10-Second Active Learning Exercise in a Pharmacotherapy Course

By:  Lana Gettman, PharmD

The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education standards 10.2 and 11.2 focus on the need for faculty and preceptors to include active-learning strategies to improve the critical thinking and problem solving skills of pharmacy students.1  Standard 19 highlights that faculty are expected to advance in academic skills.1  It is also expected that faculty use student-centered instructional approach that promotes motivation and retention.2   

Active Learning and Critical Thinking

Active learning is the process when students are involved in activities such as discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis and synthesis of class content.  Active learning promotes critical thinking, which is a desired skill of a pharmacy graduate.3  

Students are equipped to memorize facts.4 Acquisition of knowledge and ability to recall information quickly is a  component necessary for critical thinking. However, students struggle to recall  information, and to connect, analyze, and integrate the information they memorize.4    

It is a challenge for educators to engage students in and outside the classroom.  Over the years a number of “active learning” exercises, such as Kahoot quizzes, Think-Pair-Share, and fill in the blank notes have been implemented in pharmacy courses.  However, the novelty of these exercises is gone.  

To enhance development of critical thinking skills in students, I incorporated novel active learning exercise in a Pharmacotherapy course.  It helped students to: 

  1. recall  information
  2. recall the information faster
  3. draw connection (analyzing) between terms
  4. practice  skills outside the classroom

A New Active Learning Exercise to Try

I named this exercise “10 Second Activity.”  The day following a lecture, students were provided this 10-second activity to focus on a key area. The activity required participation  both in and out of class.   Students received a paper copy of the exercise containing 50 to 60 clinically relevant terms, medications, or a pair of terms on fluid and electrolytes, acid-base disorders, and acute kidney injury (AKI) topics.   They were  given 10 seconds to write down the first thought that came to mind after reading a term, medication, or a pair of terms. Students were told to go through several rounds of 10 seconds and write down as much information as they could remember.  They were advised to stop when all essential information was listed.  Students were encouraged to complete this exercise  again to determine  whether they were able to recall more information within the first 10 seconds.  This exercise was not graded and students kept paper copies.   Answers could be derived  from the PowerPoint slides presented during lecture.

Example Activities

You have 10 seconds to write…
Sodium and Water…the first thought
that comes to mind
after reading a
term or medication
Potassium & Magnesium
Calcium & Phosphorus
…the first thought
that comes to mind
about the relationship
between pair of terms
calcium-vitamin D
AKI… the type of AKIhypovolemia
prostate enlargement
Acid-Base…the first thought that comes to mind about
the relationship
between terms
anion gap-drug intoxication respiratory- compensation

What Was the Impact?

After utilization of this learning tool, the class cohort average on the  exam improved from 72 – 78%.  The exam covered the material students were reviewing as part of the activity.  The data was compared to cohorts in the previous three years prior to implementation of the exercise.  

Twenty six out of forty students in the course answered a short survey about their experience with these 10-second activities.  Eighty percent of students  reported using this process to study the course material. 

Survey questionsStrongly Agree/ Agree
Neutral/ Disagree

The 10-second learning exercise was new to me1000
The 10-second learning exercise was helpful in learning  topic concepts1000
The use of 10-second learning exercise helped me to recall information faster on the exam 8119
I used 10-second learning exercise to learn other material presented in Pharmacotherapy  course6535
I used the 10-second learning exercise concept presented in Pharmacotherapy to help me learn material in other courses4654

Overall, students responded positively to this learning exercise.  Reasons for not participating in this activity may include the time needed to create the document and the difficulty discerning what is  important. Due to feedback and performance of students, modifications have not been made to the activity, however, I will continue to use it and monitor.

Participation in this learning experience is a step in the direction of helping students cultivate critical thinking.  The first step in critical thinking is the ability to recall information.  The next step is to connect concepts.  Then, knowledge is used to interpret more challenging concepts.  This exercise trains students to recall information and to connect concepts faster.  

What novel active learning exercises have you tried in your courses?


I would like to acknowledge and thank Drs. Ashley Castleberry and Julie Kissack for providing guidance and feedback on this blog post.


  1. Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Accreditation standards and guidelines for the professional program in pharmacy leading to the doctor of pharmacy degree. Chicago, Illinois.
  2. Felder RM, Brent R. Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. Coll Teach. 1996;44(2):43-47.
  3. Persky AM, Medina MS, Castleberry AN. Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Pharmacy Students.  Am J Pharm Educ. 2019;83(2):Article 7033.
  4. Ratka A, Rangel IL. Integration as a paramount educational strategy in academic pharmacy. Am J Pharm Educ. 2012;76(2):Article 19.

Author Bio:

Lana Gettman is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Harding University College of Pharmacy.  Educational scholarship interests include professional development, novel teaching and critical care. Lana is active in professional pharmacy organizations.  In her free time, Lana enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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