This is Your Brain on HESI – How to Think When You’re Studying

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I was working on a study guide today for the basic A&P for Neuro, and it made me think.  I’m no great philosopher, but it seems to me that neurons, like nursing students, do not do well when they are isolated.  If you’ll remember, the purpose of a neuron is to gather information (in the form of electrical current) from many other neurons, and then pass that information along to the rest of the neurons.  So in order to be effective, the neuron needs to be a part of a larger network of neurons that all communicate with each other (again, like nursing students!).  A neuron all by itself is really kind of pointless.  It has no one to listen to, and nothing to tell.

When you’re learning new nursing material, whether it’s for HESI, NCLEX, or a class exam; the neurons in your brain are sending each other messages.  All that new information causes your neurons to communicate with each other in a different and unique way, creating brain pathways for new information.  The more you review that information, the stronger that new pathway gets.

But that’s only helpful if you can find the right brain pathway on test day.

So here’s where my neural philosphy starts to get really cool.  If you learn one new thing, but you notice that it connects to something you already learned and know well from the past, then those two pathways suddenly become connected.  You just linked a brand new brain pathway to a well-established brain pathway.  As a linked pathway gets stronger, it means that every time you remember the first piece of information, then the second piece of information will more easily come to mind, too.

So how is that helpful to you?  When you set up a system in your head where all nursing information is interconnected 6-degrees of separation style, you’re much more likely to be able to get from what the question is asking to what the correct answer is.

Or, to add yet another metaphor, think about it like this.  My purse is full of stuff:  my wallet and cell phone, old receipts, pens, hair brush, cough drops, it’s a mess.  What do you think would happen if I dropped my house key into my purse, without putting it on a keychain first?  How long would it take me to find that single key later, when I need to open the door?  A lot longer than it would have taken if I had stopped to put the key on my keychain first!  If the key had been on my keychain than I could have just reached into my purse and found EITHER that single key OR my keychain.  So now I have two chances for success instead of only one.

Learning nursing material is like that.  You need to take the time to think about and process the new information that you are learning.  If you do this, then you’re putting the new information on your mental keychain, and it’s going to be much easier to retrieve later.  Using this strategy when you study takes a little extra time up front, but will save you time in the long run.  When you consistently approach your studying in this way, then it will be much easier to recall the new information you are learning whenever you need it…including on test day.

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