Transforming the Way You Learn One Sketch at a Time

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PMY 449: Transforming the Way You Learn One Sketch at a Time

Session 449

Wouldn’t it be great if you could learn science content effortlessly in an exciting, visual way? Sketchy’s co-founders, Dr. Andrew Berg and Dr. Saud Siddiqui, join me today to talk about Sketchy MCAT.

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[00:46] The MCAT Minute

The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. What score do you need to get in? The answer is

AAMC data says that the average for matriculants is about 511 for the AMCAS application. TMDSAS is very similar to AACOMAS (DO schools) where it’s a little bit lower.

But the answer to the question is not as easy to get a 510 and get in because there are so many variables that get into a whole application and what a medical school is looking for. They overlook a lower MCAT score if you have better extracurriculars or a higher GPA. And so, it’s impossible to know because every medical school is different. Therefore, get as high of a score as you can get.

For help on the MCAT process, check out Blueprint MCAT and get a free half-length diagnostic, free full-length one, study Planner Tool and free MCAT flashcards.

[02:22] A New Way of Studying for the MCAT

Learning information over and over again is hard and boring. Sketchy MCAT ties in with my philosophy on storytelling. They use stories in the form of images, videos and narration around the videos to help you remember boring information.

They’ve done very well in the medical school space helping students do well on the USMLE Step 1. And now, they just came out with an MCAT tool as well to help you learn the key information the MCAT is trying to teach you.

These visuals help you learn and memorize all of this information in a way that you can remember these stories and in the way that our brains are wired to learn. 

Back on Session 265, Luis Angel, a memory master champion on FOX’s Superhuman Show walked us through what Sketchy is helping you do with images and videos.

You can use images and places in your house or anywhere else to assign values to those things. With Sketchy, learn how you can start this model of learning or even just learn how to tell yourself stories as you are trying to learn information.

It’s an efficient way to make that information stay in your brain longer so you can do better on the MCAT and all your other tests.

[05:14] Interest in Medicine

Andrew was a business economics major and made the switch halfway through. His father being a psychiatrist, he had some tidbits of exposure to medicine throughout his life. So it has probably been primed more than he actually realized. But he didn’t make the decision until midway through college.

As for Saud, he came into college undecided but he took some Biology classes. Having Pakistani parents, Saud mentions that anybody out there that’s brown will get the joke that they plant the seed pretty early so you start thinking about it.

Anyway, he did some shadowing pretty early in college, and spoke to a lot of physicians in different specialties. Finally, halfway through college, he decided it was the path he wanted to go down.

[07:32] MCAT Prep Hiccups

It’s a big jump going from highschool classes to premed classes. Every time you got to the next step, the bar is suddenly higher.

You have to be able to make that adjustment to perform in the new environment, which is a challenge. 

Then you get into med school, and all of a sudden, it’s just a lot more intense. There’s a lot for you to learn. Everything is more complex, and you have to do it faster. It’s a tough curve but once you get there, you’re able to manage the rest.

There’s a phenomenal video of the pancake eating analogy on YouTube wherein in medical school, it’s like you need to eat 10 pancakes a day. And sometimes, if you only eat five, you will have to eat 15 pancakes the next day because you got behind. And it’s just this avalanche of getting behind.

For many students, like Andrew, organic chemistry is the biggest struggle when it comes to the MCAT. And so, you really have to allot most of your time studying and that means having to sacrifice a lot of your time. And so, those small sacrifices and small decisions will pay off in the long run.

'You don't have to make the right decision every time. You just have to make the right decision most of the time.' Click To Tweet

[12:37] An Overview of the Boards

There are three Steps to the boards – Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3. Step 1 is taken towards the end of your second year and that’s all of your preclinical knowledge. These are courses like pathology, physiology, anatomy, etc. So none of the clinical stuff.

'The boards is a way to nationally benchmark you against other students. It's a double check on your medical school to make sure they're teaching you all the right things.'Click To Tweet

In Step 1, the score you get was oftentimes, if not, in the top 3 of the most important factors for deciding which residency program you get into.

But Step 1 switched to pass-fail recently. So now, it’s a little bit less of pressure. 

That being said, you don’t want to not pass the board. Hence, it’s still the culminating experience at the end of your second year where you had to bring everything together and cram.

You basically have the whole two years to prepare for it ideally. But people usually spend about a month of intensive setting leading up to Step 1. And although the MCAT is a beast of its own, the exams in medical school are never-ending.

[15:49] How Sketchy Was Founded

Microbiology was the first course Sketchy offered because that’s where it all started. Andrew, Saud were in the same study group. Then they realized they would have to learn five new bunches of bacteria or viruses, and they would get kicked out of their brain.

