photo credit: February 22nd via photopin (license)
Let me start by saying that of course the best way to really learn Pharmacology is to understand it, especially the physiology and pathophysiology behind each drug. There is no shortcut to understanding the basics. Read the books. Listen to the lectures and take down notes. Re-read your study materials. Put in the hours. Ready?
Now, you need to make sure all your efforts in studying are not put to waste come exam time. This guide will give you tips on how to study pharmacology (or any other subject with lots of memorization!). Based on experience, I found that the most effective way is to create outlines and quiz yourself before the test.
A little disclaimer – I did NOT ace all of Pharmacology, but when I had the time and energy to actually apply these tips, I was able to top one or two exams. You may or may not agree with my study style, so use at your own discretion. 🙂
1) WRITE ORGANIZED DRUG OUTLINES TO SEE THE BIG PICTURE.
For me, the key to memorizing the little bits of information is to first see the general overview. You can do this best by writing an outline. The key here is to write it yourself. Copy it from a more diligent classmate, sure, but write it yourself. You’ll see why later.
In Pharmacology, outlining is very easy. Drugs fall under the same group if they have similar pharmacodynamic actions and sometimes, pharmacokinetic properties as well. Here is an example from my own notes, which was based from our lectures and Katzung Basic and Clinical Pharmacology.
Once upon a time, I memorized ALL these drugs! You can do it too!
Under each drug group, there is almost always a prototype drug, which typifies the characteristics of the whole group. For me, this is the only drug you have to study in detail. As in shame on you if you are still confused on the prototype drugs come exam time. (LOL, truth.) For all the other non-prototype drugs, just take note of how they are different from the prototype.
2) MAKE UP YOUR OWN MNEMONICS AND SHARE IT
Again, once you’re done with the outline, it’s easier to make mnemonics per drug group. For example, until now I can never forget that there are only two first-generation cephalosporins – Cefazolin and Cefalexin. No offense meant to anyone, but I memorized this by the made-up joke that “ALEX is an AZOL (asshole)!”
Now if you have a tendency to forget these mnemonics you made up, it will help to either write them down or share them to a classmate while reviewing. Hopefully you can find a study buddy with the same level of humor and wit to make memorizing more fun and effective!
3) RELY (ALSO) ON YOUR VISUAL MEMORY
Another good thing about writing your own outline is that you will have a visual memory of how the drugs are organized. For example, if you encounter an alien question such as this…
|76. Which of the following drugs is used by elephants to kill mosquitoes in the snow?
How will you pick the odd one out if all of them end with -floxacin?
Here’s how I would make an “educated guess”. I should vaguely remember from my own hand-written outline that the odd one out is Moxifloxacin, because I KNOW it is listed there – all alone in its subgroup. There must be something in that subgroup that makes it so special, even if I have no idea what. My best bet for this item would then be d) Moxifloxacin.
After the exam, I would just look back on my notes and happily confirm that YES, Moxifloxacin is the lone fourth-gen fluoroquinolone. Now.. to learn what that has to do with elephants in the snow. Hmm.
4) QUIZ YOURSELF USING SMART FLASHCARDS (NO FAIL TRICK!)
This is me openly endorsing my one and only memorizing tool – flashcards by Brainscape! I should write a full review or tutorial on how to use this nifty app. It boasts of a “confidence-based repetition technique” and I must say – it really is effective! You can access this on your desktop, tablets, or phone. You will love how easy it is to make flashcards, either on the app itself or using MS Excel. Seriously, check out this app. It’s free!
Some of the Pharma topics I made flashcards on
Must memorize the drug groups first..
Before memorizing the little stuff per drug
All the questions / answers side by side in EDIT mode
5) GO OVER YOUR NOTES RIGHT AFTER THE EXAM
Do it! Do it, you grade conscious person, you. Don’t mind your classmates who tease that y’all should just forget about that grueling exam and have lunch instead. Go over your notes and mark the concepts that were included – these will likely be repeated in the next exams! If you made a mistake, at least you will learn about it right away. It is better if you can do this with another classmate so your collective minds can recall more questions. Do it.
That’s it! I just shared to you my tips on how to study pharmacology. Did you find any of these useful? Do you have anything to add? Please do so in the comments below! 🙂