Examining the time course of memory retention for medical gross anatomy in first year medical students
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During medical school students must learn and retain a large volume of information that is important for success in their future career as physicians. Laboratory studies have given insight into the mechanisms underpinning learning and memory, but few studies have examined the time course of memorial retention in a real world setting. The current study aimed to examine the memorial mechanisms used to retain information over time by using a variation of the Remember/Know/New recognition memory procedure to examine memory retention for anatomical information in first year medical students. Participants were presented with anatomical terms and asked to respond whether they Can Define the term, were Familiar with the term or Don’t Know the term. Participants’ Remember and Know responses are thought to be reflective of different processes, recollection and familiarity, respectively. We were particularly interested in examining differences in memorial retention based on retention interval (immediately at course end and after six months). All participants were enrolled in a Medical Gross Anatomy course. The course was divided into three successive modules, each of which culminated in an examination, module 1: Back and Limbs, module 2: Thorax, Abdomen and Pelvis, and module 3: Head and Neck. Participants completed a computer based memory task at three separate time points: prior to course start (session 1), after course completion (session 2); and six months after course completion (session 3). Students were presented with anatomical terms from each module and asked to respond whether they Can Define, are Familiar with or Don’t Know a term. We predicted that responses would differ depending on when the module of the course was taught and when the testing occurred. Following work on primacy and recency, we predicted that at session 2 students would make the most Can Define responses to information learned most recently. We predicted that the second most Can Define responses would be to information learned the longest period of time from the testing session, and that information learned in the middle would be least well recalled (lowest number of Can Define responses). Furthermore, we predicted that familiarity responses would show the reverse pattern to Can Define responses at session 2.We also predicted that performance would differ by session. We hypothesized that the proportion of Can Define responses would be higher for session 2 relative to session 3, due to the processes of forgetting. Furthermore, we predicted that recollective processes characterized by Can Define responses, would be most common in module 3, the module most recently studied relative to session 2. Lastly, we predicted that the number of Familiar responses would increase across the two sessions. Our results showed that responses varied based on when the information was taught in that participants made more Can Define responses to recently learned module 3 and earliest learned module 1 relative to module 2. Responses also varied by session, as the number of Familiar responses increased overall across session 2 and 3. At session 3, there were no significant differences in the proportion of Can Define or Familiar responses between the different modules of the course. Theoretically, these results suggest that while the order of teaching impacts performance at course end, in the longer-term order of teaching ceases to matter and level of forgetting plateaus across modules. Practically however, a teacher’s aim is to maximize retention. Students might benefit from interleaving of course content instead of separate blocks, so that no one module is taught in the middle and more frequent testing to boost overall retention.