Picmonic Visual Learning

What You’re Missing (if you use Sketchy Medical)

By Carlos Velez
Recent graduate of Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) in the Dominican Republic, and is now applying for residency.

Picmonic was the key to my success in medical school. Medical school is not easy and there is an incredible amount of information that you need to learn in a short amount of time. While other classmates used and created traditional flashcards and struggled to remember them, I was using Picmonic and remembering facts in a much easier and effective way with short, efficient visual mnemonics. Thanks to Picmonic’s creator tool I could also create my own visual mnemonic flashcards for any topics I wanted to cover. Picmonic is not only available as a website, but also as a handy mobile app that I still have on my phone to easily access the Picmonic database that is etched into my brain.

If there is one thing I regret about my time in medical school is that I wish that I would have used Picmonic from day one. When I began studying for my microbiology class exams and for USMLE Step 1, some of my classmates were talking about Sketchy Micro. I decided to give it a try and used it, but in hindsight, in addition to Sketchy videos being more time consuming, there are two main reasons why I wish I would have used the Picmonic for Medicine Microbiology cards instead from the beginning.

Reason #1:  There are a lot of things Sketchy Micro is missing. 

While studying the Sketchy Micro videos, I noticed that there were things mentioned in the First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 book that were nowhere to be found in their drawings. This led to a lot of anxiety knowing that I didn’t have any memory anchors to remember these important facts.  

One of the first things I noticed that were missing were the exotoxins and endotoxins. There are certain bacteria that have these types of toxins and they are important to know as they are part of their pathogenicity. Because of this, they are commonly tested in Qbanks and Boards. Picmonic on the other hand has these toxins properly identified with two very easy to remember visual mnemonic characters.

Exotoxin & Endotoxin

Sometimes Sketchy Micro will mention facts and important commonly tested mechanisms on their videos but they do not fully represent them with visual memory anchors on their drawings. An example of this can be found on the very first video you encounter when beginning to study Sketchy Micro, the video for Staph aureus. In this video the narrator mentions that Staph aureus can cause toxic shock syndrome in the classic situation of prolonged tampon use via the production of a toxin called TSST-1 that binds MHC II and T cell receptors which leads to shock. 

Sketchy represents this on their drawing as a Man wearing a Red Cape with a Lightning Bolt.

Toxic Shock Syndrome

On the other hand, Picmonic not only represents this very same fact as Toxic-green Shocked Tampon, but it also represents the mechanism of the toxin in its entirety with it’s own characters as a Girl wearing an MHC-complex with (2) Tutu and Tennis-balls

Picmonic Toxic Shock Syndrome

There are also important organisms that are not covered in Sketchy Micro that can be found in the Picmonic database, such as:

There are more examples of missing facts and organisms on Sketchy Micro, but with the ones mentioned here you can have an idea of what are the types of facts that are missing. 

Reason #2: Sketchy’s approach is less memorable. Picmonic was more effective for me.

My main problem with SketchyMedical and the second reason why I wish I had used Picmonic instead as my study resource for Microbiology is the characters that Sketchy uses to represent various facts on their drawings were not as memorable. Unlike Picmonic, where there is a clear character with phonetic significance behind it (which makes the concepts more memorable), Sketchy uses very ordinary things or scenarios to help you recall medical details which are easily forgotten. In fact, there are characters in Sketchy drawings that to this day I still can’t remember what they stood for. I’ll show you a few examples.

Example #1 — Trying to recall that Parvovirus is a “Single stranded DNA virus” is easier with Picmonic.

The Boards and Qbanks like to test the student’s knowledge on the characteristics of various microorganisms, like for example, knowing that Parvovirus is a single stranded DNA virus. The Picmonic app shows it in a very literal and memorable way, as a DNA and a (1) Wand with Single Stranded DNA ribbon.

Parvovirus

Sketchy Micro on the other hand portrays it as a Landing Strip for a plane.

