11 Tips For Studying Anatomy In Medical School: Ultimate Guide

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A lot of medical students are constantly searching online for the best tips for studying anatomy in medical school.

And with a pure desire to help out, I am inspired to write this content to help make the experience of such students easier.

Meanwhile, I am in my final year in medical school at the time I am writing this.

The first years of premed school are usually among the toughest for medical students.

Medical students are introduced to new courses of which they usually have no foreknowledge.

This is most likely the reason why the 1st medical professional exam has the highest failure rate in most medical schools.

Being inexperienced in the art of handling such loads of information, passing their first exam in medical school is a major challenge for medical students.

Many of such students are usually confused as to how best to handle so much knowledge contained in these courses, and more is finding the best study resources needed for their journey.

One of such courses in which medical students are newly introduced is Human anatomy, and this guide will show any serious medical student how to study anatomy in medical school and how to read anatomy in mbbs first year.

By reading this post till the end, you will;

  • Understand how Human Anatomy is structured and the best way to approach each component of the course.
  • Get exposed to the best way to study anatomy in medical school.
  • You will find the best study resources which you need to ace your anatomy exams
  • See the common challenges that most students studying human anatomy face and how to tackle them.

Table of Contents

How To Study Anatomy In Medical School: Getting Started

tips for studying anatomy in medical school
tips for studying anatomy

Human anatomy is that branch of basic medical sciences that deals with the study of the supportive framework of the human body; the body tissues, skeletal system, and supporting structures.

It is one of the most essential courses for students in the premed classes alongside Human Physiology and Biochemistry. 

Because of the new terminologies to which medical students are exposed, it is often tasking for them to get acquainted with human anatomy when compared with the other three courses in the basic medical sciences.

The 11 Ultimate Tips For Studying Anatomy In Medical School

One of the first tips for studying anatomy in medical school is first understanding how the course is structured.

This will help you to tackle the various components of human anatomy efficiently and integrate them into one body.

In the next section of this post, we will be discussing how to study anatomy in medical school with a focus on understanding how the course is structured and how to tackle each component.

Here are 11 ways you can study anatomy better in medical school:

  • Understanding The Structure of Human Anatomy
  • Have A Master Timetable
  • Gather All The Necessary Study Resources You Need
  • Start Studying On Time
  • Never Joke With Your Lectures And Tutorials
  • Studying Anatomy In Medical School Via Active Recall
  • Utilizing the power of mind maps In Studying Anatomy In Medical School
  • A Good Study Group Is Essential
  • Tips For Studying Anatomy: Consistency Is Essential
  • Preparing For Your Anatomy Exams
  • Keeping Your Anatomy Knowledge

1. Understanding The Structure of Human Anatomy

The first step in studying anatomy in medical school is understanding how the course is structured.

Human anatomy is made up of 3 major components which include; Gross Anatomy, Histology, Osteology, and Embryology.

Gross Anatomy: This is a component of human anatomy that deals with the macroscopic study of the muscles, joints, nerves, blood vessels, and lymphatics with a focus on their origin, course, parts/branches insertion, and gross functions. The origin is an anatomical term used to describe where a particular structure starts from in the body. The course is used to describe the paths an anatomical structure takes to reach the point of termination also called the insertion.

Histology: Histology is a branch of human anatomy that deals with the study of the body tissues as seen under the microscope.

Osteology: It deals with the study of bones with emphasis on their development and structures.

Embryology: Embryology is the study of the origin of the different parts of the human body and how they are formed.

Each of these components of anatomy though may be taught separately or may have different textbooks and study materials that are best studied as one, not independently.

2. Have A Master Timetable

The next tip for studying anatomy after you must have known the different components of human anatomy as listed above is to develop a master timetable for tackling your courses.

If you are also taking other courses, then you must be wise enough to allow enough time for studying anatomy in medical school.

In my own personal experience, I really struggled with human anatomy in my early weeks in premed school.

So I had to double the time I give to studying anatomy in medical school.

This means that I study my anatomy twice as I studied other courses.

