Sunday, January 25, 2015

How to Pass/What to Expect: Anatomy and Physiology

Hi guys!

I hope you have all been doing well. :) I really wanted to start a section on my blog for all of the other Occupational Therapy or medical/nursing students out there. I know some of you are studying similar subjects and taking the same courses. 

I took 2 semesters of Anatomy and Physiology (part 1 and 2 both with lab) for the past year split up in the spring and then fall. Some schools have it as one AP class as well. This is a foundational course to just about anyone heading into the medical field. It's a tough "weed out" course that 50% fail and 60% drop. 

I just wanted to give you guys some advice on this course and things that helped me get through it.
Some of these tips may not directly apply to you so I hope you take the best of it for your situation.

I'm giving you guys a general outline of my class layout first.

I took both of my courses at the same technical school for consistency and for cheaper prices. But, technical schools tend to have harder science courses from my knowledge. 

Lectures were taught via powerpoint and we were given a workbook (called lecture notes) which basically acted as our study guide. We were told to know everything included in it and only use the textbook for reference-- not for intense studying. We also had supplementary learning games (flashcards) and a DVD of lectures available.

Labs covered lessons on some overlapping material with lecture but focused on Anatomy over Physiology. We had a lab book with lists of "things to know for midterm or finals" in there as well. Lecture tests were 35 multiple choice questions and 15 short answers with no word bank (spelling also counted). Lab tests (only midterm and final) were microscope slides, models, and cadaver identification. Everything was set up in stations for lab tests with 70-80 questions and a 1.5 minute time limit per 2 questions. Every A&P course will range depending on the school so obviously, my courses were both heavy on memorization and less about recall.

1. Do not take more than 4 classes.

Most of my classmates couldn't handle this class unless they only took this one class. I took Medical Terminology, Intro to Statistics, and Anatomy/Physiology lab while taking this Anatomy/Physiology lecture course. You should not treat the coursework and flow for lab and lecture as the same course. They will cover different content as lab focuses on Anatomy and will have it's own set of extensive models and cadavers to memorize. Know your schedule and work ethics before choosing your courses for the semester. Anatomy will take over any of your other classes and counselors will recommend you only take 1 extra class at most. Also, unless you are confident you can handle this...make sure your other class(es) are not science classes with labs like Micro Biology or Chemistry-- it's terrifying (but not impossible). 

2. Come to lecture prepared

When my professors told me that this class required a minimum of 6 hours of studying a day, I couldn't fathom one course being so demanding. But guess what? It is! If you are working or taking other classes, you will need to make time to review content for this class. What I found best was to review and generally outline vocabulary for my next class before even going into lecture. This way, I knew what my professor was talking about or at least recognized the words. Plus, if there was something I found difficult to understand while outlining, I knew what questions to ask or what to focus on during lecture for my notes. 

3. Study Groups

Sure. not everyone likes to study in groups but for a class like this, you will want one. It will not only motivate you to continue to study and pace throughout the week, but it will test your knowledge on material as you can test each other. Explaining material to someone else is a surefire way of knowing if you actually know the material or if you kind of know it. Also, it is likely that there will be material you understand more that a study buddy won't and vice versa. It's perfect grounds to fill in each other.  Just make sure your study group is at a similar pace as you and keep it small. A supportive network of friends (even just 1) can make a huge difference throughout the semester and keeping each other accountable. Plus, why not build a network of friends outside of class so that you have people to refer to about future program applications and other opportunities. Networking is important!

4. Go to open lab

Open lab exists for a reason. Start going early (as in the week it is available to you) even if it's only for an hour per day. I spent a estimated time of 6 hours per week in open lab. I would go on Saturdays from morning to closing and try to make it on Fridays if my schedule permitted as well. Lab hours will range depending on TA availability so right when you have access to the schedule, match it up with yours so you know when is the best time to go. Start reviewing models and microscope slides that are required for your lab midterm and microscope slides. Not all lab classes will give you loads of free time to review during class time. 

5. Repetition

Repetition is key in this class (and any other class really). There are a lot of conceptual systems and processes that will come with tons of vocabulary terms. You will first need to know the terms and then how to integrate into a process. It's a lot of layers so the more you review it, the better it will be for you in the long run. Anatomy continues to build on top of each other and by part 2 (if you have to take one), every previous chapter in the textbook will be supplementary in understanding the next chapter. 

6. Be Proactive

You need to be proactive in this class. If you don't get something (anything), it's bad news. Everything is important in this class and not understanding something likely means missing everything about that entire system or process. Go into office hours or ask your professor questions during/after class. If you are shy or you are like me and too busy taking notes during class to pose a question, just email them. I sent regular emails to my professors for clarification. Of course, ask educated questions to show that you researched it or summarize what you think the answer is before asking your question. 

