[This is a companion article to Dr. Gordon's article entitled How Dental School Works.]
The dental school article discusses the courses and commitment you will need in dental school, some of the time management skills that are important, and the personal drive it will take to make it through both college and dental school intact. Now let's talk about some of the techniques that will help you survive the difficult curriculum you have chosen. I have learned a variety of strategies and tactics that can help you focus and maximize the time you have to learn new material. Remember that there are two ways to take down a tree -- with a sledgehammer or with an axe. This section is designed to replace that cumbersome sledgehammer that wastes your energies and give you a sharpened axe.
What's on the Test, Professor?
The best way to excel on an examination is to find out what material will be on the test at least a week in advance. You will want to know if the professor asks questions strictly from his or her notes, the textbook, his or her imagination or a combination of these things. The most direct way to find this out is to ask the professor. Many times they will tell you, especially if you ask them discreetly, away from their peers, and yours. Another way is to ask someone who has had the same class and professor before. It is wise to do both of these things and see if there is corroboration. Remember that it is much more difficult to master both text and notes than one or the other. In most cases, the professor will draw heavily from their lecture notes on examinations. This is especially true in dental school.
Get the General Concept First
When a sculptor creates a human body out of clay, he or she does not start by creating the hand to fine detail. The sculptor first roughs out the general form of the body, and then adds detail to create the finished product. Learning is very much the same. Always try to get the general concept first. If you are learning about the heart, first learn that it is a muscle that pumps blood throughout the body, supplying the tissues with oxygen, instead of trying to memorize where the mitral and tricuspid valves are. After you learn the general concept, then fill in more detailed information.
When you study, always try to maximize your concentration. If you have something else on your mind, make an effort to resolve it. If you are preoccupied with those dishes in the sink, do them, and then get back to studying.
Look Up from the Page
When trying to remember what is written on a page of notes, look up and repeat to yourself the important facts. Then, look down to confirm those facts. Remember, the brain will only remember what it feels it has to!
Don't laugh, but mnemonics are very effective for remembering hard to retain lists of facts. A humorous one I still remember from dental school helped me to recall which cranial nerves are sensory (feeling), motor (movement), or both. The cranial nerves number one through twelve (dentists deal primarily with cranial nerve number five, the trigeminal nerve). The mnemonic is: 1Some 2Say 3Marry 4Money, 5But 6My 7Brother 8Says 9Big 10Brains 11Matter 12Most. By remembering this mnemonic, we instantly know that cranial nerve five is both (5B) sensory and motor. Also, try to make up your own mnemonics; it makes it easier to remember.
Get the right mind-set
Attempt to avoid studying when you are exhausted. If you are too tired, your concentration will be weak. If you are studying for long blocks of time, always get some rest before you resume studying. Also, if you are confident and have a positive mental attitude, it is very helpful when studying and when taking examinations.
Reduce your notes
After you have studied all of your notes, try to reduce them. Write down the most important points on a new page, and then re-review the new pages before the exam.
Shuffle the order of your notes
When you study from your notes, change the order in which you do it. Start from the beginning to end, then next time, from the end to the beginning, and then start in the middle, etc. By doing this you will avoid memorizing your notes in order and not really "learning" them, and also you will not get study fatigue at the same place in your notes each time you study.
Record your Lectures
When attending lectures, it is often a good idea to tape-record them. This way, you can go back over your notes and correct mistakes, as well as trigger an auditory (hearing) recollection of lecture topics. This technique is especially helpful if you know that examinations will be given in large part from the notes. (In many dental schools, they have a "note service", where a different member of class receives a tape recording of the lecture, transcribes the notes, and then they are copied and distributed to the class. This is extremely helpful. If your dental school does not do this, develop a "note service" with your class right away.)
If you follow these tips, you will maximize your efficiency, save a great deal time, and will likely receive better grades in the process!
About the Author
Dr. Jerry Gordon is a general dentist practicing in Bensalem, Pa., a few miles outside of Philadelphia. He did his undergraduate studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, majoring in biological sciences. Dr. Gordon was an academic scholarship student at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, and completed a general practice residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
Dr. Gordon writes a column on various dental issues for the Bucks County Courier Times newspaper every Tuesday and is a dental consultant for American Health magazine. He served as president of the Bensalem Rotary club for 1998-99.
Dr. Gordon's practice, The Dental Comfort Zone, concentrates on cosmetic and reconstructive dentistry, with a friendly staff and a relaxed atmosphere. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter.
You can learn more about Dr. Gordon at his
and you may reach him via email at email@example.com.