The Professional Student: Study Tips

When you choose medicine, you choose a life time of learning. I call it being a professional student, because being in school for this long definitely makes you a professional at it. If you don’t know your learning style already, you gotta get to know it. How do you remember things best? Does it help if you record lectures on tape? What about if you look at drawings, does that help?

Honestly, though the process of getting to the point of medical school is usually a long one, it gives you all the opportunity you need to figure out how you learn best. And if you know you’re going towards medicine, one of the best pieces of advice I can think of is to get to know yourself as a student.

Now once you figure that out, the next step is to adjust it accordingly. By this I mean, if you did undergrad before medical school you probably did well. Most med students are used to success in school once they figured out their study and work habits. It’s probably how they got to medical school in the first place. The thing about medical school is not that the material is difficult per se. But the volume of material is monumental. What we are asked to learn in whatever amount of time (depending on what type of school you attend) is the thing that usually makes it difficult.

We need to know a lot of things. Everything we need to know to become what stands between our patients and their lives changing in a negative way is crammed into about 4 years.

Everything.

Scary right?

Mm, yeah. A bit. It’s a great deal of responsibility.

SO how do we remedy this?

Here’s a few tips on how I kept up with my studies:

1. First and foremost. I was told this on day one by literally almost every teacher and students in higher semesters from the day I started premed. This is an everyday thing. I don’t mean this literally. But at the same time, I kind of do. You need balance (other activities, other elements of life), but the only way to keep up in a volume overload situation is to stay on top of it. So, this is not all day, everyday. But maybe more like all day, most days.

At the very least, keep up with where you are in lecture and make lecture notes  on top of your study notes. When I did this, I had the best results because I saw what was important from my notes and gave me focus for when I reviewed. If you want to have wiggle room, read and work ahead. Even if you don’t want wiggle room, I strongly recommend getting ahead of the class. This way by the time you get to lecture, you’ve already learned it once. Lecture is the second time, and you get to hammer it in one more time on your own review after class. I don’t know that this is the only way, but experience has taught me that it’s pretty much fool-proof where volume is concerned.

2. Next I would say to practice active studying. This involves finding out the most important information, organizing it in a way beneficial to you, memorizing it and then applying it somehow, like in a quiz or practice questions. Honestly, I find this hard to do to this day even though I’ve come a long way. For me, it’s tedious and difficult to stay focused at times. Don’t fall into that trap, stay motivated and just power through it. This is completely opposite to what is called passive studying which will do no good in a high volume study environment. Passive studying involves things like skimming over text and just going over the material. If you have time, that may work, but with volume, you generally don’t have that kind of time. Active studying is the way to go if you want to make even a dent in your material with productivity and efficiency.

3. Get yourself a study schedule. I promise, this just makes life easier. Even if it’s just a “to do” list. Writing things down makes it much more likely you’ll actually follow through. Even if you fall behind, when you have everything written down, you have a better chance of getting to everything.

4. Make your own notes. Whatever way works for you. If you have to write them down on pen and paper (like myself) or if you retain things well enough with typing them out. Whichever way you choose, make your own study notes. It can be tempting when time is short, your exam is a week away, you’re already tired and someone else went through the entire chapter with a fine tooth comb and picked out important stuff and made the prettiest multicolour layout of everything to do with GI pathology. Dont. Do. It. Someone else’s notes are no help to you. They might help a bit, but it’s never going to be as good as your own work which will be catered to your needs. Writing your own notes gives you a chance to learn material and when you go back to look at it, it will be familiar to you. You’ll know it, because you wrote it.

5. This I kind of found out the hard way. Be your own best friend. And by this I mean, study groups are good. Take advice from other students as well, if it’s good advice and all. Discuss topics and make friends. But at the same time just…take it all with a grain of salt. This is a highly competitive environment you’ve arrived in, and not everyone is your friend. Not everyone will wish you well though they may say it to your face. I’m being real, telling you guys the truth even though it doesn’t sound very pretty. Not to say you might not find a few good friends, because I definitely found a few  🙂 Don’t be shy, just be cautious and rely on your instincts. Trust yourself the most.

6. Try to stick to what resources you know work for you. In med school, there are endless books, flash cards, study programs and tutorials. Tons. You can kind of get lost while trying to wade through the sea of help that has come to assist you through your studies. You’re going to hear all kinds of recommendations. But don’t be tempted to use EVERYTHING. If you can find a few good ones that help you along quite well, stick to those. Of course you can test the waters and tweak your preferences as you go along, but trying to use every type is not likely to work in your favor.

7. I mentioned this in #1. I’ll elaborate. Try for some balance in your life. I know the temptation well. ALL I wanted to do was study. I never felt like I did enough, and I never felt like there were enough hours in the day. But guess what? That attitude got me no further than it would have if I went out a little bit. There ARE enough hours in the day, you just have to be smart about how you use them. Reward your hard work with some fun here and there. Life is going on while you’re busy working away. It really doesn’t hurt to get out at times. I promise. And when you come back to your studies, you’ll have more energy to get it all done! Sometimes we need a little break. There’s no reason we can’t have it ALL. Not to me at least.  🙂

I think that’s a good start on tips for now. I hope this works for anyone who wants to try them out if you are not already. What do you all think? Anyone have any great tips that work for them? Feel free to comment below and/or share. And happy studying!

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