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How To Study In Medical School | Medical Student Tips

The information you learn in medical school is not particularly hard. It is the fact that there is a vast volume of it that makes it tough. It is very important therefore, to have a routine and method for studying that works for you. Just for reference, we are at an MD, pass/fail school where lectures are not mandatory attendance. Our strategy applies to those conditions but you can still apply much of it to different setups.

1) Pre-read Lectures and Make Flashcards/notes

The day before lecture, go through the posted slide deck and understand the major concepts that the lecture is trying to teach. Again, most of these concepts are not intellectually difficult to understand as long as they are presented in an organized fashion. Whatever you don’t understand, use youtube videos to have the concept explained to you (or textbooks if you prefer). As you go through the lecture slides, make Anki flash cards (tutorial here). This method will force you to actively learn the material as you have to understand it yourself and make the flashcards yourself. It may seem harder to do this than passively sit through lectures like everyone else and cram at the end, but it is a much better way that will save you tons of time and stress. 

2) Don’t Go To Class (if possible)

Now that you have read through the lecture and made flashcards, it is the day of lectures. If your school requires mandatory attendance or you prefer going to class, go ahead. Our school offers recordings of the lectures which we watch at 1.5x-2x the speed. This will be the second time being exposed to the same information and now you will make flashcards only on points that the professor emphasizes or things that confused you. You can still do this by going to class and paying attention to the lecture rather than frantically making notes/flashcards. After this second exposure to the material and making additional flashcards, you will do these flashcards or review your notes if that is how you prefer to study. 

3) The Framework

The above two points will be how you learn/memorize the information throughout the block. At our school, each block is about 6 weeks. So for the first 4-5 weeks we do the above two things while attending mandatory clinical sessions/discussions that help to reinforce the information we have learned in a clinical context. When you are 1-1.5 weeks out from the exam, you will shift your focus heavily to focus on practice questions and applying what you have learned. Most schools have practice questions they provide for students, otherwise you can use online resources like uWorld or Boards and Beyond. Do questions at your own pace and try to get through as much as you can without burning out. The best way to reinforce the information is to apply it and make sure you know how to use it.

4) Cheat Sheet Method

2-4 Days before the exam, grab a sheet of paper and open the original lectures. Until this point, there should be no need to review lectures after you have made the initial flashcards/notes. Go through everything one last time, noting down only major concepts, and hard to memorize details like equations or specific facts. Your cheat sheet should only be one page so don’t try to put everything on there, just high yield information. From this point until the exam, you will only study this cheat sheet and do any remaining questions. If you see holes in your knowledge through wrong answers to questions, go back and learn that specific information.

5) Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

As premeds, you need to be as close to perfect as you can be. In medical school, you should still try your best and achieve the best grades you can. However, the important thing here is understanding major concepts of physiology and disease processes, not knowing every minute detail. If you are aiming for a competitive speciality or honors and your school has a graded system, then yes, you need to put in that extra grind. But if your school is also P/F, then you should aim to understand major concepts and do well on exams but build your residency application through extra-curriculars and research as well as performance on your clinical rotations. No one is going to reward you for unnecessarily making things harder for yourself. It’s okay to get a few questions wrong because they were based on minute, frustratingly specific details as long as you are grasping the major concept and why you got the question wrong. 


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