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How to Pass Your First Anatomy Lab

As a junior and an exercise science major, I have had to take a class every semester that pertained to anatomy. By far, the hardest class to excel in was freshman anatomy lab due to its complexity and intensity. It is nothing like you have ever taken in high school and is presented at a much faster pace. This lab seems to be used to wean out students who are not serious about putting in the time and dedication, which causes several students to fail out. I have been a teacher’s assistant and a tutor for this course for two years and have learned the tricks needed to pass with a high grade. Here are the things I wished I knew when I was a freshman.

1. Find a tutor early on, even if you do not need help…yet

It is better to be overly prepared than left with remaining questions because everything builds upon itself. If you have a tutor and he/she is not helping you in a way that you need, then find another one. Find someone that can relay the information in a way that you can understand. Attend your tutoring sessions even if you understand the material because repetition is key! Getting help does not make you look weak, it makes it look like you value your education.

2. Attend open labs!

Again, repetition is key to retaining the information because there will always be a lot. Open labs allow you to look at the models, which you will be expected to know inside and out. Looking at labeled pictures online may be great if you are at home studying, but it is more beneficial to practice hands on when possible. It will build your confidence in knowing the material. Lab instructors and assistants monitor these sessions and are open for questions and advice. 


3. Study a week or more in advance for each practical

Practicals are stressful. They are the worst 30 minutes in any anatomy student’s month…every month. Usually there are 4-6 chapters worth of material on each practical and any model, figure, or text is fair game to be asked. On top of other classes, this is very overwhelming. I suggest studying and mastering one chapter each night, while reviewing the past nights chapter. Make sure to leave the last couple of days before the practical to review everything. This requires you to start studying a week or more in advance, but will be less time each day than if you wait until 2 days before to start studying. It might also limit the number and intensity of any mental breakdowns in the library at 3 A.M.


4. Ask the teachers assistants for advice and for tips

These students have taken the practicals within the past couple years and know what types of questions are asked and which models are commonly used. This insider knowledge will bring some structure to your studying. These people are also very knowledgeable with the material and are usually very willing to help you no matter the time. I even hold personal review sessions with games! These are great people to become friends with, not just for this class but for knowledge for the rest of your college career.


5. The sillier the sayings- the better!

Anatomy is hard. Anyone who says differently is lying. Spelling counts too! I made up sayings to help me remember basically everything and I have shared them with my students. For example, the ulna bone is on the pinky side of the forearm. “P-U you smell” is a quick reminder that the Ulna is on the Pinky side. A way to remember the hand bones is with the mnemonical saying “so long to pinky, here comes the thumb.”  A mnemonic to remember the cranial nerves in order is “oh, oh, oh, to touch and feel very good velvet. Ah heaven.” This is never ending. It seems like I have a saying or a trick for memorization for every topic, which I have added to throughout my years of teaching.


6. Find your own study method- and use it!

Some people make hundreds of color-coded flashcards (me) and some love Quizlet. Some people need to teach the material to others, whereas some need to write it down repeatedly. Sometimes, what worked for you in high school doesn’t work for this class. It is a timely process to find out what will work for you, and it may take a few poor grades to figure out. Learning proper study habits will be very beneficial for you throughout all your college classes.


Just remember that your first anatomy lab is hard, and you are not expected to know exactly the best way to effectively study. It is a process, but with this advice, you should be able to find your routine quickly and succeed! Try to find a little joy along the way and I promise you will learn to love anatomy through the struggles!

Sarah Gordon

Scranton '20

Sarah Gordon is an exercise science major with a concentration in nutrition and she will stay at The University of Scranton for graduate school for physical therapy. She hopes to specialize in pediatrics during that time. Sarah is infatuated with dogs and will go out of her way to say hi to them. She has traveled to Europe to study her art passion, which she hopes to incorporate into her career.
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