But as soon I was able to grasp the full concepts, I re-arranged the timetable to favor all the courses equally, and this worked perfectly.

If you are going to double your total anatomy study time, then here is a tip that worked for me.

You can handle your timetable in such a way that gross anatomy and osteology are treated as one course while embryology and histology are treated like one just like physiology and biochemistry.

So if you are going to study physiology or biochemistry 10 hours a week, then you should do the same for each of the courses grouped as one in anatomy.

You can use the table below as a guide;

DaysCourses Hours
MondaysPhysiology4 hours
TuesdaysBiochemistry4 hours
WednesdaysGross Anatomy/Osteology2 hours each (Morning and Night respectively)
ThursdaysEmbryology/Histology2 hours each (Morning and Night Respectively)
FridaysPhysiology4 hours
SaturdaysBiochemistry4 hours
SundaysGross Anatomy/Embryology2 hours each (Morning and Night Respectively)
tips for studying anatomy in medical school

Related: Best physiology books for medical students

3. Gather All The Necessary Study Resources You Need

how to study anatomy in medical school
tips for studying anatomy in medical school

You cannot start studying a course without having the necessary study materials recommended for that course.

How to study anatomy is to first find out all the necessary study materials you need.

This includes the anatomy medical school textbooks, videos, and other study materials.

Some of the study materials you need to study anatomy include;

Some of the recommended anatomy textbooks include;

1.Gross AnatomyLast’s Human Anatomy By Chummy S Sinnatamby
Chaurausia Human Anatomy
Keith Moore clinically oriented human anatomy
Frank Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy
Gray’s Anatomy for students
Grant’s Dissector by Patrick W. Tank
2.HistologyWeather’s Functional Histology
Inderbir Singh’s Histology
Histology: The big pictureJunqueira’s basic histology
Atlas of Human Histology by Mariano S.H. di Fiore
3.EmbryologyLangman’s Medical Embryology by T.W SadlerMoore’s
The Developing HumanHigh-Yield Embryology
OsteologyHuman Osteology
Inderbir Singh’s Textbook of Human Osteology
how to read anatomy in mbbs first year
Note: It is advisable to keep the number of textbooks you use for each of the components of human anatomy to the barest minimum. For instance, a single textbook on gross anatomy (Last’s Anatomy, Chaurausia or Keith Moore) is good enough with one atlas of human anatomy (Either Frank Netter’s or Grant’s Atlas) as a reading guide. This will help you reduce confusion and set clear study goals.

Also, Read; Medical Mnemonics Book Review

  • Dr. Najeeb Videos: Dr. Najeeb is a renowned Indian doctor who has made name for himself in the teaching of different subjects in both premed and medical classes. He is no doubt all students’ favorite because of his clear imagery and vivid illustration while teaching human anatomy. If you want human anatomy to be easy for you, then you must watch his videos on any topic you find confusing. Below is a link to his YouTube Channel.
  • Kenhub: The good thing about Kenhub videos is that they actually make the learning of anatomy fun. You should watch their videos on human anatomy too but only after watching Dr. Najeeb Videos.

Also, Read; 6 Best Flashcards For Medical Students

Studying Anatomy Online Using Mobile Applications

I was not really a fan of learning through mobile phone applications.

But I still know some medical students for whom it works perfectly.

To get such study apps for medical students, it is best to download them from your favorite app store by searching for the keyword “Anatomy” on the app store.

Once you find one you can easily relate to, then it can help you in your free time for revising some concepts in human anatomy.

Other study materials you may need:

A Jotter: I have never prepared for any exam in medical school without having to jot down important points I picked while reading a separate book. But the dark side of jotting down or even highlighting points from your anatomy texts is that at a point, you will find out that almost every word is a good point.

So you may end up recopying the whole anatomy text on your jotter or highlighting the whole text with different shades of highlighters.

So a jotter may only be necessary while studying human anatomy if you are trying to memorize certain things like nerve roots, contents of an anatomical structure, or dates for bone ossification.

But if you will write down basic things like the origin and insertion of a muscle, that would waste a whole lot of time.

