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Advanced Study Habits You’ll Need in Medical School

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Are you working hard at getting into medical school? Whether you’re still an undergrad or preparing to make the switch to medicine after a few years in another career, you’ll want to make sure you have what it takes to study effectively once you get there. The study habits you formed during your undergrad years may not be enough to deal with the advanced concepts and sheer volume of material aspiring doctors are required to process.

However, you can level up your approach to studying now to give yourself a better chance at hitting the ground running once you do get accepted to medical school. This article runs through some effective strategies for studying that you may want to incorporate into your routine.

Commit to Daily Review

Priming your memory with daily review of concepts can help you reinforce knowledge. Take some time in the 24 hours after a class session to review what you learned that day. This can be in the evening or early the following morning.

If you come across concepts in your notes that seem unclear or confusing on review, write down the questions you have about them. You can ask these questions in your next class session or take them with you to your professor’s office hours.

Plan the “When, What, and How” of Big Study Sessions in Advance

Once you have a syllabus for each of your courses, sit down with a calendar and work out when your tests and exams will be. Then, work backwards with each calendar to plan regular study sessions for each course throughout the term, with a ratio of three hours of study to one hour of class time.

Once you’ve planned when you’re going to study, plan what you’ll study: assign each study period a theme so that you are focusing on one or two topics covered during the exams.

Then, plan the how: program different activities for each study period that go beyond the passive learning of re-reading your notes or textbooks. Write a practice quiz, develop a mind map, produce a diagram, outline a chapter you just read, or generate your own flashcards—whatever you need to do to engage actively with the material and reinforce it in your mind.

Get a (Small) Study Group Together

If you need the occasional motivation of working with others, form a study group of three to five people. Working in groups a few times a month can be a great way to enhance your study routine, as long as everyone accepts responsibility for ensuring study sessions are productive. Otherwise, study groups can become a form of socially acceptable procrastination.

Make sure study sessions are planned, with each member taking turns setting the session agenda before meeting. One impactful way to approach group study is by having members take responsibility for teaching a topic to the others. Having material explained from a new viewpoint is good for the members of the group who are listening to the presentation. For the presenter, researching a topic to teach it can often lead to deeper understanding.

If you meet virtually instead of in-person, you can also do things like incorporate Zoom quizzes, screenshare, and even work with students in other programs from time to time. (If you meet in person, of course, you can bring snacks.)

Learn to Love Mnemonic Devices

You’re probably familiar with mnemonic devices from grade-school science classes: “My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Up Nine Pizzas” may be how most of us memorized the order of the planets. Mnemonics can also help you memorize the outlines of a wide range of medical concepts—just look at the Wikipedia entry on medical mnemonics for an idea of what’s out there.

Remember, however, that mnemonics only offer you a trick for remembering the outline of a topic. For example, the “My Very Elegant Mother…” mnemonic may help you remember the names of the planets in their order from the sun, but it doesn’t help you remember which planets are rocky or gaseous, which ones have the most moons, or what their orbital periods are. If you use medical mnemonics in your study, make sure you do the work to fill in more details about each item the mnemonic helps you remember.

Use Your Hands

We’ve become a very screen-oriented society in the last 20 years. Lots of students take laptops and tablets into class with them to type notes during their lectures. However, numerous studies have shown that using a pen and paper to write notes boosts memory recall more than using a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

It’s believed this is because of the additional physical and visual stimuli that writing by hand entails. Those stimuli allow your brain to anchor what you’ve read or written down more firmly in your memory than typing into an app does. While you don’t have to produce the beautifully organized bullet-journal style notes you see on Instagram to be an effective note-taker, getting some pens and highlighters out may be worth it.

See What Other Students Have Done

Finally, it’s always good to see what other students have done to successfully get through tough pre-med and medical school classes. The internet can be a treasure trove of tips and advice from those who have already survived the first year of medical school.

Go looking for subreddits, forums, Twitter accounts, and other potential resources aimed at students like you. While not every study tip will be right for your learning style, you may find something that helps you master a tough concept you’d been struggling with all semester long.

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