A large part of medical school so far has been finding the most effective ways to study and retain the huge amount of information that is constantly being thrown at me. I’m still working on tweaking my study habits, but since I was asked, I figured I would make a post about what is currently working for me. Hopefully by the end of the term, I will have a more solid breakdown of the things that really help, but this post should serve as a good general breakdown.
I’ve mentioned it before, but time management is a huge part of succeeding in medical school. People constantly tell me that they don’t know how I do everything while raising a child, but I think it’s actually a really big advantage for me. While most students have the option of going home and probably taking a nap or doing other things that distract them from studying, I don’t have that luxury. Because I have a child, virtually every minute has to be accounted for. I don’t have the same amount of study hours as my peers, so I have to make every second count. It’s easy to put off studying when you have the option of waking up early to do it, but it’s a different story when you have to wake up at 6am and get your child ready for school.
What works for me is breaking down the schedule and giving each lecture a set amount of time spent studying for it. We are expected to study 5-7 hours outside of lecture, but right now I am currently averaging around five hours a day of studying. Normally one class will have had more hours than the others, so I try to devote three hours a day towards studying for that, and I give the other classes about an hour of study time. If I get out of class at 5, then that gives me one hour of study time before I have to pick up my daughter, and then my mommy/free time is typically from 6-8pm. I study another four hours from 8-12, and then I am done for the night. So far I have been good about hitting my goal, but there’s always a little extra time when anatomy lab gets out early or when my group is not going for OMM lab where I can get in some extra study time.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
This is definitely something I can improve on. The only way you can truly gauge how you’re doing on a subject is by quizzing yourself and doing practice tests. There are a ton of websites that have quizzes to help you, and so far I have found the Board Review Series (BRS) books pretty amazing. Also, make sure to go over your answers and figure out where you went wrong. I did not do this with the exam I just took, and I am convinced that at least one of the questions was very similar to one I did in the BRS book, but did not go over. For anatomy, the University of Michigan has excellent practical and written exams, and I also really like the SUNY Downstate material. I used Firecracker for about a month until my free trial ran out, and I think it’s a pretty good resource as well, although a bit pricey.
Review the Material Multiple Times
I recently got great advice from one of the second year medical students on studying, and the key point was to make sure to review the material at least five times outside of lecture. That means attend or listen to the lecture at least once, review the material three times over a semi-spread out timeframe, use the fourth time to take quizzes, and devote the fifth and final time to group studying. Even if you’re not a fan of group studying, it can reveal things to you that you might not have learned, so it’s a good thing to do if only for an hour or two. I haven’t actually done this yet, but we just started a new block and I plan on implementing it, so I will let everyone know how it works out for me after the next exam.
Ways to Retain the Information
Outside of repetition, YouTube and mnemonics have been lifesavers when it comes to retaining information. Mnemonics make it easier to remember long lists of things (ie the branches of the external carotid artery), and I find that the more dirty they are, the better they work. I have also found some amazing videos on YouTube that have explained things to me in five minutes or less despite having spent hours on my own trying to figure it out. YouTube pretty much has videos on anything you can think of, so if you get stuck on something, use that search function! I remember things that are really off-the-wall and eccentric, and some of the videos posted have all the elements needed to make the information stick in my mind.
Know What Works Best for You
It’s important to remember that everyone has different ways of studying, so what works for me might not necessarily work for you. During orientation, I took a LASSI exam and found out that I am a strong read/write learner. I already knew this, but I learn best from reading the textbook and taking my own notes. This doesn’t work for everybody, and it is a really big waste of time to not study in a way that feels comfortable to you. Furthermore, what worked for you during your undergraduate years will probably not work in medical school just because of the sheer volume of material. Don’t be afraid to spend a month or two tweaking your study techniques until you find something that works. Also, I’m pretty sure that all schools have learning centers with people there to help you find effective study skills, so use them!
This pretty much sums up everything for now, but I’m sure I will have more posts on the subject in the future. The current term ends for us in November, and then we will start a completely different block that will consist of full days of lectures without labs. This is probably when I will have to really get a handle on things, but for now I am sticking with what I have written above. I wrote this post in terms of medical school, but I think the tips can be used by anyone whether you're in medical school, graduate school, or undergraduate school. It's important to build a good foundation early on so that you don't struggle later, so I hope this post helps!