Is Medical School Just Memorization? (Explained for Beginners) | Iris Reading
Is Medical School Just Memorization?

Is Medical School Just Memorization? (Explained for Beginners)

Is Medical School Just Memorization?

The mind-boggling medical concepts and difficult-to-visualize human body construction often tempt medical schools to focus on memorization instead of critical thinking. For years, the general public has believed that medical school is all about memorization.

Students aspiring to be physicians or surgeons often get disheartened when they realize their memorization ability is not up to the mark. Hence, many stop chasing their dream and choose a less-demanding profession instead.

It is true that medical schools require a lot of memorization of different biological concepts. Still, understanding, logical thinking, and applying concepts also make up a significant portion of a medical student’s education. 

It is justifiable to say that medical school is 70% memorization and 30% other academic skills.

If you are an aspiring doctor looking for some motivation to get into medical school without feeling bad about your memorization skills, this article has all the help. We will bust the common myths surrounding the medical school and its teaching system and tell you some bonus tips for boosting your memory.

How much does a medical student memorize?

A medical student remembers ten times more than a student at another college. Until graduation, an average medical student learns 30,000 new terms, making for ten new words daily.

There are 206 bones in a human adult, over 700 muscles, 44 nerves, a complex network of arteries and veins, more than 30,000 named diseases, and an uncountable amount of drugs used to treat them. And a medical professional has to spend his years at a medical school memorizing not only all that but also their structures, function, and malfunctions.

So it is pretty understandable if you estimate that almost 70% of medical school is memorization. And especially in the first three years of medical education when your curriculum is mainly studying and significantly less practicing.

People usually estimate that a medical student has to memorize almost ten times more educational materials than people in other colleges. This is because medical education introduces approximately 30,000 new terms to an average student making up for ten new words to learn every day.

So it is clear that a medical student must memorize many new words, names, functions, relations, structures, and other information about several biological things.

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What is more important in medical school, critical thinking or memorization?

The first three years of medical school are all about memorization, while critical thinking takes over in clinical settings.

The starting three years of medical school focus on building a base of students. The teaching revolves around human organs, anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Types, chemical composition, function, and dosages of drugs in pharmacology are also essential subjects that rely considerably on memorization.

After the initial few years, medical students gradually transition to clinical settings where they apply their knowledge to practical scenarios. Memorization also plays an important role here because you cannot use the knowledge you don’t remember. However, critical thinking overtakes a significant portion of a medical student’s brain.

Is memory a cognitive process? Learn here.

Memory-boosting tips for medical school

The future of medical education is now changing for the better. Yes, there is still a lot of focus on memorization, but institutes are now taking the help of technology to make the process easier.

Here are a few tips you can use to boost your memory for medical school:

1. Use mnemonics for medical school lessons

Mnemonics are a fun way to remember the complicated names of drugs, their side effects, organs, nerves, and much more. You must have used them in undergrad life to memorize the colors in the rainbow (VIBGYOR). Medical students use them all the time.

You can find several mnemonics for almost all the lessons you study in medical school. Alternatively, you can use your creative flare to create one on the go. 

However, remembering the mnemonic is a challenge in itself. To overcome this predicament, you should choose the one that resonates with you the most. Associate it with a funny memory. People also tend to remember the ones that have a dirty meaning or that closely relate to a personal incident. Chances are, you can form one that somehow relates to the thing you are creating the mnemonic for, so whenever you come across the term in the exam, you can immediately remember the mnemonic.

Some examples of fun mnemonics are:

Mnemonic Full form
Space Digs Symptoms of depression (sleep disturbance, psychomotor retardation, appetite disruption, concentration loss, energy low, depressed mood, interest loss, guilt, and suicidal thoughts)
Scooby Investigated The Mysterious Scene Muscles of the rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis)
FAST Symptoms of stroke (face looks uneven, arm hanging down, speech slurred, time is crucial)
A wet bed Kidney functions (acid-base balance, water balance, electrolyte balance, toxin removal, blood pressure control, erythropoietin, vitamin D metabolism)
Can Little Girls Speak German Layers of skin (S. Camium, S. Lucidum, S. Granulosum, S. Spinosum, S. Germinativum)

2. Associate new information with images

Another helpful tool for memorizing a complex medical concept is associating it with an exciting vision. 

