Wouldn’t it be great to be able to study something once and remember it forever? This would be the Holy Grail for students around the world. No more endlessly reviewing notes or cramming the night before a test.
Most of us however have to review the information several times, and still have trouble recalling all the details correctly. Fortunately there are some techniques that you can apply to speed up the learning curve and improve retention.
Graduating from massage therapy school and passing the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) requires memorizing a large volume of information. A few powerful memorization tricks will help you prepare for the MBLEx in less time and with less stress.
It is worth investing the time to learn these memorization techniques. Just learning a few simple memory skills can save you a ton of time when studying for school exams or preparing for the MBLEx.
Even though memorization techniques are extremely useful, most students aren’t taught these skills in school. The memorization tips and tricks below will help massage therapy students to remember everything from anatomy and physiology, to pathology, ethics terms, and client assessment skills. Here’s what is covered in this post:
Memorization for the massage student
According to the FSMTB, the MBLEx was designed to include only information that a practicing massage therapist needs to know to perform his/her job. So the content on the exam is worth not only learning for the test, but also it is worth remembering for the long term.
The MBLEx does not include trivial dates, names or facts that you need to memorize and then will never need to use again after the test. So the techniques presented here were selected to help you memorize useful and important information and retain it throughout your career.
This is a good time to make a distinction between two different levels of memory: recall and recognition. Recall (also called retrieval) is being able to retrieve information out of long-term memory. It requires a higher level of learning than recognition. Recognition only requires remembering in response to a cue.
Recognition requires less brain activity than recall, and is quite a bit easier. Multiple-choice tests require recognition, because you only have to recognize the correct answer from the options listed. Fill-in-the-blank tests require recall memory to retrieve the information from your long-term memory. The MBLEx uses only multiple choice questions and therefore only requires recognition-level knowledge. You can try some of our free multiple-choice MBLEx practice quizzes here.
“Learning is remembering”Socrates
Research on memory
Scientists and philosophers have studied memory and worked on developing techniques to improve it for at least the past 2000 years. Before writing was a common way to store and convey information, people relied on remembering spoken stories and lessons to pass on information to the next generation.
In the late 1800’s, a German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered research on memory. He was the first person to talk about the “learning curve”. Ebbinghaus also discovered what he called the “forgetting curve” and the “spacing effect”. He was also the first to classify different types of memory into sensory, short-term and long-term. Since then there has been numerous advances in research and understanding of how the memory works and how we learn.
The forgetting curve is particularly relevant for massage students trying to prepare for the MBLEx. It is defined as ‘the rate of decline of learned information over time, IF there is no attempt to reinforce and retain that knowledge’. According to the forgetting curve, the sharpest decline in recall for newly learned material occurs in the first 20 minutes. Forgetting continues but at a slowing rate, and then levels off after about 24 hours. After about 1 day, average recall is only about 30%. In other words we forget around 70% (on average) within the first 24 hours! Using spaced repetition and other techniques discussed below can minimize this loss of information.
What’s your preferred learning style?
People generally have a learning preference: auditory, visual or kinesthetic. We all use each method, but generally prefer one to the others. Like a right-handed person still uses her left hand, but prefers to use the right most of the time.
Auditory learners prefer to learn by listening. These people are good at remembering what they hear. Massage students who prefer auditory learning will benefit from attending lectures and also reading out loud. Massage students who have an auditory learning preference may benefit from being part of a discussion or study group, in addition to reading out loud.
Visual learners are good at remembering what they see. This includes what words they read and pictures or live images that they see. Massage students studying for the MBLEx should include lots of images, diagrams and videos in their study plan.
Tactile learners prefer to learn by touching and doing. These people are “hands-on” learners who benefit from touching, moving and manipulating whatever they are learning. Massage students with this learning preference will benefit more from using a physical skeleton to learn the bones for example. Or practicing posture analysis rather than just reading about it.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”Benjamin Franklin
Study tips for any learning style
- Read your notes out loud for 20 minutes and make an audio recording of yourself reading. It is best to read your own notes that are concise and packed full of important information that you really need to know, rather than just reading from a textbook. Speak at fast, energized pace.
- Take a 20-minute break and do something completely different. Let your brain relax and process the information.
- Play back your 20-minute recording without looking at your notes. While listening, try to visualize what you are hearing on the recording. If the topic permits, try to incorporate some hands-on or movement while listening. Subjects like kinesiology and anatomy are conducive for this.
This 1-hour study session will give you 2 exposures to this content. 20 minutes is a good duration to keep you engaged without losing focus.
This method will help you to imprint your study notes through different formats: reading, speaking, listening, visualizing and potentially tactile.
Using mnemonic devices
Mnemonic devices area what most people refer to when talking about memorization techniques. Mnemonics are any techniques that you can use to help recall, or retrieve, learned information. They can work for massage students with any learning style preference.
