Study Tips

Med School Life Hacks: Master Your Pharm Exams With a Memory Palace!

Jhinson Moreira
Published on Oct 2, 2020. Updated on Oct 1, 2020.

Feeling uneasy about memorizing an endless litany of pharmacological drugs? Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Jhinson Mendoza has a study hack that will change the way you learn pharmacology. And guess what? It’s backed by science! In today’s blog, Jhinson reviews how to create and use the Memory Palace method to learn every long name in pharm simply and fast.

Study smarter, not harder

Time is going by, and as it does, the number of discoveries and advances we need to learn in medicine continues to grow every day (exponentially)! This doesn’t just include recent developments: each new generation needs to learn a history of terminology alongside this influx of new information. It can feel overwhelming! 

However, on the good side, as we engage in lifelong learning, we discover new ways to improve the systems we currently have in place, whether that’s finding new ways to exercise, new ways to cook—and new ways to learn! 

The science responsible for improving our apprehension of information is learning science, defined as “an interdisciplinary field that works to further scientific, humanistic, and critical theoretical understanding of learning as well as to engage in the design and implementation of learning innovations, and the improvement of instructional methodologies.” 

As you can read in 8 Science-Backed Learning Strategies Osmosis Uses to Help You Study Smarter on the Osmosis blog, there are science-backed methods that can help you to find the best way to either retain or learn while minimizing the struggles of tiredness and boredom. 

Today, I’m going to talk about Memory Palaces and how you can use them to increase your retention and understanding of confusing terminology, specifically with drug names in pharmacology.

What’s a Memory Palace?

This memory technique allows you to connect abstract or confusing concepts with simple concepts by imagining those things in a common physical location. These associations are known as loci, the plural form of locus, which in this context means “the effective or perceived location of something abstract.”

The more visually you learn, the more information you can retain! But why? Like Dr. Yifan Xiao said in his blog, What is a Mind Map?, based on Dr. Sperry’s research, the more you use your “cortical skills” (colors, imagination, lines, daydreaming), the more impactfully you’re able to integrate information. 

Do I have to follow a specific strict process to use a Memory Palace? 

No way! Find a way that works best for you. 

If you’re a visual learner, you can start drawing or just imagining how it would look like if a long and complicated drug name took the form of a typical and common thing you can easily remember. It’s as easy as imagining a character from the video game Halo in a psychiatric hospital taking one pill to treat his schizophrenia to remember that Haloperidol is a first-generation antipsychotic.

If you just prefer relating things that sound alike, go ahead! Imagine the benzodiazepine “Clorazepate,” as a guy called Zep who just ate a lot of salt (sodium chloride). Even if some steps from the original idea of creating loci are missing, all you need is enough information for YOU to remember it. This is your Memory Palace, after all—as the ruler, and you make the rules!


What should I do if I don’t feel creative enough to create my own memory palaces?

A key aspect of the memory palace technique is understanding and remembering the connections between all the different loci you’re creating, whether those are visual images, or sounds, whatever other sensory application you’re using.If you feel that you aren’t good at creating these associations, or that it could take too much of your study time, there is a very effective way to study with memory palaces: use a pre-made memory palace!

Osmosis Pharmacology videos offer excellent explanations of various topics in pharmacology. At the end of each video,  you can find a visual memory palace that will help you to retain information. For example, in the ACE inhibitors, ARBs, and direct renin inhibitors video, you will always remember the big ACE card. This unifying locus makes it easier to remember all the adverse effects of these drugs, their mechanism of action, and other important facts.

So, if you’re struggling to remember the names of all these different drugs, what are you waiting for? A memory palace should be a cool “game-changing” study hack for you! Best of luck out there!


About Jhinson 

Jhinson Moreira Mendoza is a third year medical student at International University of Ecuador (UIDE for short). He hopes to be a great musician, teacher and rheumatologist in the future, sharing knowledge and random fun facts of anything with as many people as possible.

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