an image of the structure? Although practice in the lab with three-dimensional materials is valuable, even here there's a lot you can do to practice outside of lab. Use the materials on Mastering A&P; the quizzes are available (without credit) even after the deadlines. Use the textbook, mini-atlas, or model atlas, covering the labels with sticky notes or your finger. There are also excellent videos on D2L that present the structures very much like how we show them in the lab.
- You need to be testing yourself frequently in the days and weeks leading up to the lab practical. This can take a number of forms. The practice questions we set up on Review Day are really just to show you what the questions physically look like (i.e. the colored tape, pins, pipe cleaners or whatever that are used). What you should be doing outside of class is practicing looking at an image (see #2 above for some suggestions) and writing out the complete name of the structure with perfect spelling. If you cannot do this, then you will not succeed on the exam; it's that simple. So do this weeks ahead of the exam so you can expose gaps in your knowledge and have time to remedy them. It is human nature to not want to have our weaknesses exposed, but if you conceal or ignore them then they are just going to continue and will sink your chances of succeeding on the exam. Make a note of difficult items (e.g. add a star or circle it in the lab manual) and come back to them repeatedly in different study sessions until it sinks in.
- One thing that is difficult to replicate in your practice is the fact that it is easy to confuse certain terms with each other on exams. To highlight this, you should make lists of similar terms. Also, try to get a classmate to test you on these terms (e.g. have them point to a coracoid process to make sure you don't spell it "coronoid process").
- Be aware that the TA and UGTA are fallible and due to time limitations we may occasionally fail to show you everything of significance in the lab, and we will occasionally make mistakes. Exam questions are written by the Lab Coordinator and are based on the text portion (text, lists, tables) in the lab manual. Do not neglect to learn facts that are buried within paragraphs in the lab manual. Figures in the lab manual have no special significance (i.e. sometimes extra structures are labeled on them that you don't need to know) and are merely there as a convenience. Realize that it is your responsibility to correctly learn everything in the text portion and to seek out any and all models and cadaver material visible in the lab that may be relevant for the exam.
- Often there are mnemonics that can make the information easier to remember. Keep an eye on the whiteboard for useful mnemonics in the minutes before lab begins. For the muscles unit, I have created a large number of mnemonics and simplified diagrams at http://spot.colorado.edu/~saul/anatomy/ -- see "muscles 1" thru "muscles 5". Unfortunately, the lab manual content has continued to change since those pages were created, so you will need to ignore items that are no longer covered in the course. Often, the mnemonics you create yourself will be most helpful. Some mnemonics are very easy to devise, for example some structures are already in alphabetical order. In many cases, it is helpful to memorize not only the terms themselves, but also the number of items you need to know. For example, if you know that muscle X has 3 origins, at the exam (or while practicing) once you have remembered 3 origins you will know you have not left anything out.
- In general, the more redundant memory traces for a given fact, the more likely you will be able to recall the fact. Since exams are handwritten and recall-based, practicing by writing out the terms clearly is essential. But in addition, you should verbally speak the terms. Also, teach the structures to another student (e.g. explain where they are, and then point and ask). Also, try making diagrams or rough sketches of the structures. Do not think of these are art projects, but more like the type of stick-figure diagram you might use to show a friend how to find your apartment. The motor memory involved in the act of indicating structures visually will add another redundant memory trace, and this will also help you build up an internal mental model of how the structures are positioned relative to one another.
- A lot of anatomical terms are basically just Latin or Greek translations of how we would describe them with common English language. Certain word roots are extremely common in the lab, and you should learn them as well as the terms in the lab manual. The Marieb anatomy textbook has word roots listed in the endpapers. Only learn the ones that you encounter in the lab.
- Prepare in advance so you can use your lab time effectively. Learn the material as much as you can before coming into the lab. You will need to plan ahead and give yourself more time to prepare than you have in the past. If you come in knowing the terms already, you can concentrate more on what's actually presented and are more likely to absorb any tips or explanations offered by the TAs.
- Don't assume that what works for your friends will work for you. Often I have seen two students study together, and one excels and the other fails. You need to find what works for you, which probably includes some of the techniques listed above. However, studying with friends can be very helpful as well, because many people learn best by teaching to others.
- On the exam, read each question at least twice and make sure you are answering the exact question being asked! Answer to the highest level of specificity appropriate for the way the item is tagged. Don't add extra information beyond what the question asks, because any wrong information you've thrown in will make the whole answer wrong. Make sure you write the complete name of the structure and didn't leave out any words. Write large and clearly enough that you or an objective observer can judge whether you have spelled the term correctly (and this holds true also for your time testing yourself before the exam).
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