Anatomy Study Tips

One of the most difficult classes you will face your first year in medical school is Anatomy.  This course will challenge every learning style and strategy you have developed.  However, developing an efficient and strategic study plan early in the course will decrease your frustration and improve your success.  

Being successful in Anatomy will require discipline and dedication.  Daily study and review is a must.  Find what works for you and develop your plan.  Remember, Anatomy is a challenging course, reach out to faculty and the Learning Specialists.  We are here to support your learning and success in medical school. 

On this page:

  • General Advice

  • Active Learning

  • Extra Lab Hours with the Tutors

  • OMS II Study Testimonials: “Something I Do”

  • Apps and Resources

  • Advanced Study Strategies

  • References

General Advice

  • Visit your faculty. The faculty at ICOM are the content experts. They are the ones writing the test questions, and they know what you need to learn for the systems courses. Make a plan to regularly visit an Anatomy faculty member. It is best to go prepared—have specific things you want to discuss or get clarified.

  • Faculty are the best content resource you have. You might like a lot of fancy online resources and textbooks. You might even have an uncle that teaches Anatomy. That’s great! However, these other resources might approach something in a different way than ICOM faculty, and ICOM faculty have a specific way they want you to approach the material. Those other resources are great for review, but look to your faculty for clarification and confirmation that you understand the content.

  • Study often. You can’t cram for Anatomy exams—there’s just too much to cover. Try to study every day, or at least as much as possible. Everyone who puts off Anatomy study will struggle and will likely underperform.

  • Review the Dissector and Prosection prior to every lab, and even the ones you are not scheduled to attend. This primes your thinking and keeps you fresh. It will facilitate your dissection and help you get the most out of lab.

  • Visit the lab during open hours. Cadavers are the second best resource you have for learning Anatomy. See the ‘Extra Lab Hours’ section below for best practices.

  • Study the lecture notes provided by ICOM Faculty. They have been specially prepared to give you what you need to know.

  • Draw and diagram as much as possible. Organizing your notes and creating lists, diagrams, and concept maps will begin to facilitate your comprehension of the material. Once you have a firm grasp on the material and how it is clinically significant, utilize resources (such as flash cards) to review the material and identify areas of weakness that require further review. Repeat. This repetition will improve memorization and promote long-term memory retention. Keep in mind that while flash cards are an excellent tool to review content and identify areas of weakness, they are not as effective a tool for leaning the content in Anatomy.  

  • You can have too many resources. Pick an app or two and stick with those. Too many resources can overwhelm and confuse you.

Active Learning

According to Study Hints and Tips for Medical School (2016), success in anatomy will require that you become an active learner.  There are four processes involved in active learning:

1. Identifying important information

2. Organizing the information

3. Memorizing the information

4. Applying the information to more complex situations

Identifying important information

Scan the lecture notes before class, and review the Dissector and Prosection before lab. Anticipate the focus of the lecture (or lab) and learning objectives.  Skim reading assignments before class and identify 4 or 5 major topics on which you know you will need to focus.

Organizing the information

Take notes during lecture, return to your notes after lecture to organize and fill in any gaps using lecture slides.  Read about effective note taking here.  Create lists, diagrams, and/or concept maps to organize information and begin to make connections between the information presented.  

Memorizing the information

Organizing your notes and creating lists, diagrams, and concept maps will begin to facilitate your memorization of the material. Create a review plan that includes distributed practice and self-testing. This will solidify the information in your memory.

Applying the information to more complex situations

Your next step is applying what you have learned.  Going through practice questions is a great way to help you apply your knowledge.  The Thieme Teaching Assistant is available through the ICOM Library and is a great resource to use for practice questions. 

Studying with another person or a group of people gives you the opportunity to talk out loud and apply the information.  You can also ask questions and get things clarified and use practice questions to quiz each other.  Groups can also help you remain focused and motivated. 

Extra Lab Hours With The Tutors

Going to extra lab hours is essential for learning Anatomy. Here’s a list of best practices, suggested by ICOM faculty and students. Following these guidelines will help you get the highest yield from your time in the lab.

  • Go at least two extra times a week. The more you see the structures, the better you’ll be able to remember and retrieve that information.

  • Take a group. 2-4 people is best. Any more than that and there will be too many people at the table, all trying to push their study agenda.

  • Have a group agenda. What do you need to accomplish in the lab that day? Make a plan as a group before going to lab. Be sure that everyone’s needs are met.

  • Try to schedule when there are multiple groups. Each group can rotate through the tables. This will help you see more cadavers each day and save you time. Groups can also help each other or point out variations or difficult structures.

  • Talk through things as a group. Quiz each other. Team and peer teach. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in understanding.

  • USE THE TUTORS. There will be tutors available during open lab hours. They are literally there to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are no dumb questions.

  • Visit multiple cadavers. Understanding and recognizing variation is key to applying your knowledge. You should try to see and study as may cadavers as possible.

OMS II Study Testimonials: “Something I Do”

Don’t just take our word for it. Linked below are some study testimonials by real ICOM students. Each of these students performed exceptionally well in Anatomy, and they’ve agreed to share their study strategies with future students. Read through each one and think about what you might take from each—what might you incorporate into your study plan?

Student Doctor Hepola

Student Doctor Machado

Student Doctor Salvati

Apps and Resources

  • The ICOM Library has a fantastic Anatomy resource page with access to Acland's Video Atlas of Human Anatomy and the Thieme Teaching Assistant. Here is a direct link to that page.

  • AACOM has a list of resources and advice. You can find that here.

Advanced Study Strategies

Anatomy can be challenging in a lot of ways, but the most challenging for many students is the volume and complexity of the information. You can’t cram for exams. You will fail if you rely on cramming. You’ll need to study every day, and use a specific study strategy.

Two strategies we’ve seen work well for Anatomy study (and medical school study in general) are Interleaving and Distributed Practice (also called Spaced Practice). Find detailed information on how those work here.

If you need more personalized assistance with study strategies, make an appointment with a Learning Specialist. Just click on that yellow button at the bottom of the page to be connected with the Learning Specialists’ appointment scheduler.


Resources and advice from DO students: Courses. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Study hints and tips for medical students. (2016, November 13). Retrieved from