Neuroscience. Just the word is intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be!
Lucky for me I have a passion for the brain and all of its intricacies, and because of that, I took many neuroscience classes in undergrad (FSU didn’t have a neuroscience degree until I graduated which is why my degree is in Psychology…) which makes studying for neuro very easy for me now.
But it’s not easy for everyone, especially if the first time they see the material is in a graduate level course.
So I’m going to be compiling my best study tips and how I prepare for (well, used to prepare for) neuro exams. The way that I study for neuro now is very different since I already know most of the material.
1. Treat it like anatomy.
Something that a lot of people take a while to grasp is that neuro should be treated just like any other anatomy course.
The brain is made up of many different structures, which are made up of millions of neurons and synapses. Just like the body is made up of many different systems, which are made up of organs, tissues and muscles.
Synapses are very similar to muscles in that they can be strengthened. Yeah that’s right. The brain can be strengthened through exercise (physical exercise AND mental exercise). And every structure is very distinct and possesses a very specific function, just like any other organ in the body.
It’s very important to be able to visualize the brain just as you’d visualize the body. Visualizing the brain and its structures and pathways can help you to better understand how it all works together.
2. Understand the anatomical foundations before trying to understand functions, pathways and pathologies.
Before you attempt to understand exactly how the brain functions (which is impossible by the way), first try to understand the basics.
Start with the four main lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital. Each of these lobes has a general function that they are known for. Then dive into the more specific structures and association areas within the lobes.
Before you know it, you’re going to end up with a diagram similar to this:
Don’t be overwhelmed!
Remember when you had to memorize all of the bones in the body? Or all of the muscles in the body? Or even all of the blood vessels in the body? Well this is the same thing! Take your times, break it down, and you’ll get it.
TIP: To help memorize structure names and where they were located, I would pull up a diagram similar to the one above, and in Word I would put blank white boxes over every label. Then I would print out a few copies and practice labeling every part of the brain over and over until I could do it without having to peek at the textbook.
- You could also print out one copy of each diagram and put it in a plastic sheet protector like this, and use a dry erase marker to label the picture. This will save a whole lot of paper, I wish I had figured this out in undergrad!
- If you have an iPad, you can download the diagram with the white boxes and label it that way. This option uses no paper at all! I like to use the Notability app.
By first understanding where the structures are located, you will be able to determine pathologies later on.
- “A patient had a stroke in the left side of the brain, they are now having difficulty with language production. What structure was most likely affected?” Well they had the stroke on the left side of the brain, this is the dominant side. The two centers for language production and comprehension are on the left side of the brain- Wernicke’s area (language comprehension) is located in the temporal lobe, and Broca’s area (language production) is located in the frontal lobe. The patient is having difficulty speaking, so the stroke is most likely affecting Broca’s area in the left frontal lobe.
I always find that the best way to study is to quiz myself, or more appropriately, have someone quiz me (attention span who?).
I use Quizlet like a crazy person. The only bad thing about using flashcards (for me personally) is that I can never quiz myself, I get too distracted and I end up flipping the card over before I even attempt to answer the question. So I ALWAYS have to have someone quiz me who will press me to actually answer the question instead of mindlessly flipping through them.
Another aspect of making flashcards – put the definitions in your own words.
So often I find classmates just memorizing definitions and key words without actually understanding what they are saying. So when I ask the question in a different way they have no idea what I just said.
Don’t just memorize a string of words, really try to understand the concept!
I use mnemonics for almost everything, especially when it comes to anatomy/neuro.
If you don’t know what a mnemonic device is: “a mnemonic device, or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval in the human memory.”
Little rhymes, acronyms and word associations are the best when it comes to recalling information.
Here are just two examples that have stuck with me for years:
- Structure: Hippocampus; Function: Declarative memory; Mnemonic: if I saw a ‘hippo’ on ‘campus’ I would remember that.
- The cranial nerves: OOOTTAFVGVAH – Oh oh oh to touch and feel very good velvet, ah heaven! (tbh, the mnemonic I use for this is way more inappropriate but figured it best not to put it here…)
And there you have it! These are my top study methods and tips for neuroanatomy. Let me know if they help you out at all!