The amount of information required to remember in med school is so much larger than in high school so having a study system can make learning and obtaining all that a lot easier.
What you need to remember is that you didn’t get into med school by accident. You got in because you’ve worked hard and dedicated a lot of your time to schoolwork and studying. So you probably already have some kind of a learning technique that works for you. However, med school is not the same as high school so some tips and ideas might be useful.
I know this is probably not what you want to hear but it’s true; one universal recipe for how to study doesn’t exist. It’s different for each individual what works for him and what doesn’t. I think it’s best to tell you what worked well for me and provide some other ideas on the way so that you could maybe either improve your existing technique or adopt a new one that you feel might work for you.
Here’s how I study, and this has worked quite well for me for the past two years:
I ALWAYS make a plan.
This is very important for me and it helps me keep track of how much work I’ve already done and how much I have left. It helps me organize my time and I’m less anxious since I always know where I stand.
When we get the dates for finals and colloquiums, I take time to sit down, put everything in my planner, and then decide how much time I’m going to need for each subject and how much time a day I’m going to spend on it. I usually start actively studying (4+ hours per day) 5-2 weeks before the exam, depending on the subject and the amount of required knowledge. I also plan which topic am I going to go over when and try to stick to that as much as I can. It’s not always going 100% by plan because I sometimes need more or less time to get a hold of the concept than I anticipated.
Now to HOW I study
This still varies from subject to subject but first I go over the pdfs that we usually get from the professors and then I check my notes (that I actively make during lectures) to see if I have all the information and all topics covered. Then I start by reading through and making handwritten notes along the way. If I don’t understand something, I usually check it out in a book, find some articles that discuss the topic in more detail or try to find some YouTube video that covers the topic.
I’m more of a visual learner so it’s important for me to “see” in order to remember. I use a lot of markers and I try to use a different color for each topic because it helps me memorize faster and better. I have to have my own notes, it’s impossible for me to study as efficiently from notes made by someone else so even if I borrow someone’s notes (which happens once in a blue moon because I attend lectures frequently) I have to make my own notes. I remember some things just because I wrote them, and I know where I wrote them. I know this may sound weird but I’m sure that other visual learners out there would understand. It’s also very important to me that my notes are neat so that I can visualize the page when I’m trying to remember something and I know where it was written. I also MUST have everything written down in lines and not as whole sentences otherwise I go mad.
(Youtube) videos are a great learning tool for me. I instantly understand the topic better and remember some facts that were otherwise hard for me to take on. So if you’re having trouble grasping some topic try taking the time to find a nice video that explains it and maybe this will help.
When I study, I try to explain the topic again to myself as if I’m the one teaching it. and I don’t mean literally repeat the sentences from the textbook or notes but explain it so that I know I understand it.
When I’m revising a topic I usually make some notes with key points and then explain the topic by myself like when I’m studying. When I think I’ve covered everything I check the key point note to see if I left something out. If I can’t remember something or if I’m not sure about it, I check it in the books and go over it again to really remember it.
If I can’t remember something or I’m not sure of something when I’m revising or if I realize that maybe I don’t understand a topic as much as I thought I ALWAYS make a note about it and then I don’t forget it again. It’s just that if I take the time to write it down again I remember it long term so my desk is often filled with post-it notes.
I also try to find some exercises and questions of the topic and go over them just to really be thorough and cover everything. If some questions baffle me or I know I wasn’t sure of the answer right away even though it made sense after I read it I still make notes on it and go over it again just to be sure.
Things that work for others but not for me
Here are some things you could also try because they work for some people but not for me:
- Drawing diagrams – this is a nice way for some people to remember topics but they don’t work for me because I find them too all over the place and not organized enough for me to benefit from them. If you haven’t tried it before, give it a go and maybe it will work for you
- Reading aloud – I don’t like that, it doesn’t work for me even though explaining and revising aloud does. This is probably a great way of learning if you’re more of an audible type and can remember things just by hearing them.
It’s important to be fair to yourself and to your future patients. You have to be insightful enough to know how much you really know and have some self-criticism to really focus on topics and strive to understand them. I know it’s hard to stay motivated sometimes but this is what we chose. You also have to be disciplined enough to not let other things distract you and to be able to sit down and take the time and work even when you’re struggling. Sometimes it just takes some time to get a grasp of things.