'Every time you put something in, there's not enough space. And we felt like we had to push something out.'Click To Tweet

It was out of desperation and boredom that they started weaving them into funny stories. Then they’d go to sleep and the next day, they realize they remembered all of those in the stories and the images they drew.

And so, telling these cool narratives and having simple visuals that accompany the bacteria really seemed to make it stick. They then started teaching their way of learning to their study companions and they all loved it.

They wanted to recreate that experience for other people standing in front of a whiteboard and drawing it out and telling you the story as it goes. 

One day, they saw one of their classmates, Bryan Lemieux, who was drawing this amazing art, so they pitched him the idea and he then joined in. So they put a couple videos on YouTube in 2013. Then they continued like normal medical students, and then did residency and Sketchy at the same time.

[20:50] Their Storytelling Process

As they started posting the first few videos, people were just demanding the rest of the course. Each one of those sketches took about anywhere from 20 to 40 hours of work behind the scenes to deliver the final polished product. So it started with making sure they had all the right information and material, and going over different sources.

Eventually, they started using recurring symbols and all sorts of techniques to try to group and classify things and use different color schemes. Then it all just started falling into place.

For instance, one of the classic things about Salmonella is that it’s passed down through undercooked chicken. So their salmonella sketch was the chicken dinner. But instead of it being the chicken for dinner, they were having seagull over for dinner and they were serving salmon (representing salmonella). Then they had the chicken there because that was part of the transmission. They were eating off of black plates. And that’s because the auger plates that Salmonella grows on are black.

So they just kept adding elements. Then you can just close your eyes and picture that salmon dinner, and name off all of the features about Salmonella that you would get tested on.

[24:00] The Power of Visual Memory

'There is real power to visual memory.'Click To Tweet

Memory Masters is an annual international championship and they use the same visual technique called the memory palace technique that unlocks orders of magnitude, better memory as an example.

For example, the fastest time to remember a deck of cards using just rote memory is 15 minutes. And the record time for using the memory palace technique was 14 seconds to get through and recall an entire deck of cards.

It’s not only just increased accuracy and duration of retention, but also speed and rapid retrieval of memories. 

One study was done on human subjects, where 3,000 images flashed on the screen for three seconds. They were able to recognize around 90% of those images when tested later, which is just crazy. It took five hours of showing them images for three seconds at a time. And so, as humans, we  have robust visual memories, and it makes sense evolutionarily.

[27:18] Try It for Yourself!

Here’s an exercise for students wanting to try this. Close your eyes and walk through your entire house and name where everything is.

Basically, you need to create a cohesive space. And then you anchor information to all of these objects there. 

So when a student gets a question on salmonella, they close their eyes, and they can walk through that scene that they did with them in the same way that they could walk through a room in their house and tell you where everything is.

“Everybody has the capacity to learn in these different ways.”Click To Tweet

[29:23] Sketchy for Premed Students

Sketchy has been doing this for medical students to learn all this information for Step 1 and Level 1. The good news is that Sketchy is now also entering the MCAT world for premed students.

The thought process was to take the same information and apply it to the MCAT. The MCAT content is different, that’s why this challenge made them excited. You have to hone in on your learning style. Andrew says you have to be able to organize all of that memory in a smart way. And so, the way they’re teaching physics is totally different.

“The MCAT is just very different in terms of all the things you need to learn. It's just a much broader test than something like Step 1.”Click To Tweet

They walk people through the calculations and remember the equations, and hopefully give them stress relief on test day. Ultimately, at the core of it, it’s still the same problem they’re solving. Not only do they want it to be effective, they also want it to be more fun.

[34:15] How Students Can Take Advantage of Sketchy

Andrew clarifies they don’t like viewing themselves as a test prep company, but they want to be a learning company in general. They want to be a companion for students going through the experience. 

'Doing questions and doing practice tests should be the backbone of an MCAT setting.'Click To Tweet

This is meant to accompany your undergrad courses. Andrew believes this would fit in really nicely as being the content you consume before doing your practice questions, just to refresh your memory about physics or everything that you need to know on MCAT.

Sketchy plays nicely with others so you can use it in conjunction with question banks and practice tests.

As you continue to learn about it, you get to reinforce and strengthen that so by the time you get to your MCAT, it becomes effortless for you to recall that concept and really go back to it. Therefore, using it over a long period of time is definitely beneficial.

[38:36] Final Words of Wisdom

Everything is possible as long as you just put in the hard work as a premed. It’s all worth the effort.

'It's a marathon and you've got to treat it like one.'Click To Tweet

Nevertheless, also try to find time to enjoy the journey because it is a long one. Have study groups and a support group to get through it. Having those helps you go through the grueling years of med school.


Meded Media

Sketchy MCAT

Blueprint MCAT

The Premed Years Podcast Session 265: Learn How to Better Retain Information with a Memory Master

Video of the pancake eating analogy on YouTube