Anatomy Cubes: There are handy game cubes you can use for memorizing anatomical structures in your leisure time.

These are portable and could be gotten from almost any online store.

Once you have gathered all your study resources, the next important step is to revisit your master timetable and craft out time for going through each of the study resources in a day.

This will help you balance your study time and also get the most out of your study time.

Anatomy and physiology coloring workbook answers: Anatomy and physiology coloring workbook answers are a study guide for medical students that makes the study of anatomy and physiology fun and easier.

It consists of different chapters containing worksheets on all the various systems of the body meant to be filled by the student.

It is good for sharpening your knowledge while reading anatomy systematically.

Here is a list of items you may need for medical school.

4. Studying Anatomy In Medical School: Start Studying On Time

The best way to get hold of the concepts of human anatomy is to map out your study timetable and start studying on-time bearing in mind that the topics needed to be covered are so large.

The importance of starting on time for your studies in medical school can never be over-emphasized.

If you actually start on time, you will have enough time to revisit topics that are confusing or difficult to understand before the exams draw near.

5. Never Joke With Your Lectures And Tutorials

Missing a lecture on anatomy is like missing out on all the likely questions from a particular lecturer.

The best way to predict the likely exam questions from your anatomy lecturers is to follow up on their lectures and write down important points from the classes.

In some medical schools, you may also find some persons (either lecturer, senior colleagues, or organizations) who organize tutorials for students.

Some of these tutorials can be helpful in reinforcing your knowledge of anatomy and attending them can be helpful too.

But if you are the type that prefers studying alone, you can actually cover more topics if you have a fast level of understanding as compared to when you attend tutorials.

6. Studying Anatomy In Medical School Via Active Recall

Have you ever tried to recall what you just read without having to look at your books?

This is called active recall.

is useful for knowing how much you have learned and to find the various gaps in the information you have and fill them.

Some people do their active recall using a pen and paper.

They try to write down all they have learned after reading or to draw and represent them using diagrams.

This is a good way of stimulating your brain to retain more and not neglect minute details while reading.

7. Utilizing the power of mind maps In Studying Anatomy In Medical School

Mind maps are study strategies that are useful especially for people who consider themselves to be visual learners.

It involves linking the various anatomical structures to what you can see in your immediate physical environment.

A good example of a mind map is;

Most veins are like ladies while arteries are like men. Hence, arteries are almost always posterior to veins just like men stand behind ladies while walking as a symbol of protection.

Mind maps are very useful in the study of anatomy where there is a lot to study on the course, relations, and branches of different structures.

Also, Read; Voovo Study App: Novel Study App by Medical Students

8. A Good Study Group Is Essential

This is another guide on how to study anatomy in medical school.

I have friends in college who can hardly prepare for any medical school exam without forming one or more study groups.

Study groups are helpful when you and the members of your study group understand how to use them to your own benefit.

Some study groups are nothing but a liability and not worth tending to.

Here are some checklists for an efficient study group:

  • You are not the smartest person in the group: Always form discussion groups with people who are smarter and more intelligent than you so that ideas can flow from a higher gradient towards you and not the other way round. If you are the best in the class, then you should find people who are also smart enough to keep you on your toes in every group discussion.
  • Your Group Members Always Keep To Time: There is almost no time to waste in premedical school. So if your group discussion members are the type that will wait extra 30 minutes without valid reasons before they start coming for any discussion, then you may want to cut off from them.
  • Keep Your Discussion Topics Relevant: There are a particular group of medical students who always like reading topics that are outside the scheme of work. Each medical school has its own scheme of work meant for its own students, so it will be a total waste of time if you find yourself in a study group where you discuss things that are irrelevant and which may not be helpful to you in your exams. Always hold on to the scheme of work and avoid the temptation of reading topics that are off the box.
  • Keep Your Group Members To The Barest Minimum: There is this rule about forming study groups which state that any study group that is made up of more than 5 members is no longer a study group, but a crowd. I will personally advise that you limit your group discussion members to just 3 to 4 serious persons maximum.
  • Have A Group Target: Another thing is for your study group to always set a goal which they are to meet within stipulated time based on the general course outline. These goals may be modifiable depending on the exam timetable. For instance, you cannot keep discussing all the topics serially when the exams are coming close. Instead, your group can map out a study strategy for preparing for the exams. This can include; solving past questions or discussing very essential and difficult topics.

