-Written by:

Sai Lavanya Patnala, Intern, Apollo Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Hyderabad

A Anagha Lakshmi, 4th year, Osmania Medical College, Hyderabad

Madhura Mandlik, Third-year Resident, Department of OBGYN, Seth GS Medical College and KEMH


Learning can be fun but it can also be exhausting and stressful especially when you are a medical student and there is so much to learn.

Although a lot of research on effective learning methods is published, scientifically based learning strategies are not a standard part of the curriculum in medical school. Students are largely unaware of how to learn successfully and improve memory.[1]

Here we discuss various scientific methods and techniques of learning to give you a comprehensive idea of how to learn.


According to Bloom’s taxonomy, knowledge is at the basis of the six cognitive processes. It involves the recall of specifics and universals, the recall of methods and processes, or the recall of a pattern, structure, or setting.[2]

The various types of knowledge used in cognition:

  • Factual Knowledge
    • Knowledge of terminology, specific details, and elements
  • Conceptual Knowledge
    • Knowledge of classifications, principles, theories, models, and structures
  • Procedural Knowledge
    • Knowledge of subject-specific skills, algorithms, techniques and methods and the criteria for determining when to use appropriate procedures
  • Metacognitive Knowledge
    • Strategic Knowledge and Self-knowledge
    • Knowledge about cognitive tasks, including appropriate contextual and conditional knowledge

Learning in medical school can be divided into two forms of knowledge: factual and procedural knowledge. Factual or conceptual knowledge covers “what” information, whereas procedural knowledge covers “how” and “why” information. These facts can be learned by means of reading, building mnemonics, or simple repetition. [3]


The most commonly used methods for effective learning include the testing effect, active recall, and spaced repetition. Testing as an active element of learning is more effective than studying factual knowledge repeatedly. Whenever new information is repeated, an emphasis should be put on active methods of repetition such as free recall.[3] Spaced repetition was first described in the 1880s by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. The key concept is that spacing your studying and self-testing over time as opposed to massing, also known as “cramming,” will flatten your forgetting curve and help you retain information longer.[4]

Here are some modalities, along with examples that can be used to apply these strategies for effective learning:

  1. Flow charts and/or flow diagrams represent each step in a process in a concise flow. Less clutter of words helps ease the process of learning complex or multi-step processes.


-Differential diagnosis for dyspnea+cough

Various changes in QRS Complex

Mechanism of actions of Heart failure drugs

  1. Mnemonics are a fun and easy way to remember all the important pointers related to a condition or a disease process.


  1. Mind Maps are easy, visual maps of important information correlating with a central idea and adding related points around it

Examples: Infant of diabetic mother

  1. Flashcards and sticky notes are the old-school method of spaced repetition especially the factual knowledge that you are more prone to forget. Flash cards can be made with questions on top and answers on the bottom and can also be an effective way of learning by testing oneself. Popular online platforms like Anki, Geekymedics, etc are an easy source of pre-made flashcards effective for everday repetition.


An instructional strategy used to aid in learning important information. Our brain might be tiny but a million neutrons are always firing up when we come across new information. What’s a better way of learning about mnemonics than through mnemonics itself?

A few mnemonics to help you remember…….

Remember to make learning fun. Learning together and helping each other out goes


  1. Augustin M. How to learn effectively in medical school: test yourself, learn actively, and repeat in intervals. Yale J Biol Med. 2014 Jun 6;87(2):207-12. PMID: 24910566; PMCID: PMC4031794.
  3. Schmidmaier R, Eiber S, Ebersbach R, Schiller M, Hege I, Holzer M. et al. Learning the facts in medical school is not enough: which factors predict successful application of procedural knowledge in laboratory setting? BMC Med Educ. 2013;13:28.

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