How to Memorize the Top 200 Drugs

With the availability of Internet search functions, students often struggle to memorize large blocks of information in the unfamiliar language of generic and brand-name medications.

The top 200 drugs, whether by numerical sales, dollars spent, or Pharmacy Times’ annual list, creates a challenge for our Google society.

With the availability of Internet search functions, students often struggle to memorize large blocks of information in the unfamiliar language of generic and brand-name medications. So, here are some recommendations to help you learn the top 200 medications this year.

First, it’s helpful to know the difference between serial recall and free recall. Serial recall means putting a group of items into a specific order. An example is A, B, C, D, which are the first 4 letters of the Roman alphabet. Free recall is remembering a group of items regardless of order. Knowing that C, A, B, and D are all letters shows free recall. Those without a serial recall backup method might be at a disadvantage in memorizing the top 200 drugs.

Most students begin to group medications and create lists of medications using their endings. Once students start trying to learn the top 200 drugs, they probably notice patterns in medication names, like how penicillin class antibiotics end in —cillin (amoxicillin, ampicillin, penicillin).

The academic literature shows this method helps students recall medications better than if they memorized them independently. However, most students discard serial recall because knowing which medication is in the 1st position versus 7th position versus 51st position in the top 200 list isn’t necessarily important.

Alphabetizing the entire list doesn’t help, either. What puts medications in a common group is generally their ending, like —pril for angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors like lisinopril and enalapril, and –azapam or –azolam for the benzodiazepines diazepam and alprazolam. There are exceptions like cephalosporins that start with ceph– or cef–, or sulfonamides that start with sulfa–. Endings, however, begin in the middle of the word, and alphabetizing doesn’t help in that case.

One way to use serial recall is to group medications by pathophysiologic class in a specific order, and then alphabetize by drug class.

In a series of 7 free YouTube videos, I created a serial list of the most common pathophysiologic classes, spelling GMRINCE or “GrandMothers RINCE (the French rince) for the Gastrointestinal, Musculoskeletal, Respiratory, Immune, Neuro, Cardiovascular, and Endocrine pathophysiologic classes. Within each class, I created a serial alphabetical order for the medications.

Usually, I line them up at least 2-by-2 when a common stem appears or if they’re in the same drug class. For example, esomeprazole and omeprazole are both proton pump inhibitors, so they should be grouped and alphabetized with their stems highlighted, as I have done in these 2 lists.

Which of these 2 groups of medications is easier to memorize?

Alphabetical

Alphabetical Within Drug Classes

Bismuth subsalicylate

Calcium carbonate

Docusate sodium

Esomeprazole

Famotidine

Infliximab

Loperamide

Magnesium hydroxide

Omeprazole

Ondansetron

Polyethylene glycol

Promethazine

Ranitidine

Calcium carbonate

Magnesium hydroxide

Famotidine

Ranitidine

Esomeprazole

Omeprazole

Bismuth subsalicylate

Loperamide

Docusate sodium

Polyethylene glycol

Ondansetron

Promethazine

Infliximab

You can find a detailed explanation of how to memorize these medications in this video and the 6 others that follow it.