The Rule of 5 and Long-Term Memory

Our guest blogger, Elizabeth, wrote this when she was a first-year medical student. Elizabeth talks about the importance of repetition (she calls it the “Rule of 5”) to understand information and store it in long-term memory.

Highlighter? Check. Notebook? Check. Laptop? Check.

As I went over my first-day-of-school ritual — packing my ever-growing backpack, I began to feel nervous. This was the day I had been awaiting since kindergarten. I was even more scared than when I took the MCAT. This was my first day of medical school.

I could not believe I was actually embarking on the dream that every day I had mentally proclaimed. Having participated in a six-week pre-matriculation summer internship, taking introductory medical school coursework, I knew at least 59 other students. We had spent the summer in a program for entering students — practicing being “medical students,” but we hadn’t had to worry about the stress of real grades – yet.

It was during the first week of medical school that I realized I was going to have to change how I studied. Nothing can prepare you for medical school because you truly are trying to drink out of a fire hose. Studying seemed endless as knowledge felt like it went in one ear and out another. It was not until I began using the “Rule of 5” that I committed more knowledge to memory. I realized that I need to see the material in five different ways and at five different times, a method that takes time. But after realizing medical school is not like college, I decided that the Rule of 5 is a must.

To be specific, I had trouble understanding the concept of cell-mediated immunity in our immunology hybrid course. I read and read and read, but I could not understand this “simple” concept. It was not until I looked at the material in five different ways that the concept finally stuck. First I went to lecture, second I watched the lecture online while making notes, next I self-tested from my own notes. But it was not until I watched tutoring videos online and went to tutoring that I fully grasped the concept. When I was able to teach my friends and correctly answer practice questions, I knew that I knew the material.

Maybe I should change my Rule of 5, to a Rule of 5 minimum. This type of repetition helped me with a topic that I thought I would never comprehend. I realized it takes me a while to get some concepts, but I will only try harder. To be honest, I think I am still transitioning into medical school. There are still concepts I struggle with and I sometimes long to return to the good old college days. But as I sit here staring at my material, I remember I was chosen out of 4000 applicants, 1000 interviewees, and I am 1 of 231 students that my medical school believed would become a medical doctor. I have worked hard to get this far and I know working hard (and smart) will help me continue to succeed.


In addition to Student Workshops, we also provide Faculty Seminars.

If students declare they “study ALL the time” but don’t understand the material, what can you do?

A faculty seminar will provide tools to help faculty determine what the underlying issue may be, without having to re-teach the course to each student who comes for assistance.
Increase student persistence, retention and graduation by hosting a Vital Study Skills Workshop or Faculty Seminar. For more information write or call us:

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