Today's study tip may seem too obvious to be a study tip; after all, learning is all about making connections. But too often, I see my science students - especially those in Anatomy & Physiology - just trying to use rote memorization to learn.
Everything you learn should be put into context somehow. Your teacher or professor hopefully does this during lecture, but it's up to you to either use that structure if it makes sense to you, or if not, then to build your own structure. In my previous post, I wrote about getting a head start in summer by figuring out the overall theme of each chapter so that when you learn the details later, you have something to fit the details into. This is what I'm writing about today.
To give you an example: students in the Anatomy & Physiology course that I teach must learn the structures of the major bones...not just the name of the bones, but the names of the bumps, holes, curves, and lines; and if I give you a bone you have to be able to tell me what bone it is, and whether it's from the right or left side of the body. Each of the bone features is there for a reason; if you know the reason, it's easier to remember its name and location. For example, your humerus (upper arm bone) has a bump called the deltoid tuberosity. You could just try to memorize the name, and memorize the location of it. OR...you could understand that the deltoid muscle (covers your shoulder) has to attach to something in order to lift your arm. The place where it attaches becomes built up as a bump (or tuberosity - yeah, you might have to just memorize that part!) to make it stronger than the rest of the bone. And it's going to be on the outside (lateral) part of the humerus, about halfway down the bone, because when the deltoid muscle contracts, that's where it has to be to make the arm move up - if it were attached anywhere else, your arm would move a different direction. Knowing how it all fits together means less memorization, more understanding, and a better position from which to move on to the next step.
As teachers and tutors, we don't want our students to just memorize the right answers, we want you to understand. Memorization doesn't always lead to understanding, but understanding can lead to remembering the details.