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Study Smarter, Not Harder: 3 Learning Strategies for Vet Techs

by Cathy Barnette - January 23, 2019 at 9:00 AM
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If you’re like most vet tech students, you probably spend a lot of time studying. How much thought have you given, though, to the actual process of learning?
Learning a new fact involves several components. First, information must be encoded, or ingested and organized for storage. Next, the information is stored in short-term or long-term memory. Finally, the information can be retrieved for use at a later time. 
Effective encoding can make a big difference in your ability to store and retrieve information. 
Many of us study primarily through rote rehearsal. We might read and reread our course notes and textbook, or repeat a list of items to ourselves over and over again. While this can be helpful, rote rehearsal is not considered a very effective method of encoding. 
Here are three encoding strategies that can help you study more easily and effectively:

1. Chunking

Organize and group information into chunks, instead of learning a series of separate facts. Chunking allows information to be stored in the brain more easily, increasing the likelihood that you can later recall that information. 
If you are studying pharmacology, for example, think about classes of medications, instead of learning each drug individually. Mentally grouping antibiotics, anticonvulsants, NSAIDs, etc., focusing on similarities and differences between the individual drugs in each class, is more effective than studying individual medications. 
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2. Mnemonics

When most of us think of mnemonics, our mind goes to acronyms. You may have heard the following mnemonic (or a different version) for the twelve cranial nerves: 
On Old Olympus’s Towering Top, A Friendly Viking Grew Vines And Hops.
Mnemonics include any mental tricks or shortcuts used to aid memory. When you first learned to distinguish right and left, you may have learned that holding your left hand up with the thumb extended makes an “L.”
When learning to distinguish between the terms pronate and supinate, you might learn that “supinate” sounds like “SOUPinate;” turning your hand palm-up, or supination, allows you to carry or receive a bowl of soup. 
Any time that you can associate a mnemonic with new information, the likelihood of successfully recalling that information increases. 

3. Self-referencing 

Self-referencing involves relating new information to yourself, which enhances memory. When learning about a disease that you have experienced, for example, that information is more memorable than information without a personal connection. 
When information doesn’t have an obvious association with your life, you can draw a connection by artificial means. 
  • When learning about a medical condition, take the time to visualize what it would mean for your life if you pet had that condition. How would your pet’s appearance change? How would your daily routine change? What effects might it have on your finances? What decisions would you have to make regarding care?
  • When learning the side effects of a medication, see if you can draw parallels with medication side effects that you have experienced in the past. 
  • Imagine that you are responsible for teaching course information to your classmates. Study from that perspective, planning your presentation, and practicing your delivery.
Although these techniques might sound time-consuming, they encourage deep processing of the information. This means that you’re more likely to learn information the first time that you study it, making your studying more effective and efficient. 
And also, check out the content offer, “How to Tackle Studying in the New Year”  for more information on learning strategies. 
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About Cathy Barnette

Cathy Barnette is a practicing small animal veterinarian, freelance writer, and contributor to XPrep Learning Solutions. She is passionate about both veterinary medicine and education, working to provide helpful information to veterinary teams and the general public. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature with her family and leading a Girl Scout troop.

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