Zettelkasten Forum

Zettlekasten to memorise medical information #almostadoctor

edited April 2020 in Introduce Yourselves!

Greetings! I have a medical qualifying exam in a couple months' time. A solid foundation of knowledge will be required to pass (90+ lectures)! Thus entered the Zettelkasten method...

Upon finding out about it in a blog post, I read original articles from Luhmann and some of the introductory posts on Zettelkasten.de before deciding to begin my journey. I've read that it takes years to really reap the benefits from a Zettelkasten but I would like try using the method now using the Archive.

I am not sure how to atomize the information from one lecture into Zettel format. Do I make entries as and when I hear new, surprising information in my lectures? Will this method improve my ability to retain information? How should I structure my Zettels? Are there any in-depth walkthroughs on the best way to structure/create a Zettel? I have found many of the explanations on the website and on YouTube too theoretical so please excuse my ignorance!

Also, I'm wondering if there are any doctors or other medical professionals who have used a Zettelkasten to help prepare for their exams and to foster lifelong learning...

Finally, I would like to personally thank Christian and Sacha for their efforts!


  • Welcome on board! :) It's true that some effects will kick in only after you pass thresholds of critical mass; but you can use a Zettelkasten for a single writing project already with great success. The least you get is movable text fragments: you write atomic/self-contained little pieces of information, and open up the possibility to put these pieces into any order. That's how historically a Zettelkasten was used by authors, and the result looked very much like a scrapbook that poor printers had to make sense of :)

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • edited April 2020

    I personally would not use ZK for learning for exams. I perceive ZK as (whole-life, multi-area, multi-topic) database where you purposefully de-contextualize information by its atomization and (later or at the same time) try to re-contextualize it in various different, obvious or non-obvious ways (tags, links, structured Zettels, outlines) either for the sake of production (writing) or just to capture your "ontologies".

    For studying, especially if your exams are so near, I would not bother to create ZK now. I would do it later, after exams, without stress and deadlines. I would not put everything (what you need to learn for exams) for your ZK. No need to replace wikipedia. You should personalize it. So choose what interests you, what you want to focus on etc.

    Now I would focus on study - because learning (for exams) is highly contextualized activity - or better said, you should learn your material in highly contextualized ways - with already (or naturally) created links, as provided and already demonstrated in textbooks, lectures etc. And it is completely opposite process than creating Zettels (= decontextualization).

    Of course, you could provide the same level of necessary contextualization later by using structure notes/links and ZK, but IMO it would be now (in your situation) rather procrastination from the study/memorization.

    For (some) materials, which are best to be studied in de-contextualized (atomized) form (terminology etc., which is necessary to know by memory, by drill), I would use SRS system (Anki). But it would not be my main method, only supplement, for specific parts of knowledge, where rote rehearsal (memorization of de-contextualized facts) is preferable.

    I think that majority of our learning should be in opposite form - in contextual form. We should learn from (good) excerpts, mind-maps, outlines etc. So I would focus on these materials and not only read and memorize everything necessary, but also create personalized mind-maps, tables, summaries and other memorization/learning aids - which are not only best memorization enhancers, but also tools for elaboration and deep understanding.

    After exams, I would start to think what to put (from my learning materials) to ZK and what not to.

    Now , even in my almost middle age :-), I am learning completely new field, and I do not put my study notes in ZK - yes from the same reasons as stated above: (1) I do not want to substitute wikipedia/good textbook (2) I do not want to put everything (from my areas of interest) in ZK, only what is interesting for me (in general sense, not as fleeting emotion) (3) I do not think that ZK is best learning tool. My best learning tool is good outline and exerpt (with definitions, facts, tables, mindmaps etc), which I print out and learn by memory with self-test, where I cover part of the page or one table colum with a blank sheet of paper and I try to recall answers etc.

    (Please, take it just as my personal experience from many exams and learning situations. Of course, we are highly individual and our preferences in these cognitive/learning styles differ considerably)

  • Thank you for your response @ctietze. You too @daneb - great, detailed explanation of learning information in highly contextualised ways (i.e. from lectures) vs the ZK method.

  • @MPA This is my current thinking with it

    If you imagine yourself to be an information processing machine there are four possible routes inputs go down, sometimes more than one:

    1. Information needs to be hard memorized for fast thinking (ER doctor) gets out into ANKI or SuperMemo

    2. Information isn’t important to for memorization but you’d still like to be able to reference, goes into a personal wiki. This can also be information you want to interconnect with a bunch of other information to help promote a holistic understand of how what you are learning is interconnected

    3. Information you find really interesting goes into the slip box, especially good idea if you plan on going into research after medical school

    4. Information gets discarded and forgotten. Often this is the unimportant supporting details or details that you’ve abstracted information out of to form concepts.

    Hope that helps a bit! I’d really recommend checking out the med school subreddit, a friend of mine who went through med school found it really helpful.

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