20 Tips on How to Survive A&P

This summer, the MSMC has been doing a lot of prep for the incoming class of midwifery students. In the spirit of preparing the incoming class, I thought I’d write about some tips to survive the hardest course you’ll probably take in first year: anatomy and physiology.

Even though A&P was my hardest course, it was certainly my favourite. Most of the material was interesting and engaging and all of it was relevant to midwifery practice. Students tend to do better in second semester rather than first semester. Some people say that it’s because the material is easier in second semester and that may be partially true, but I think that the real reason is because it takes a while to learn the language of anatomy and physiology and find what study method works best for you. I tried a few different methods like writing out my notes by hand and typing them and I tried just listening in class and then taking notes. I tried cue cards and online quizzes. Studying in groups and alone. Finally in second semester I found my A&P mojo and everything just seemed to finally click.

So here are my tips and tricks that I found really helpful:

1. Don’t fall behind. Seriously.

I know that first year is a whirlwind. Get organized. Now. Set up your calendar for the semester and work backwards from there. Have a 20 page paper for WAD due in 12 weeks? Commit to writing one page a week every Saturday morning. Have A&P every Tuesday and Thursday? Commit a few hours after class to studying what you just learned in lecture. If you fall behind it is extremely difficult to catch up.

2. Find a routine that works for you.

This has a lot to do with staying organized. I would recommend doing this routine even before the first class. You get right into the material, there’s no wasting time. When I finally found my groove, here’s what worked for me:

Monday/Wednesday (day before class): watch lecture from last year on Mac Anatomy. Don’t take notes, just listen. Download slides for class tomorrow. *Hint: they usually re-use the same iClicker questions in lecture every year.*

Tuesday/Thursday (class): Open lecture slides. Do the iClicker question even though you don’t have to. It’ll help with your TBLs. I’m a very fast typist, so taking notes on my computer worked well for me. Basically, I typed everything the lecturer said about the slide including (especially) the anecdotes. I found that I remember things through goofy stories and personifying organs. I tried doing my notes by hand and most of them ended up looking a lot like this:

Day One. Failing already…

Needless to say, I abandoned that note-taking method.

Tuesday/Thursday (after class): Drag your hungry, tired butt to the lab. Fire up iTunes and listen to some Nicki Minaj and re-type your lecture notes into a word document. Add lots of pictures and screen shots from the lecture slides. Didn’t understand something? Re-watch that slide on Mac Anatomy. Still not getting it? Type questions into your word document and highlight them to ask the TAs later. Get a cup of coffee and some chocolate then go back to the lab to look at specimens. There are specimens in the lab for every unit. Look at whacky pathologies, put some gloves on and open up some wet specimens to test your knowledge. Go home and study from your notes some more.

3. Aim to learn the material of the week before the next class.

I know that seems like a tall order. Try and learn the two lectures from that week by Sunday. Cause then you’re moving on to more material the next week. Again: don’t fall behind.

4. Study for the TBLs as if they are mini-exams.

So I usually did poorly on my TBLs. Ironically, the one TBL I didn’t study for was my best mark. Kill me. By that point I had run out of ideas and wanted to cry. But I dusted off my leggings (wearing real pants was no longer feasible at this point) and went back to the lab.

5. Study alone and in groups.

I sometimes found it hard to study in groups. Especially if I didn’t know the material before hand. I aimed to study the material before and know it well before studying in a large group of people. Sometimes your particular learning style doesn’t match those of your classmates. Try and find someone who has a similar learning style to you and study with them.

6. Make friends with the TAs from other faculties.

How does one do this? Go to the lab, say hello. Ask questions and let them quiz you. Trust me, they will be super excited to go off on a tangent and show you awesome specimens. They might also say things like: “This is important for midwifery practice because…” and that really helps put things into perspective. They also have inside info about special review sessions and interesting events going on in the lab that midwifery students sometimes miss. The TAs are so valuable, I don’t know what I would have done without them.

7. Make friends with students from other faculties.

This A&P course includes engineering, nursing, and health science students. As you would expect, midwifery students tend to have strengths in the repro unit and health science students might excel in neuro – make friends and help each other out. Not only is it nice to exchange knowledge but it’s also nice to learn a little about other professions and explain a little about midwifery.

8. Get extra help early.

Nervous about exams? Need extra time for multiple choice? Get the help you need now. I went to a “How to Succeed in Multiple Choice Exams” seminar on campus and found it somewhat helpful.

9. Write out concepts again and again and again.

On the chalkboard in the lab and on your whiteboard at home. Do it again and again until you have that fetal heart structure or ECG memorized.


10. Memorization is one thing. Understanding is another.

There are going to be some things that you’re just gonna have to accept you won’t understand and you’ll just have to memorize. Most things however, I would recommend you really understand. If you understand the material and are asked a random question out of left field, you should be able to puzzle it out.

11. Learn common latin/greek terms used in A&P.

This will also help you to puzzle out big words that you’ve never seen before. Know some of the root words in this 36 character pathology? Perfect – you can probably guess what it means.

12. Fill out your lab notebook before lab.

If you fill in all the blanks that you can before your lab, you will have more time to actually engage in the specimens and material. This also gives you some time to quiz yourself and study.

13. Try and step back and look at the big picture.

So here’s the hard thing: you learn about all these little systems within the system of your entire body. You learn them as if they are separate entities but they are all connected. Thinking holistically will help you as a clinician in the future.

14. “Good clinicians are good teachers.”

When I’m trying to learn something I find that teaching it to someone else who knows very little about the subject really helps. When they ask questions about the material it becomes especially challenging. Teach your kids, your dog, your colleagues, your family, basically anyone who’s willing to listen to you rant. This will also help you prepare for clinical placement and informed choice discussions.

I taught a toddler all about capillaries. She even tried to draw some…

15. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer.

It’s better if you search for it.

16. Do your best.

If you work your butt off, do your best, and pass you should be celebrating with a nice bottle of champagne and a bucket of chocolate. You. Can. Do. This.

17. Have a sense of humour about it.


18. But it’s okay if you cry about it.

Embarrassing but I knew I had studied enough when I had a full on meltdown on the phone with my partner at least twice each semester. I recall the phrases “my midwifery career is flashing before my eyes”, “it’s all over, I’m gonna fail”, and “what will I do if I can’t catch babies?!” being sobbed into the receiver. Thank God for my partner, seriously, gold medal for handling that shit from 600km away.

19. Put your gloves on before you enter your bell ringer.

I never knew how sweaty palms could get until I had a minor panic attack trying to get my damn gloves on my hands before my first bell ringer. I had all 5 fingers stuck in the thumb hole with no escape seemingly seconds before the first bell went off. In A&P I learned that sometimes the body betrays you.

20. Being scared is okay.

If you’re a first year reading this, I’m terribly sorry if you feel overwhelmed and scared. That’s really not my intention. But Bruce says that if you’re afraid you’ll do better in the course. He’s right. The more afraid you are the harder you’ll study. Keep in mind that the letter grade you get isn’t always indicative of your understanding of the material. Multiple choice tests are hard. Bell ringers are hard. You will still be an awesome midwife at the end of this. You will still be prepared for placement and clinical practice at the end of your degree. And always remember what someone said in my class: a midwife who gets a C+ in anatomy is still a midwife.

Looking for more? Here are some resources that helped me study for A&P.


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