Our brain is better at remembering visuals than blocks of text. Most medical textbooks use vivid images to help students better picture the anatomical correlations between different organs.

Many memorization experts recommend associating a piece of information with an imaginary emotional scene. Negative stories break the pattern of our brain’s thought process and are easier to recall.

For example, visualizing the circle of Willis as a giant and scary spider, with its legs in place of the vessels, will be easier to memorize.

3. Create stories around concepts

Humans have always been drawn to stories. Storytelling is one of the oldest and most popular ways to remember someone or something. 

Are you stuck on memorizing a complex medical concept? Why not create a story for it? It mainly works in various diseases’ anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Teachers use this art to convey the life cycles of different organisms effectively.

For example: learn the disease cycle of malaria as you would tell a story. Create engaging scenarios that lead to even more interesting ones. 

4. Use flashcards

Flashcards are another handy tool that helps with memorization. You can purchase pre-made ones from a bookstore or make them yourself. Just cut equal pieces of a card sheet, write and draw whatever you are struggling to remember, and cover the cards in a plastic sheet, so they last a long time.

You can use these flashcards to view an image repetitively and remember its name, labelings, and other details. They are also helpful in remembering drugs’ names, their uses, chemical formulas, side effects, dosages, etc.

5. Memory palace (method of loci)

Loci is plural for a locus which means location. The method of loci uses spatial memorization techniques where we retain pieces of information by associating them with specific locations.

For example, you can use just one corner of your room to study everything about renal failure. Then, use areas close to that corner to learn about other renal pathologies. This way, your mind associates a sub-topic with a location and organizes the information orderly. 

It is beneficial when you need to memorize the order of a group of things. You can go from point A to F in your room and memorize each item at every step you take. So when you want to recall something, just picture the path you took.

The loci method also helps store large chunks of information by breaking it down into smaller pieces. For example, it is challenging to remember 090078601 but easier to retain 0900-786-01.

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6. Switching subjects

Many medical students use this technique to switch between various subjects quickly while studying. For example, if they are studying anatomy in the morning, they will study the physiology of the same topic in the afternoon to better retain the concepts and correlate them. 

At a glance, this technique sounds overwhelming, but it puts your memory reps to the test more often and helps you take command over a topic more quickly. Also, many believe doing so helps you memorize information longer than any other technique.

7. Write and draw

Writing down what you just memorized or drawing a picture of it helps you retain it better. The reason is that the brain can process the information in two forms: one that it memorizes plainly, and the other that it experiences being put down on paper. 

The repetition helps our mind grasp the concept better. People also find it helpful to record audio of a lesson and then listen to it on repeat.

8. Combine several methods 

All of the above techniques require you to test and try them to see which one suits you and the topic best. If you want to memorize a piece of information for a lifetime, it is a good idea to try all these techniques for the same topic.

Our brain is like a muscle. The more you use it, the better shape it will get. So it is a good idea to train it in all the different ways.

How to memorize the content of a book? Read here.

9. Self-testing materials

You can get your hands on several self-testing materials online and in a bookstore. This help put your memory to the test and help you improve the areas that need more attention. You can complete learning each topic and then take a self-assessment quiz to spot areas lacking.


The common notion regarding medical schools is that they focus primarily on memorization. While that is true for some parts, modern medical education is rapidly moving towards using technology for a better teaching experience.

However, there are several techniques you can use to boost your memory if you want to survive in medical school. A valuable tool for memorization comes from Iris Reading. It is a digital course designed to train your brain to retain information for longer and perform better in medical school.

Take the memory maximization course today to ace your results in medical school.

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