The advantage of having a group discussion is that it helps you to see different topics from different points of view.

This will ensure a better understanding and a greater likelihood of you passing your medical exams.

9. Tips For Studying Anatomy: Consistency Is Essential

The most important tip for studying anatomy in medical school is to be consistent.

This is also the most difficult part of studying any subject as a whole. Being motivated in medical school is another big issue that medical students have to deal with.

Because it is only with the right motivation that you can be consistent in studying anatomy in medical school.

A good way to be consistent is to work with an effective timetable and avoid being too engrossed in just one subject.

One mistake most medical students make while studying is that they get too focused on just one subject or waste time trying to understand one difficult concept.

Such acts are the root causes of study fatigue and should be avoided at all costs.

If you find that a topic is too hard to understand, switch to the next one, and later you can study the topic again using one of the YouTube channels listed above.

Also, never read a particular subject for too long and forget the others.

Remember in medical school, all subjects are equally important for you to pass your medical exams.

One way to motivate yourself while studying is to study with music for increased focus and concentration.

There are certain kinds of music proven to increase one’s focus while studying. Most of them are instrumentals and classical music.

You should build your own special playlist of your best music for focus while studying and play them whenever you want to study to improve your awareness and motivation while studying.

10. Preparing For Your Anatomy Exams

The majority of the persons who ace their anatomy exams in the first sitting are usually those who have been studying for a long and have been consistent in that.

One thing you must understand here is that reading anatomy for understanding and preparing for anatomy exams are two different things and must be handled as such.

To pass your anatomy exams, you must understand the mind of your lecturers and the kind of things they want you to know.

This is why you should take your anatomy lectures seriously.

These are some important steps that you should take while preparing for your anatomy exams and they include;

Gather Your Most Essential Study Resources

What will determine your most essential exam prep resources is the medical school you attend and your level of comprehension.

For most people, this will include their lecture notes, jottings, and past questions and for a select few who are fast readers, these will include their anatomy texts mainly and maybe their lecture materials.

Then for a smaller group of medics whom I call the ‘lazy medics’, this will include short anatomy videos that summarize all the topics.

By now you should know which of the groups you belong in.

If you are among the majority who are always prepared beforehand with a good summary of all the lecture materials, you usually will have no problem with revision while preparing for your anatomy exam.

Meanwhile, if you a smart medic; the type that read their anatomy textbooks even a night before their exams, then I trust you will figure your way out in the exam hall.

But if you are the ‘lazy medic’, then you must find the best anatomy video series that best resonates with you, with enough past question papers to solve.

Also, Read; Best Anatomy Resources for Medical Students

Are Past Questions Helpful?

Yes, past questions have always helped me in passing my medical exam even though some persons are strongly against it with the argument that it is risky especially when you are relying on an already solved past question paper for your answers.

However, there is a right approach to using past question papers.

Past question papers are best used as a study guide as early as when you read your first anatomy topic.

It is used to see the angles from which your anatomy exams can come and the line of thoughts of your lecturers.

When you start solving past questions at an early stage, you avoid the temptation of having to cram the answers from an already filled past question paper.

But in general, if you use past question papers the right way, they are your best bet for passing any exam in medical school.

Write Anatomy Essays In Preparation

Most written parts of anatomy exams are made up of two components; the multiple-choice questions and the essay components.

Multiple-choice questions are not usually a problem for many medical students because most usually find a way to answer up to 50% of the questions correctly.

But the major challenge is usually the essay part of the anatomy written exam.

A strategy that works well for this part is to write short notes and essays on the likely essay questions on human anatomy.

