Spaced Repetition

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

“Repetition opens doors, you know?” 
― Tim LucasThe Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula

I've found myself stuck in a pickle. Am I the only one who has problems recalling things learnt during the first two years of medical school? For me it seems as if the minute after sitting a final examination all of that information I studied and took the time to understand during the semester undergoes automatic deletion.

Lately, I noticed that most articles which appear in my inbox these days relates in some form or another to spaced repetition. What's that you ask?

Well spaced repetition according to Wikipedia is defined as "a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect." It is applied in contexts where the learner "must acquire a large number of items and retain it indefinitely." Seems like this would be the medical students best friend.

For the first year and a half of medical school I have had to adjust my studying techniques (about 3 times) in order to study smarter and to improve recall as well as my examination performance.  Now that I've completed my pre-clinical years and using my summer vacation to transition to the paraclinical years, I decided to investigate this technique called spaced repetition and to see how I can use this to improve my recall and understanding of things I've learned thus far.

During my neuroscience course we were taught all about the functioning of the brain and how memory works. In biochemistry we learnt that long term memory lasts "days to weeks" and from "weeks to a lifetime." It is enhanced by repetition which requires RNA and protein synthesis and the creation of new synapses. Thanks to plasticity our brain undergoes long lasting functional changes thanks to our learning of new information or when new information is memorized. Our physiology lecturer stressed the importance of repetition and of course SLEEP if the information we are learning is to be permanently stored in our brain.

I mentioned here what I planned on doing this summer as a means of studying and reviewing material from my first two years. To that timetable I am going to add a few hours of "video" watching and "flashcard" review as a way of using the technique of spaced repetition.

How are you spending your summer? Do you use spaced repetition to improve your recall? What techniques do you use to study? Are you preparing for clinical years?

Photo credit: Private Eyes, I'm Watching U via photopin (license)

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