Every medical student has their own study strategy when it comes to organizing the volume of study material per hour and per day. The material presented in medical school is much more difficult than many challenging undergraduate courses because it requires active learning. Use these study strategies to ensure you’ll remember everything
What worked for you before might not suit the high-volume and fast-paced curriculum of med school. Learning what works best for you now will provide a confidence boost and help you create a great foundation of knowledge.Begin by figuring out if you’re an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner. For some people, replaying recorded lectures at double speed helped them memorize facts.
Others may rely on drawing out concept maps or making colorful illustrations. Some learn well in the classroom, while others learn best by going at their own pace.Remember to always study smarter, not harder. If you catch yourself re-reading the same sentence more than twice or if you can tell your mind is not fully into it, go take a break, a power nap, or watch a quick episode of Friends.
Many people have relied on mnemonics, memory tools that help you recall information, at one point or another. For example, elementary students rely on the acronym mnemonic “Roy G. Biv” to remember the order of colors in a rainbow. Research suggests mnemonics can aid in learning large amounts of information, particularly when combined with other strategies.
If you’re a visual learner, take advantage of opportunities to use imagery. You don’t have to be an artist to sketch out something that could be useful. It’s more about presenting the material in a way that makes sense to you.“Diagrams were helpful for organ systems, such as renal, or reviewing drug metabolism,” Dr. Husain says. “Creating the diagram also reinforced the information.”
This is very important! Most professors are not industrious enough to create new questions for each exam. And there are only so many questions you can ask about the same topic. Therefore, many questions are repeated. Some may have wording changes, but most questions have the same concepts.
By learning and understanding what concepts appeared on previous tests and are therefore important to the professor, you’re well on your way to learning the concepts — and passing the tests. Back before we had all these fancy computers and scanners, the students used to have a copy service where we paid extra so that we could get paper copies of previous test questions.
Identifying important information – the first step involves answering the eternal question “what is most important here?”
Organizing the information – the second step involves creating a framework that facilitates memorization.
Memorizing the information – the third step involves frequent review of the information in order for it to become absorbed by the brain.
Applying the information to more complex situations – the last step involves answering quiz questions, practice questions, clinical applications, and more.
Remember that you’ve made it this far because you proved yourself to be the best of the best. People around you will want to share how they’re studying as medical students, how many notecards they’ve memorized and how they’ve already read all of Harrison’s Manual. That’s OK, be happy for them, but don’t compare yourself to them!
People often exaggerate, and what works for someone else might not work for you. Make a plan for yourself and try your best to feel confident in your efforts. Going into exams knowing that you prepared the best that you could have will take you very far academically and significantly help your mental health.
Another concept, called interleaving, involves switching topics frequently while you’re studying. For example, if you need to study anatomy and chemistry to prepare for an exam, switch between the two topics rather than studying anatomy first and then chemistry.The trick, though, is to try to make connections between the topics while you’re studying them. For instance, if you are studying pharmacology, you may then switch and study physiology.
Try and recall the physiological mechanisms that create the drug positive actions and the mechanisms that create side effects. While this technique might feel counterintuitive, interleaving requires you to recall information more frequently, which helps to cement the information.Using this technique may be harder and slower at the onset, compared to spaced repetition, for example, but the information is better understood in the long run, according to some reports.
Whether you like it or not, as a future physician, society now views you in a different way. You’ll have a stronger presence in the room, people around you notice you more and your actions and words will have a stronger impact than ever before. Embrace this honor and privilege starting now! Carry yourself with more professionalism at all times in and outside the classroom.
Dress to impress (the old T-shirts and sweats were fine for undergrad, but it’s time to step up your wardrobe game), watch your language, be kind and courteous to everyone around you regardless of who they are, and be particularly careful with your social media posts (it doesn’t hurt to go back in time and delete those questionable selfies). Most importantly, stay humble.
Break up study schedules into 20 to 30 minute segments
Create a study timetable
Keep hardest topics for the morning
Create colorful notes and mind maps
Practice old exams and papers
Start assignments sooner rather than later
Get plenty of sleep
Learn to speak with confidence and structure
Read plenty of articles and medical blogs. Learn what medicine is all about.
Set aside a day to relax and be with family and friends
Many medical students have a tendency to keep quiet if they’re struggling. But it never works out well to put off seeking help, especially in medical school. There’s just too much material to get through.
You’re not expected to know everything about everything, especially right away. If you’re struggling with a topic, there are tons of people who are available to help you: professors, TAs, fellows and even your own classmates. Don’t wait until it’s too late for you to benefit from their assistance.
If you’re new medical students, major congratulations on achieving this huge milestone, which you should be extremely proud of and grateful for. Now it’s time to begin the work that will take you to the promised DO land.