A&P was probably the class I spent the most time on prior to entering nursing school…maybe overall. Though it’s “just a prerequisite,” this is the knowledge I draw on every single day and, in my opinion, is THE most important class to prepare you for success in nursing school (and on the job)!

But, and I’ll be honest here, it is a beast of a class. You will need to perfect your memorization skills for the anatomy portion (not very fun), and get really good at understanding conceptual information for the physiology portion (super fun). This dual approach may be foreign to you if most of your classes to this point have relied on memorizing things for the exams. But here’s a handy list of tips that should help you ace this overwhelming, difficult and fascinating class!

1) Read (at least skim) the chapter before going to class. If nothing else, look at the pictures, the headers and any text boxes that highlight specific information. It’s highlighted or turned into a picture for a reason!

2) Take your OWN notes. Even if the professor provides notes…take your OWN. If you are a heavily-skewed auditory learner, then see if you can record the lecture for later use. Some people need to just listen during class without taking notes because that is how they learn. Note that you will be taking notes at some point, so you’ll want to record the lecture for later.

3) As soon as you can, rewrite or type your notes into your own words. To do this you’ll need to supplement your notes from lecture with other resources such as your textbook. For any  concepts you don’t fully understand, go first to your textbook and then to a trusted online resource. Trust me on this. You do not want to be studying for the exam off the notes you scribbled down frantically in class. For starters, they may not even be legible. And secondly, the process of writing them in your own words really cements them in your long-term memory.

4) Utilize additional resources. My Marieb and Martini books came with online goodies such as art labeling, crossword puzzles, flashcards and quizzes. These extra resources definitely help, so give them a try!

5) To practice for lab exams, I did two different things (aside from staying in lab until the end of the period every single time) and they both require an atlas or printed diagrams. With my atlas, I put little post-it tabbies over the names. I then numbered each tab. Then I made an answer key and repeatedly quizzed myself until I could get them all right. Another method is to white out the names on your diagram and put it in a sheet protector. Now you can label and relabel using a dry-erase marker.

6) Re-organize information. Sometimes it helps to think of things from a different angle. For example, rather than just memorizing the muscles individually, reorganize them into all the muscles that attach at the os coax, or all the muscles that medially rotate the leg, for example. I have an example of that here: All Muscles.

7) Every week or at the end of every unit, go back through your notes and try to condense them down. Do this again until you can get all the key concepts onto one piece of paper. I used a sketch pad that measured 11×17 and I would draw pictures, make lists, draw diagrams – basically anything that would help me access the information in my brain and relegate it to long-term memory.

8) Talk Talk Talk. Yes, anatomy is pure memorization, but physiology is all about understanding concepts. Sometimes the best way to understand something is to talk it out. If you have no one to listen to you, talk to your cat or talk to yourself. Talk through the concepts from beginning to end. I would meet my bestest study buddy ever at a Panera restaurant and we’d park in a booth for 8 or 9 hours. We’d take turns talking through the concepts. This was incredibly helpful, and we kept each other motivated during these marathon study sessions.

9) Draw! Organize processes into concept maps and practice drawing them out as you talk yourself through them. When it comes time to recall the information, you have a picture in your head!

10) Have fun! (the most important part!)

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