Mnemonics are useful tools to memorize lists and content from any section of the MBLEx. It is important to use mnemonics that are memorable to you. The more ridiculous and wacky your mnemonic is, the more memorable it will be. It is a good idea to review your mnemonic periodically to reinforce your memory of it.
Check out this post to learn some anatomy mnemonics that will help on your massage exams.
Types of mnemonics
Spelling & Names. The most common are acronyms. These are names created from the first letter of each word in a group of words. For example:
- RACE (Rescue, Alarm, Contain, Extinguish), and PASS (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep) for fire safety, was created to help people remember steps in an emergency.
- ROY G. BIV helps in recalling the order of colors in a spectrum or rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet).
- SITS is an acronym to remember the four muscles of the rotator cuff, in order from superior to inferior on the humerus (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor, Subscapularis).
Expression or Word. This type of mnemonic is called an acrostic. These are similar to acronyms, but the first letters are used to create a memorable sentence. For example: The order of heart valves is TPMA (tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral, aortic). This could be made into the sentence, “Try pulling my aorta”.
Models. For example, the periodic table organizes elements into groups based on certain characteristics.
Music. Putting some things to music will make them easier to remember. The alphabet song is how most of us learned the ABC’s. Advertisers use this strategy when they write songs and jingles to help customers remember their products. Massage students can make up a mnemonic using a familiar song to help remember something that is otherwise difficult to recall.
Rhymes. These can be a single line or multi-line poem. For example, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”.
Connection. Connecting a word that you are trying to learn to a key word. This technique is good for remembering names. For example, ‘Bonnie blue eyes’.
Develop your medical vocabulary
A strong knowledge of medical vocabulary is a valuable asset for any massage student or practitioner. By understanding the origins and components of terms, you will be able to recall words much more easily. This will help in all MBLEx content areas, from A&P and kinesiology, to pathology and client assessment.
For example, it would take some work to remember that choledocholithiasis means “gallstones in the bile duct”. But if you understand the components of the word, then it is much easier to recall:
Chole = refers to bile
Docho = duct
Lith = stone, mineral formation
-iasis = pathological state
Now that you know these components, there are dozens of other words that contain these roots or suffix, so learning those words will be faster and easier. Learning to understand leads to mastery, and will be easier to retain for the long-term compared to rote memorization.
Repetition to reinforce learning
Virtually all memorization strategies require some degree of repetition. Most people can retain only a fairly small percentage of new information that they see or hear, unless it is reinforced through review and repetition.
Spaced repetition, or spaced retrieval, is a learning technique in which someone reviews learned information at intervals in order to reinforce the long-term memory. It is a system that utilizes what’s known as the spacing effect. This phenomenon basically that states that learning new information over time works better than cramming it all into one session.
The time between study sessions allows the brain to process and organize information, which will ultimately improve recall. Ideally the brain will have a chance to sleep between study sessions.
When learning something new like range of motion normal values, muscle origin and insertion sites, or details about the organs of the body, using scheduled repetition will increase recall. Flashcards are useful for reinforcing key information.
The suggested schedule below will enhance your ability to convert new information into long-term memory. Try it the next time you need to memorize something from your massage school notes.
- 1strepetition occurs right after initially learning
- 2ndrepetition occurs 30 minutes later
- 3rdrepetition occurs 24 hours later
- 4threpetition occurs about 2-3 weeks later
- 5threpetition occurs about 2-3 months later
“Learning never exhausts the mind.”Leonardo da Vinci
Vivid visualization is an effective tool to improve recall. It works especially well for visual learners. In fact, there is a phenomenon called the picture superiority effect, which states that people remember pictures and images better than just words. Also, activating visual component of memory may require less repetition to commit new information to long-term memory.
Massage students and those preparing for the MBLEx can use visualization techniques to help remember things like muscle attachment sites, the vascular system, and how nerves transmit messages.
To enhance your memorization through visualizing, create a mental image that is as vivid as possible. A strong and familiar image that uses a story is more effective than a vague image that lacks detail and meaning. Here are some additional tips to make your visualizations more memorable, using memorizing a muscle as an example:
- Isolate the muscle and bones in your mental image
- Visualize the muscle using bright colors in 3D. Include details like fiber direction and tendons
- Exaggerate the most important parts of the image
- Create as much detail as possible in your mind
- Manipulate the image with your mind by rotating it, zoom in and out, etc.
- Imagine the muscle contracting and relaxing, moving the joints that it effects. Be precise with the direction of movement and attachment points.
- Add in the other nearby muscles to see how they relate to each other in size, position and insertion points.
- You can try visualizing each muscle performing a unique action. For example, picture the brachioradialis as you flex your elbow in a neutral position (halfway between pronated and supinated) to hold a cup of coffee. (FYI, it’s called the “drinking muscle”)
- Insert some humor into your visualization to make it more memorable.
These tips should help massage students speed up their learning process by improving recall of the lessons. Try picking one strategy from the article and applying it to your current study routine.