Do fractals make you wet your pants a little?

This post is part of a series on using the theory of multiple intelligences to help you study. Miss the intro? Find it here.

You kick butt at chess.  You differentiate between valid arguments and true information.  You love sudoku.  Or, you don’t enjoy sudoku anymore because you developed an algorithm for solving them every time and now they’re boring. (My sister did this.  It’s sometimes difficult to believe we’re related.)  You like patterns, mystery novels, and taxonomy, and reading Ender’s Game for the first time thrilled you to the core.  Hey, logical learner!  I’m looking at you!

Let’s talk memory.  Most of the time, it’s easier to learn a whole passel of facts if you focus on one at a time.  Trying to memorize too many ideas all under one umbrella at once tends to lead to TMI Syndrome and a poor comprehension rate overall.  Of course, there are huge gaping exceptions to this rule.  One is this: by studying the patterns that connect different facts to one another rather than learning information in isolation, you can create contexts for the information that makes it easier to remember more things.

Know what this means?

It’s time for some spreadsheet love.

Will somebody please explain to the gods of spellcheck that I don't need to be alerted every time I use even remotely scientific terminology?

[Go ahead and click on the image to make it big and beautiful.  Or at least legible.]

What’s the point of creating a spreadsheet (or chart, for the pencil-and-paper types out there)?  A spreadsheet organizes the information for a number of different things (muscles, in this case) into different categories.  This allows you to look at information by category and notice patterns that arise.

Study the Verticals

Most people are busy studying the horizontals on a chart like this.  Origin, insertion, action, innervation.  Maybe compartment gets thrown in there, maybe not.  But when you study the verticals, you start to see patterns.  And patterns = shortcuts = more time to actually give massages or read rocking blogs like this one.

One of the most obvious of the vertical patterns in this particular example is the connection between compartment and innervation.  The anterior compartment muscles are always innervated by the deep fibular nerve, the lateral compartment muscles are always innervated by the superficial fibular nerve, and the posterior compartment muscles (both superficial and deep) are innervated by the tibial nerve. Three things to remember instead of 13!  Easy can be so delicious.

But what do you do when the patterns aren’t so universally binding?

“One of these things is not like the other …”

Remember that little clip on Sesame Street where you’d have the four boxes, and the stuff in one box wouldn’t fit?  And let me guess, you were probably awesome at that.  Keep it up, because that’s where we’re going with this.  Knowing the exceptions is just as powerful as knowing the rules.

Here’s a sample test question for you:

Which of the following leg muscles acts on the leg?

A. flexor digitorum longus
B. flexor hallucis longus
C. popliteus
D. tibialis posterior
E. none of the above

You know that all of these muscles are part of the deep posterior compartment of the leg.  You know that they’re all innervated by the tibial nerve.  But that doesn’t help you unless you can pick the odd man out of a line-up.  This is the other half of vertical study.  [The correct answer is C, by the way.]

So how do you study for this kind of knowledge, specifically?

  1. Organize your material into a chart, if it isn’t arranged that way in your textbook already.
  2. Skim the verticals for patterns and similarities.
  3. Zero in on the exceptions.

If your instructor is anything like mine, you will anticipate a LOT of exam questions this way. Which fibularis muscle is part of the anterior compartment?  Which superficial posterior muscle of the leg does not originate on the femur?  As a bonus, people will start thinking you’re psychic, which is always fun.

Any other thoughts, logical ladies and gents?  Share the love.

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