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If studying pharmacology seems like a daunting task, you are not alone. It is probably one of the most challenging subjects for every student to learn owing to the amount of drug information that needs to be committed to memory. Some might even say it is similar to memorizing a dictionary!

You cannot possibly learn everything about all the drugs available on the market. So, where do you start? Check out these top 5study tips below!

Study Tip #1: Group the information


You only have a limited time to study; therefore, you want to get the most bang for your buck. The grouping technique, also known as the chunking method, is an effective way to organize information to enhance the amount of information you can retain to memory. Our brains naturally file things into categories. During exams and in clinical practice, we get asked questions that require us to retrieve information that is grouped (e.g., which antibiotic can I give in a patient with renal insufficiency? anti-nausea medication should I prescribe?) so studying information in this format is ideal.


Here is how you can group the information:

  • Group the drugs by their class (e.g., cephalosporins, calcium channel blockers, etc.)
  • Mechanism of action of that drug class
  • Side effects common to that drug class
  • Side effects that are unique to a drug in that class
  • Commonalities of drug names in that group of class
  • Indications for that drug class
  • Unique drug interactions for that drug class/drugs
  • Pregnancy considerations for that drug class/drug


Study Tip #2: Ask yourself these 2 questions


Rather than memorizing information for the exam and then dumping it after, studying with these two questions in mind will help you retain the information longer and improve your confidence. They will help you understand the underlying pathophysiology and why we use certain drugs in certain disease states.


  1. What normally happens in the body?
  2. What is going wrong when this disease state happens?

Study Tip #3: Understand the mechanism of action


If you know this one fact about the drug class, it can help you remember the indication and some of the side effects. For example, lisinopril works by inhibiting an enzyme that converts angiotensin I to angiotensin II, a hormone that causes vasoconstriction of blood vessels leading to hypertension. Less of this active hormone leads to a decrease in blood pressure. From this, you’ll know that lisinopril is used to treat hypertension and some common side effects include hypotension, dizziness, and headache. 


This study tip may not be possible for all drugs as some medications (e.g., antiepileptics) have unknown mechanisms of action. 

Study Tip #4: Use mnemonics


Mnemonics are popular memory tools used to aid in committing important pharmacology facts. Below are 5 different pharmacology mnemonics that you can use to help you during your studies.



Acronym-based mnemonics use the first letters of the target words to assist in remembering large amounts of information. For example, to remember the side effects of statins, think of the acronym HMGCoA: Hepatotoxicity, Myalgia, GI effects (nausea, flatulence), CPK increase, and Avoid in pregnancy.


Drug names

Drug companies often name drugs with stem words that hint at their class or mode of action. For example, riivaroxaban, apixaban, edoxaban are direct factor Xa inhibitors as denoted by the stem -xa in their names. Macrobid is dosed BID versus Macrodantin is dosed four times a day. Pay attention to the drug name when studying to see if you can spot some of these stems. 


Keyword mnemonics 

Use sound-alikes to help you associate the word to a new key term. Of the second-generation antipsychotics, risperidone and paliperidone have the highest risk for EPS and tardive dyskinesia. Mnemonic: “Movement disorders are no fun, so don’t RISK (Risperidone) it Pal (Paliperidone)!”

Grouping method  ALL antibiotics need to be renally adjusted. The list is endless. It is usually easier to remember the outliers or those that do not need to be renally adjusted: moxifloxacin, linezolid, clindamycin, nafcillin, tigecycline. 

Comprehension Understanding is always best for long-term retention! For example, the respiratory fluoroquinolones are gemifloxacin, moxifloxacin, and levofloxacin (remember Go, My Lungs!). There is a common misconception that ciprofloxacin has poor lung penetration because it isn’t a respiratory FQ when the actual reason is that it lacks activity against streptococcus pneumoniae, a common bacteria that causes pneumonia.

Study Tip #5: Check out Memory Pharm!


Memory Pharm is a educational website that aims at simplifying complicated pharmacology topics using humor and practicality. We are updating our content regularly. Check out our social media for weekly drug facts, mnemonics, and encouragement as well as subscribe to our email listing to get the latest updates and tips exclusive to members of our list.