7. Tips for Lab Models and Slides

Often, photos of labeled models exist online. Do not trust them and go by your key from your course. After you have studied the model, you can refer to unlabeled photos online and label it yourself by printing it out. That way, you can study for midterms or finals at home on the days you can't manage to make it to open lab. Open lab will get ridiculously busy towards testing time and you don't want to be there with all the frantic energy of people who procrastinated. If you want to save ink, I pasted model photos onto Paint and just used lines and text to label it myself. I pasted them all into a word document and studied off of a comprehensive list by test time. This will also be a great review labeling the models as well. But, do not forget about microscopes. Meet with your study group and play "name that slide and what I'm pointing at" game with 2-4 microscopes set up and rotate. It will help tremendously. 

Note about dissections: During dissections, try to be as active as you can with the tools and actually looking at your cadaver. Standing by and simply watching your group dissect will not help you learn a cat or sheep heart. I know it will smell bad but you'll get over it and it's really fascinating to poke around cat organs. 

8. Tips for Memorization

There will be so many moments where you are hit with so many terms to memorize that you won't know where to start. But, a lot of this material is perfect for a data table or flow chart. It's the best way to organize the material and also an easy way to recognize mnemonic devices. This applies to lab as well if you are looking at slides with layers. I would make acronyms with just about everything that has an order to it. Maybe the letters won't look like a word but something like "SSUJP". But if you study enough and find yourself blanking on the test, the acronyms should come in handy and be recognizable. Always find ways to integrate terms with things that it reminds you of in your personal life or amongst your interests. Silly stories or phrases that you create will be much more memorable than just flashcards alone. 

8. Expectations and Midpoint

This is a defining prerequisite course for almost all programs I have come across-- especially Occupational Therapy. Most of the programs I saw said they will accept a B or higher. If you can get an A in this class, it's great for your application, If you are at midpoint soon and failing, talk to your professor and make the decision to drop the course. A failing grade or a C will not do well for your GPA or program applications. I've met students who have taken these courses 2-3 times and nothing was changing for them. If you are re-taking the course, really analyze what you had trouble with the most (whether it's test anxiety or a certain chapter) and target it in advance. I was recommended to review the heart at the end of AP part 1 on my own before entering AP part 2. Talk to your professors with any concerns because tips like that can really make you or break you.

9. Everyone learns differently

Remember that what works for some won't work for others. Just because the person next to you is doing everything you are, doesn't mean you guys will have the same outcome. Understand your strengths and learning style first. I personally like a variety of study options to keep things fresh. I use charts, drawings, flashcards, and even a whiteboard to study. I also like to condense my notes and hand write study guides to make sure I understand everything as I go. I also almost never studied with the textbook but focused on lecture material while some drowned themselves in the textbook. Once you take your first test and get a feel for the test layout, you will know how to approach the next one so practice understanding your learning style!

10. The obvious things people overlook

Sleep well and eat well to keep your mind and body healthy. Make sure to take efficient breaks and have night or chunk of the day where you unwind from the coursework. You will need it for this class and cramming won't work. These tests cover 3-6 chapters per test and one chapter will feel like enough for one test every time. Be calm when taking the tests and use process of elimination first to narrow down answers. A lot of these questions are styled to test if you really know the material so it may be worded in a different way from how you studied it. Or, it may be asking you to connect the dots between material you learned and a clinical situation. Also, if it stresses you out to talk about grades or you find comparison robs you of your confidence, just avoid it. If you commit to pacing your studies and avoid unnecessary stress, you will pass.

Final notices:

I honestly don't think this is a class you want to take if you are working full time. I'm not saying it's impossible but you need to invest at least 10 hours per week into this one class alone. I did not work but took 4 classes for my AP part 1 semester. I made an A but it was rough. By AP part 2, I only had this one prerequisite class left so I took it alone. But, it was much harder on a conceptual and clinical level than AP 1 which really just scratched the surface. I personally felt like I was taking a full load of classes while I was taking AP part 2 by itself so just make sure you plan accordingly.

I don't believe that you should do anything you are not passionate about when it comes to career and education. This class for better lack of word will suck if you are not interested in health care. Even though these classes were tough, there was never a dull moment because I was interested in it and that propelled me to want to understand the material more. If there is no passion, there is no intrinsic motivation. You will surely recognize if the health care field is for you after taking Anatomy and Physiology.

Good luck and as my lab professor always said, "It's always a good day to study."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for being honest about what to expect...I have Aced Human Anatomy but will be tackling A&P over the course of the next year. I am very nervous and currently have 4.0's from my past two semesters going in. I Have to get a A and most of the professors where I live seem to be hard or make the class hard according to RMP. Anyway just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to provide your experience and recommendations.


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