September 16, 2004

How I Learn

After completing my GCSEís I studied A levels in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. The typical teaching structure was lectures followed up by practical sessions. Even though this method of didactic learning helped me to memorise a lot of information there were many areas, especially in physics, which I did not understand. So surface learning was my original method but this did not really prove effective enough for my final A-level exams.

Following this experience I spent another year in an adult education college studying two one year intensive A-levels in English Language and psychology, two subjects with completely different learning structures. Even though psychology required a lot of memorisation of theories etc, English language required a lot of interpretation and analysis hence I had to shift my learning style to a more a deep learning strategy.

My under-graduate degree in neuroscience involved a lot of psychology as well as more traditional biological topics. However the general trend in my first two years was towards a surface learning approach as I had realised quite early on that learning the lecture notes was sufficient to get you through the exams. However my marks told a different story as I could see a gradual decline in my performance as the exam structure changed from MCQ questions towards essay based tasks.

In my final year I was pretty much left to my own devices as there was a 50/50 split between the time devoted to structured modules and my final year project. However I did notice a clear shift in the lecture pattern as the content of the lectures was rather brief and there was a clear expectation on students to follow up on topics covered. My final year project was based mainly around psycho-pharmacology and thus a through understanding and application of the principles I had previously covered was definitely required. The application of theoretical principles really helped to further my understanding/memorisation of these concepts. However my undergraduate studies did not really give me much exposure to practical work and the surface learning that I had relied on early in my studies proved to very ineffective as I had to revisit/relearn many of the topics I had already covered.

My ongoing study of the martial arts and the Islamic sciences has also exposed me to variations on learning structure which I frequently apply to my current learning. Hierarchical learning wherein a complex concept is broken down into simpler components is a key teaching method in both these fields and I have found this an invaluable tool in aiding my own learning.

Currently I think that I do sometimes rely on memorisation to cover course material especially if there is a lot to cover and I am under time pressures. However adequate planning and sufficient time management should enable me to discover those areas which require deeper learning and those for which surface learning/memorisation is sufficient. The concept of testing yourself with practice questions is also an invaluable tool as I discovered much to my disappointment later on in my undergraduate studies.


September 13, 2004

My First Day

What a wonderful first day. I love being a medical student!

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