#11: Memory Palace for Immunology (MHC and HLA)

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In this episode I will describe exactly how I built my memory palace for MHC and HLA. This podcast illustrates the principles of how to make memory palaces.

You may find it helpful to go download the slide deck first, so that you can follow along as I go through this topic. You can do that here:

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So where do you start? First you’ll need to identify the most important information, like I’ve talked about in my 5-Part Study Strategy Planner. If you don’t know what that is, email me at info@sholamd.com and I’ll send you a link.

To identify the most important information, you will use your course notes and First Aid. Gather together the most high-yield information. See if there are any placeholders you need – things that belong in this area but that you aren’t learning in school just yet. Then figure out how many rooms or spaces you need, then choose a location for your palace.

For my MHC and HLA palace, I needed one room for MHCI and another room for MHCII with two distinct areas for Th1 and Th2. I used my friend Alicia’s apartment in Los Angeles. It fit perfectly because when you walked in you could go to the right into a little sitting room, or to the left where there were two bedrooms and the kitchen. I put MHC I into the sitting room, and MHC II into the kitchen with Th1 in the first bedroom and Th2 in the second.

Once I had the overall map laid out, and knew which area I would use for each topic, I started to fill in the details. Here are the buzz words I used . If you’d like to see the slides for this, go to sholamd.com.

As I was doing this, I was documenting everything in Word. It is so important to document your palaces. When it’s time for tests, you’ll be able to quickly review and refresh all the information, and that’s true for years to come. I still use my palaces and my palace documents all the time. There are examples from my palace in the slide deck. Remember images work better if they are funny, sexual, or profane, and if you ever forget an image, go back and make it even more ridiculous or inappropriate until it sticks. This palace is just for you. You can make it as raunchy as you want; the point is for YOU to remember it at test time.

For MHCII, some of my buzz words were: and then I had Th1 and Th2 in the two bedrooms. I won’t go through all of my buzz words, but you can see these in the downloadable slide deck too.

When you are making your palaces, don’t forget that concepts are king. It’s not enough just to memorize the buzz words and associations. You have to understand the mechanisms behind them, and the clinical significance. There are questions that go beyond what you can put in a memory palace, and are important for reinforcing the concepts that you need to make the memory palace really work for you. For example, “What do MHC, HLA, and TCR (t-cell receptor) mean? How would you explain this to a patient? ”

I have a slide with helpful mnemonics and “frequent friends.” These are the recurring images that will appear in a few different places in your palaces, so it’s good to make them vivid and become familiar with them. For example, HLA B-27 shows up in medicine again and again, so make a meme now. I used this obnoxious actress Jackee from this old show 227. It’s silly, but it worked.

Finally, remember the importance of practice questions. When you are doing questions, they should reinforce the location of the mnemonics in your memory palace. I searched and found a good free online resource for practice questions on immunology, and wrote down just the numbers related to MHC and HLA. If you remember my 5-part study strategy, practice questions are a key component. So definitely use these! The last slide is a practice question from a boards review book.

So to summarize, when you decide that you need a memory palace, the first step is to identify all the facts that belong in that palace. Figure out how the information will be organized (in our example today, it was MHCI in one area and MHCII in another). Then choose a physical location that you know well, and start putting the images into locations in that palace. Make sure to document in Word. To reinforce your palace, review the concepts behind the images you have used, and then do practice questions to make sure your palace is working properly, and that the images are sticky enough. What I mean by working properly is that the locations are separate and clear, so that when you have a boards-style question where all of the answer choices are similar and confusing, your palace helps you keep these separate in your mind. If you follow all of these steps, you will have a memory palace that you can return to year after year, Step 1, Step 2, and beyond.

Thanks for being with me today. I hope this podcast helped illustrate the mechanism for making memory palaces, with a little help for immunology. Visit sholamd.com to read the transcript and download the pdf. See you next time!

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