“Anatomizing” reversed: Use of examination questions that foster use of higher order learning skills by students


  • E. Robert Burns

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
    • Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences Mail slot 510, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 4301 W. Markham Street, Little Rock, Arkansas 72205, USA
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“Anatomizing” is a new verb some use to describe the breaking apart of a complex entity such as the human body, into isolated tidbits of information for study, which can never equal the complex, integrated whole. Although popular with first-year medical students, this practice of “tidbitting” anatomical information into easy to memorize facts or tables of facts does not prepare medical students for the inevitable task of dealing with the integrated structure–function of the human body, both normal and diseased, as patient managers. Examination questions drive the cognitive methods students will use to learn content. Asking students on examinations for recall of previously memorized tidbits fosters the cognitive learning behavior of only memorization. Examination questions, however, can be constructed that assess student understanding and integration of the content, that is, student use of cognitive and metacognitive methods of higher order learning that will foster high-quality learning producing better practitioners and lifelong learners. This kind of efficient student learning needs to begin in the first year of medical school.Learning more efficiently and at deeper levels of understanding is especially pertinent as the contact hours in anatomy courses continue to decrease. Anat Sci Educ. © 2010 American Association of Anatomists.