Trying out weird memorisation tools

We’re already a week into the genetics part of the cell biology course, and even though we’re well into our fourth (!) book this semester, I thought I’d take my own advice and try out some spaced repetition. As I mentioned in my last post, our professor suggested a strange memorising tool, namely connecting biochemical processes to weird or even lewd concepts. I’ve decided to take this one step further, and combine three different tools for remembering, in this case, glycolysis.

Here’s what I’ve done:

First, I created flashcards for the different types of enzymes that goes into the process, and assigned them characters based on their function. For instance, here I’ve gone with Robin Hood for kinase enzymes, because he takes phosphate groups from ATP and gives it to the glucose molecules. The only limit here is your imagination! Try to make the characters as different from each other as possible, so the different steps are easier to distinguish and remember. That we’ll get further into in step 2, but as for now, draw an easily recognisable drawing and define what the enzymes do on the back of your flashcards.

The second step is writing a story to go with your characters. The goal here is to be able to remember the names of the different enzymes as well as the names of the different stages the sugar molecule goes through in the glycolysis process. For this, I’ve utilised a technique that some of you’ve might have heard about before, where you place the narrative inside a house, and go on a journey from room to room, where each new room marks a different stage in the process.

To give an example, in my story, Turk from Scrubs greets us at the entrance while eating fruit and wearing a witches’ hat. Because Robin Hood called the glucose molecule “sexy” earlier in the story, while handing it a phosphate group, causing it to change its name to glucose-6-phosphate, Turk suggests plastic surgery to complement the boost in self-esteem. (Yeah, I know this doesn’t make sense, but bear with me!) He rearranges the molecule, turning it into fructose-6-phosphate.

So you might be thinking “what kind of messed up story is this?”, Let me explain my train of thought: I’ve assigned Turk the role of the isomerase, because plastic surgeons “rearrange” things while operating. (I only chose Turk because he’s my favourite fictional surgeon). He’s wearing a witches’ hat because in Norwegian “heks” is what we call witches, which makes me remember the name of the isomerase (phosphohexose isomerase), and he’s eating fruit because he turns the glucose into fructose.

When you’ve completed your strange story, go ahead and draw a map of the house and place the characters, or draw names of molecules and enzymes with arrows to guide you through your imaginary route. By going through all these steps, preferably over the course of a few days, you’ve created three tools to help you revise for later.

So in conclusion, here are my three top tips if you want to utilise this method:

1.       Go with the most distinctive characters you can think of! By making them as different from one another as possible you’ll remember them more easily, and you can make an even more imaginative story. I’m planning on creating stories for the other metabolic cycles as well, so you need them to be as distinct from each other as possible so you won’t get any of the steps messed up, because they sure do share a ton of substrates!

2.       Place items or assign actions to the rooms that do not belong there, that way you’ll know they’re there to help you remember a name or a reaction that’ll take place. For instance, in the dining room, I’ve placed two bottles of nail polish remover and three sticks of dynamite on the table to help me remember that the aldolase enzyme splits the molecule into dihydroxyacetone phosphate and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate. Here, the two bottles of nail polish remover contain acetone (and that there are two of them helps me remember the prefix “di”), and the three sticks of dynamite make me think of nitro-glycerine, which helps me remember glyceraldehyde for some reason.

3.       Write up a proper explanation of the process before creating the story. This tool is only helpful if you understand what is actually going on in each step, and should be used during the exam as a way to jog your memory if you get stuck.

I hope this combination of creating flashcards, a narrative, and mapping out the process is helpful, and would love to hear if you guys have any strange memorisation tools that you find useful. The next blog post will also be the first Sunday in four weeks that I’ll do a write-up on what we’ve been doing in school lately, so be on the lookout for that. Until then, have a top notch Wednesday!