Most healthcare professionals interface with thousands of medications over the course of their careers. If you’re studying to become a nurse, you’ll have to know the names, functions, and side effects of countless medications. An initial glance at a textbook or list of medications can make it seem like a daunting task, but it’s by no means impossible. Every single year, students of all disciplines retain the names and roles of drugs and treatments. Here are a few tips to help you memorize medications, ace your exams, and become one of the thousands of professionals who know meds inside and out.
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It’s true that memorizing large amounts of individual pieces of information is extraordinarily difficult. If you’re trying to memorize medications one at a time, you’re going to have a tough go. Instead, make all of those individual medications part of a greater, related whole. One of the best ways to learn a large amount of information is to chunk it; that is, to put it in context and make it part of an interrelated network.
Medications are great candidates for chunking because there are so many different ways you can group them. You can group them by what they treat, by what they are made of, or even by what side effects they have. Each medication is particular, but they also have chemical relatives and neighbors, and can easily be related to each other. Memorizing these chunks of information is far more user friendly than trying to remember several isolated, atomic units. Make a story. Construct a network. Work with that instead of individual pieces.
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Flash cards are one of the most basic study tools for students looking to retain a great deal of information. Keep a deck of them with you at all times and, when you have a few extra moments, quiz yourself. When you have a moment when you’re waiting in line, for example, instead of reaching for your phone, take out your cards and quiz yourself. Take the time that you’d otherwise spend on social media and divert a bit of it to studying. Those moments will add up. Five minutes in line here and 20 minutes on the bus there eventually translate into hours of studying that will propel you to success.
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You’re far more likely to retain information if you tackle it in multiple ways. Quizzing yourself with flashcards is great, but it’s generally good to approach problems and tasks from multiple directions. Writing down information will allow you to engage with it in a different way than reading or hearing about it. If you’re reading or listening to a lecture, take notes. Even if you don’t consult them later, the very act of having to put what you need to know down in writing will help you remember it later.
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If you can, get together with your fellow students and take turns teaching each other. Peer learning doesn’t just benefit the person being taught. If anything, the student teaching their peers is likely to learn more. Teaching others boosts retention. The research, preparation, and act of presenting the information ensure that the teacher will have to interact with the information in different ways. What’s more, the person presenting the information will then have to manage feedback from their students, which will further reinforce what they know.
If it’s feasible, divide up a series of medications with your peers, and decide who is going to teach what to the rest of the group. When you meet, take turns being a teacher. This will not only allow you to learn the names and functions of different medications, but it will also prepare you for life as a healthcare professional, where you will often have to explain clinical concepts to patients.
If you’re studying for the NCLEX, be sure to download our free e-book, “49 Proven NCLEX Strategies.” It’s a wealth of study tips and tricks to help you ace the exam so you can begin your nursing career as soon as possible. Good luck studying!