One of the toughest parts of starting medical school for me was figuring out how to study. Here are some of the best pieces of advice that I have discovered along the way.
Find your own study method.
Everyone does something different. Some students love the library while others are more productive at home. I like loud music while others need absolute silence. Find a method and routine that works for you and stick to it. And let me save you the time and trouble and let you know that study groups only work if everyone has studied on their own individually already.
Study for long-term retention
There is no way around it. You have to work hard every single day. However, studying in medical school is different than studying in undergrad. There is no more study and purge. You need to learn for long-term retention. This material is going to come back on the final. And the USMLE Step 1. And then again on Step 2 CK. Oh and also Step 3. It might even be important during residency when you treat actual patients. Just remember that if you understand it now then you won’t have to study it again later.
Work smarter, not harder
Medical school is like trying to drink water from a fire-hose. There is always more material to study and never enough time to study it. So you have to be succinct when it comes to taking notes and making study products. I liked to combine the two. Fold a piece of paper in half and write a question or topic on one side and the answer or explanation on the other. This way you can take notes while creating a study product at the same time. Then later on you can use your notes to quiz yourself. Cover one side and try to regurgitate as much as you can. Lather, rinse, repeat.
When you are studying your lecture material you must remember to actively study. By actively studying, you challenge yourself to summarize and regurgitate the material in your own words. Don’t just read the same sentences several times. Ask yourself questions about the topic at hand and different questions about the same subject. What artery supplies the muscle? What action does this muscle have? What nerve supplies this muscle? The nerve that supplies this muscle also supplies what other muscle? If you’re lucky, you might even accidentally guess an exam question.
Stay ahead of the game
Let’s compare your lectures to a pancake breakfast. Each day you have to eat ten pancakes. It’s manageable. However, if you slack off and don’t eat all of your pancakes, then the next day you will have to eat you ten from today and the remainder from the day before. That’s a lot of pancakes (and a lot of carbs…). This will continue until you’re looking at a mountain of flapjacks with no end in sight. Likewise, don’t fall behind in school- you can’t afford to. Stay ahead and always finish your day’s work. Find whatever works for you and stick to it.
See one, do one, teach one
The old phrase of ‘see one, do one, teach one’ carries weight in medical school and residency. After being taught something and studying it, test yourself by applying your knowledge. Practice questions are the simplest way to illuminate gaps in your knowledge and are an excellent way to apply what you’ve learned. This point is worth repeating- do practice questions! Eventually though, to test if you truly understand a topic try teaching it to a friend. You’d be surprised how much you think you know until you try to teach it to someone else.