Single Stranded DNA

The fact in Sketchy’s example can be easily forgotten because, with time, you won’t remember that this landing strip stands for single stranded DNA virus, you’ll just remember that there was a landing strip in the drawing and you’ll struggle to remember what it was supposed to stand for. This has happened to me several times with many other Sketchy videos that have this very same problem. 

Example #2: How Sketchy Micro portrays DNA and RNA is not as effective as how Picmonic portrays them.

Knowing if a virus is a DNA or an RNA type of virus is important to remember and this is tested frequently. In Sketchy, you’re supposed to remember the color hues of each drawing to remember which one is a DNA virus (blue) and which one is an RNA virus (red), but you can easily forget which one stands for which and forget the color of a drawing. Characters are much easier to remember, but there is no character in the Sketchy drawing for this, just a color hue. 

An example of this can be seen below.

In Sketchy, Reovirus has a red color hue representing that it is an RNA virus and Human Herpes Virus 6 has a blue color hue representing that it is a DNA virus.

Reovirus

As for Picmonic, it uses an RNA-rhino that interacts with other characters in the drawing, making it more memorable to remember when a virus is an RNA virus. As for representing a DNA virus, they use a literal DNA-strand.

RNA Virus

As you can see, many of the often tested characteristics of microorganisms that distinguish them from each other are much more memorable in Picmonic.

Example #3: How Sketchy Pharm portrays the mechanism of action of Clindamycin is not as effective as how Picmonic portrays it

Because I had used Sketchy Micro to remember microbiology, I decided to also use the antibiotics portion of Sketchy Pharm since the characters were related. This was not a good idea as Sketchy Pharm has the same problems as Sketchy Micro, including the lack of memorable visual representations for various important facts.

An example of this is the way Sketchy portrays the mechanism of action of Clindamycin. Clindamycin is a bacteriostatic antibiotic that binds to the 50S ribosomal subunit and blocks translocation. 

Bacteriostatic is represented on Sketchy Pharm as a paper jam on a typewriter

Paper Jam

Meanwhile, Picmonic represents bacteriostatic in a more memorable way, as a Bacteria-shocked

Bacteria Shocked

The fact that Clindamycin binds to the 50S ribosomal subunit and blocks translocation is represented on Sketchy Pharm simply as a typewriter. This is not memorable at all and does not help remember the actual fact. 

Typewriter

On the other hand, Picmonic represents it with two memorable wacky characters, the 50S-rapper blocking Train-loco

In summary, Picmonic’s characters & names are overall more memorable than Sketchy Medical’s approach. Picmonic’s phonetic visual mnemonic approach and high-yield videos for visual learning will save you time. Picmonic not only has an enormous database with Picmonics that you can edit and add extra facts to them as you study, but it also gives you the power to create your very own flashcards as well which was crucial to my medical school success. I explain how to do this in Picmonic’s “Mastering Medicine” webinar, “How to Create a Better Mnemonic Flashcard to Succeed in Med School”.

After using Picmonic for the first time, I used it to learn every single medical subject ever since and never looked back, but I wish I had started using Picmonic study resources earlier in my med school journey. Not only are there features that SketchyMedical lacks compared to Picmonic, but with Picmonic the facts stuck with me incredibly easy. With the Picmonic creator tool I was able to create my own Picmonics as well. This process of creating Picmonics is so interactive and fun that you barely have to review them again because they are edged into your long-term memory right away. 

I hope readers find these tips helpful when they plot their course for success in med school. Picmonic is research-proven to increase retention for hard-to-learn facts you’ll come across in medical school. By combining Picmonic’s vast library of content and the Picmonics I created, I was able to retain all the hard to remember facts I was struggling with to pass USMLE Step 1 and 2 and reach my goal of becoming a medical doctor.

By Carlos Velez
Recent graduate of Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) in the Dominican Republic, and is now applying for residency.

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