While preparing for my own anatomy exam, I divided my anatomy course outline into sections and sieved out likely essay questions coupled with those released by benevolent lecturers during lectures, and wrote a short essay on them all.

Here is how this strategy works;
  • List out all the subsections in human anatomy like; head and neck, thorax, upper limb, thorax, etc. And write down all the likely essay questions from them both in; gross anatomy, histology, embryology, and osteology.
  • Write an outline for each of the essay topics. You can get a standard outline for almost any anatomy topic from here.
  • Fill in the outline for different essay topics with information from your anatomy textbooks and study materials.
  • Then you can revise this as often as possible while preparing for your anatomy exams.

Preparing For Steeple Chase In Anatomy Exams

In many medical schools, there is a form of the medical exam called the steeplechase exam.

This could come in various forms like; projection of histology slides for identification with follow-up questions, or various stands for identification of various body tissues and organs with the follow-up questions.

There are usually tutorials for this exam organized by the school or school organizations to prepare students for this part of the exam.

So ensure you attend such tutorials if there are any.

But if there is none, your general knowledge of anatomy will be just enough.

Preparing For Your Anatomy Oral Exam

Another important part of the anatomy exam is the orals otherwise known as the viva.

There is no special way of preparing for this exam.

All you need is your general knowledge of anatomy and profound self-confidence to pass.

11. Keeping Your Anatomy Knowledge

By keeping your anatomy knowledge, I mean being able to remember basic anatomical concepts and principles even after many years.

You should know that human anatomy indispensable part of medicine and surgery, so you should try as much as possible to adopt strategies that will help you retain your knowledge of anatomy.

Visual knowledge (as seen in anatomy videos, and images in the atlas of human anatomy) always stick better compared to the audio and written texts.

Your ability to retain knowledge is what will determine whether you will make a good doctor or not.

Common Challenges In Studying Anatomy In Medical School

Below are some of the common difficulties most medical students encounter while studying human anatomy and simple ways of tackling them;

i. Overload of information:

Most students who are very new to anatomy often find themselves overloaded with so much information because there is actually a lot to read.

But you can avoid this by sticking to just one anatomy textbook and referencing the other only when necessary.

For instance, many students I know prefer reading Last’s anatomy, but this textbook did not explain the clinical correlates of many structures in detail.

So the students end up using Keith Moore’s clinically oriented anatomy for further references.

Also, always stick to your course outline and avoid reading unnecessary things that are may not help you pass your anatomy exam.

ii. Fear and lack of motivation:

Many medical students fear anatomy the most when compared to physiology and biochemistry.

This is probably due to the voluminous nature and the fact that it has different components like embryology and histology.

To circumvent this fear and lack of motivation, you can;

Join a discussion group

Make out more time for studying anatomy

Watch more anatomy videos, especially Dr. Najeeb’s videos. It will simplify a lot of concepts

iii. Not Starting On Time

Most people who have problems with human anatomy often do not start studying anatomy on time.

And when the exams draw near, they are faced with the challenge of having to cover so much within a short while.

To pass your anatomy exam, you need to start studying on time so that you will not be choked up while preparing for your exams.

iv. Problem With Financing Your Study Materials

Medical textbooks are often very expensive to purchase especially hard copies.

If you are an indigent medical student who cannot afford to buy the recommended medical school textbooks, then you should try and make friends with senior colleagues who have such textbooks so that they can lend you when they are done with any medical exam.

Or if you have a laptop, a tablet, or a mobile phone, you can download many of these medical textbooks online for free.

Alternatively, you can borrow from colleagues who have and return the textbooks when they need them.

Tips For Studying Anatomy In Medical School: Final Words!

Human anatomy is one of the most challenging subjects for medical students.

Studying anatomy in medical school requires lots of patience and consistency to be able to cope with the voluminous texts and study materials.

But with this guide, I am confident that any serious student can easily make find it to be a very interesting course to study.

I wish you the best in your journey through the first medical professional exam.

Also, if you have any tips you feel might be helpful to medical students who are studying anatomy, kindly share them in the comment section below if you come across this article.

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