Scientific tips on how to cram for an exam

Originally published at:


Be careful not to recite out loud some time-tested (and time-worn) bawdy medical mnemonics, such as the one for the cranial nerves: Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel A Girl’s Vagina And Hips.

Another for remembering the Argyll Robertson pupil or “Prostitute’s Pupil” due to syphilis: they don’t react (to light) but are accommodating.

This mind palace thing appeared in the Cumberbatch “Sherlock” series. I do believe that Conan Doyle didn’t use this term in his novels and stories about his Victorian “Mary Sue” character.

In a “Study in Scarlet,” Holmes tells Watson that he is careful what he enters into his memory, feeling that there is a finite capacity to protect. Watson then mocks him for nothing little or nothing about the solar system.


Well not quite ‘mocks’ - nothing so ungentlemanly. But he is pretty astonished…

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”


Are those actually current medical mnemonics, or are you just pining for a different era?

In my era, it was “On old Olympus’ treeless tops a fat-assed German viewed a hop.”

1 Like

Also in the backstory of Hannibal Lecter. I don’t recall which novel.

I certainly hope the training of medical has progressed beyond these sexist holdovers.

I should also hope to see the end of rote memorization, or even the course in gross anatomy. You have to imagine the dread you have the night before the first gross anatomy exam and practical when you realize there is a seemingly endless amount of anatomical names you could be tested on. Time for stress eating!

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.