The information you learn in medical school is not particularly difficult to understand but what makes it tough is the sheer volume that you are expected to comprehend and memorize. What made you successful in college likely won’t work now. Let’s go over some common medical student mistakes and how to fix them.
1) Going To Class
Most schools now don’t require mandatory lecture attendance and post their lectures as recordings online. We recommend watching these at whatever speed you are comfortable with (try to work up to a faster speed) instead of going to class. This way you get to save a ton of time by saving the commute to class, avoiding time-filling, irrelevant things, tangents and breaks in the lecture. It’s tough to focus for hours on end in lecture and breaks are not in your control. If you can work up to listening to these recordings at a faster speed, you literally spend less time on the same thing you would have by going to class. In my first year, I got up to 2x watching/listening, and my second year, I just read through the presentation slides after I got the hang of what is important and likely to be on the exam. Now of course, if your school requires going to lecture physically or if you just enjoy it more, then by all means go ahead, but we recommend doing this strategy as it saves a ton of time and allows you to work at your own pace.
2) Passive Learning
Just watching a lecture or reading through slides and textbooks doesn’t mean anything. Like we said earlier, the stuff you learn isn’t all that conceptually hard. But what makes it challenging is that you have to keep track of all this information and know how to use it in real life clinical scenarios. This ability will come over time but it definitely won’t come by passively reading and watching videos about concepts. You need to learn actively and test your knowledge as you go so that you are learning with purpose. We recommend making anki cards as you watch the lectures or read through them. Making the cards yourself forces you to actively draw out the important and put in that effort. Then you want to let the anki algorithm do its thing and do your due cards. This is called spaced-repetition-learning which allows you to see information right when you are likely to forget it. This is how you should be synthesizing and memorizing the information. We prefer flashcards through anki but if you like notes, that is also a plausible route to go.
“It’s like drinking from a firehose” is what people say to describe what learning in medical school is like. Gone are the days where studying by cramming a couple weeks before the exam would work. There is just way too much information in med school for that to work and quite honestly you are only shooting yourself in the foot by doing so. You worked so hard to get here and you are using up your 20s and paying all this tuition, you may as well make the most of it. Passing exams and grades are important in medical school, but now this information and the foundations you build here will be used to save people’s lives so it’s not just about school. You need to make sure you are setting a good foundation of medical principles and this won’t come through cramming. We go over how to study and time management in other videos that you should watch but it comes down to watering the seed throughout the semester rather than cramming. Set a schedule for yourself and do the daily habits that lead to long term success. This means doing your lectures and anki cards the day you are supposed to, doing your due anki cards when you are supposed to, and doing your practice questions when you are supposed to. It will be annoying in the moment and it can feel like “oh I have 6 weeks till the block ends” but these daily actions will save you a ton of stress and allow you to learn properly.
Anki is a great way to memorize information as it uses spaced repetition and you making your own cards is active. But memorizing alone is not going to get the job done. Your 3rd year of medical school and beyond, it’s about recalling what you know and applying it to the clinical scenario at hand. The way to do this is to apply what you are learning. A great way to do this is by doing practice questions, cases and exams. Schools usually give practice questions or you can use question packs like uWorld or OnlineMedEd. As you go through a particular block, schedule out the practice questions for it so you finish the questions about a week prior to the exam. As you get things wrong, you need to understand why you are making mistakes and whether it is a problem in the way you are thinking or a lack of knowledge. This sets the foundation for thinking critically and clinically reasoning your way through problems.
Re-reading and re-listening to lectures is a complete waste of time. It falsely makes you feel productive but does very little for your success. After making your initial anki cards/notes on lectures there is no reason to re-visit the original lecture material unless there are knowledge gaps or you’re approaching the end of the block. As you do practice questions, you will notice patterns in what you are getting wrong. If you see that this is due to a lack of knowledge, go back to the source material and ONLY look at this relevant material or YouTube/Google it. The only other time to go through source material is at the end of the block as a brief read through to make sure you covered everything and brush up on last minute details. Don’t fall into the trap of staring at your screen as being something productive. Learn the right way in the first place through active learning and have fun with your free time instead of pretending to be productive.