Coloring Books Are Powerful Study Tools (And They Help Manage Stress)
When I was an undergraduate, a friend at another college showed me the coloring book
she was using for her anatomy class. Yikes! A coloring book for a college
anatomy class?! Honestly, I thought the idea was ridiculous.
Even though my friend swore to me that it helped her learn anatomy.
But then I took a close look at that coloring book and realized that it wasn't exactly like those circus coloring books I loved as a child. These drawings were much more detailed.
They included the important structures of the human body that I needed to know.
Yet, it still looked like fun
When I became an A&P teacher, I remembered that experience and looked further into coloring books as learning tools for human anatomy and physiology.
What I found was that coloring exercises have several advantages
in studying when compared more traditional study methods—such as reviewing notes and highlighting textbooks. These include:
- Coloring an anatomical diagram is multisensory. Besides reading and spatial vision processing, your brain is also processing your kinesthetic or "muscle" senses. Therefore, you are using more parts of of your brain to process the information. And that means that you are forming more memories than when engaging fewer senses. More "copies" of these memories formed makes it easier to retrieve those memories later, when you need them.
- Coloring exercises take time. Therefore, doing them forces you to slow down. You can't merely skim over notes, diagrams, or text as you might when doing traditional study tasks. You have to spend time, thus making it more likely that you'll really engage meaningfully with the content.
- Coloring a diagram can help identify and correct misconceptions. Because you want to fill in all the available blank spaces in a drawing, you won't miss details that would have otherwise escaped your notice. Besides that, you'll be forced to see where the exact boundaries of each structure are, how they connect with other nearby structures, and where some parts may "hide" beneath other parts.
- Coloring is relaxing. In fact, so-called adult coloring books are now very popular for the purpose of stress relief and relaxation. They can produce an almost meditative, open mindset. When dealing with the sometimes overwhelming nature of studying A&P, doesn't a bit of relaxation sound like just thing you need? Wouldn't some coloring just before a test or exam get your mind in a better place than the anxious fretting that you might otherwise be doing?
- Coloring can support relationships. Coloring alongside your study buddies can be a good way to build rapport that helps learning in other ways. And you can help each other figure out tricky spots when you may not be quite sure which part should be colored—is it part of this structure or that one? But it's also good for supporting relationships with friends and family members who get to spend less time with you now that you are working so hard on your A&P class.
There are many coloring books for A&P
available. One I like is Mosby's Anatomy and Physiology Coloring Book
. That one and others can be found at Amazon
or in your school's bookstore.
I suggest using colored pencils.
They are easier to carry with you than crayons and get into the finer details of the diagrams more easily. Felt-tip pens are a good second choice, but they sometimes bleed through the page onto other diagrams
I also suggest keeping blank sheets of paper between the leaves
of the coloring book, to prevent colors smearing—or smudging onto facing diagrams or text. An even better strategy is to remove each page before coloring
it. Then, when you are finished, the colored diagram can become part of your set of notes
for that topic.
So yeah, coloring books for college seem silly at first. Really silly. But I can tell you that I've seen many, many students benefit from them in learning A&P! So really, they're not so silly,
Use a Virtual Study Skeleton to Learn Bones & Markings
Learning the bones and markings of the human skeleton
can be quite a challenge. Most students do their best learning by repeated practice with a study skeleton
in the learning lab.
The problem is, one doesn't always have access to study skeletons. Wouldn't it be great if you had a study skeleton anytime you want
to spend a few minutes of practice?
A free or "open" learning resource called eSkeletons let's you do that!
This online tool is not exactly a "real" study skeleton, but it's the next best thing. It's an always-on, always-available
virtual study skeleton.
Check out my video walk-through
to see if this A&P study tool might work you.
Spacing Your A&P Studying
Learning scientists are busy discovering and confirming all kinds of tricks to make learning a lot more efficient
than the strategies that many students believe work well for them. One of these proven techniques that works great for learning anatomy and physiology is called spacing
What is spacing and how does it work in real life when studying A&P? It's pretty simple...
- Don't cram. Cramming may help in the short term, but it's not going to give you the practice you need to truly learn what you need to learn. Giving a few hours to studying A&P spread over a week or two is much more effective than using those same few hours to cram right before the test.
- Review content after reading, after class, after lab, after assignments. But don't review right away--this is where the "spacing" comes in. Wait a little while.
- Don't cram. Really. NOT good for deep or long term learning. Don't tell yourself "it's what works for me." Nope—cramming doesn't work very well for anybody with a human brain.
- After reviewing new material, go back and review content from previous topics. That's putting "space" between what you learned a while ago and when you are reviewing now. By making a habit of reviewing previous concepts, you continue the process of spaced study as long as you are in the course.
- You will forget. By waiting a while after your initial learning before you study it, you'll forget some of it. By reviewing previous topics, you'll find that you've forgotten some of that content, too. But that's okay! Learning scientists have learned that when we forget, then push ourselves to review the forgotten material and pull it from our previous memory, it'll become easier and easier to remember it. It's all still in there. The spacing study helps us get better and finding it when we need it.
To summarize, simply spread out your studying--and keep going back over previous material.
Here's a short video
that summarizes the spaced practice technique (and why it works).Click here
for links to posters and other resources you can print out to help remind you how spaced practice works--until you get the hang of it and it becomes a habit. While you are there, be sure to sign up for the free newsletter from The Learning Scientists.
Need some tips on time management to make sure your spacing is planned out well?
The 30-Day Challenge: Craft Your Plan for Learning Physiology
My friend, Dr. Margaret Reece, is offering a unique "30-day challenge" mini-course in how to succeed in your Anatomy & Physiology course.
Margaret Reece PhD is an educator, scientist and author whose expertise lies in the area of human physiology. Dr. Reece is presently CEO of Reece Biomedical Consulting LLC, a company dedicated to supporting undergraduate life science and graduate medical students in their efforts to master the complexities of human anatomy and physiology.
What strikes me most about Margaret Reece is her enthusiastic dedication to helping students "get it"
—especially when they think
they'll never be able to.
If you are interested in learning more about this course, which starts January 9
, then click on this link:
And tell Dr. Reece I sent you!
Take a Nap Before Your Next A&P Test
New research shows that napping before a test
or exam is just as effective as cramming
I've offered advice on the value of sleep and napping
in this blog many times before. We don't know exactly how it helps us learn and remember, but neuroscientists are getting closer. But why it works isn't as important as the fact that it does work
when you are getting ready for that next exam.
The recent research
points out that cramming can have a bit of an edge if your goal is short-term
memory. But for the long-term memory needed for most exams,
especially cumulative or comprehensive exams, napping works just as well.
And let's face it—it's way easier than cramming.
You also need long-term memory so that you can "take it with you" out of your A&P course.
You are required to take anatomy and physiology courses in your program because they give essential concepts you need in later courses
—and in your career.
So why waste your time and effort by purposely "throwing away" all those concepts by failing to get them into your long-term memory?
Of course, napping cannot be your only preparation
for a test! (I know
where your thoughts were going with this!) There's a lot of work you need to do.
But in the brief time you have before your test, it may be better to get your brain in shape
—perhaps allowing some sleep-time consolidation and organizing of knowledge—than to review and revise what you've already (hopefully) been working on. It might also prevent the escalation of test anxiety
that often accompanies last-minute cramming.
Want to know more?Advice from this blog about sleeping and studying:Napping before an exam is as good for your memory as cramming.
- This is an article giving more information about the recent research I mentioned.
- Over a dozen brief blog posts about learning strategies and preparing for (and taking) tests and exams.