This blog post is an excerpt from The Med School Survival Kit: How to Breeze Through Medical School While Crushing Your Exams by Dr. Wendell Cole.
Some people have their schedules set and may not need to read this post, but this may help some of you, so here we go!
The MVP of questions: “What was your study schedule like in medical school?”
Understanding the transition
While I was in undergrad, I was taking around 16 credit hours per semester. I used to take notes on each PowerPoint for every class and was very diligent and thorough. For a test in a class in undergrad, I may have had eight PowerPoint presentations that were 33 slides long each that I would have to know for the exam. I’d think “Man! This is a lot of information for me to remember by next week. How do they expect us to know all of this?” Looking back now, I realize how good I had it! When you are in medical school, it switches to “Man! I have eight 100-slide PowerPoint presentations to learn for one class, and I have four classes!” Sheesh! I was complaining for no reason back then!
At some point, you will most likely hear that studying in medical school is like drinking water from a fire hydrant, and it is. One of my professors, Dr. Patrickson, also told us that, “It is like drinking water from a fire hydrant, but with time, you learn how to drink very quickly.” You will learn to understand how to process all of the information that’s getting thrown at you.
When we talk about the transition to medical school, you have to understand that it’s going to be harder. I DO have good news though…I just saved a bunch of money by switching my car insurance…Just kidding. The good news is that the information itself will not be hard, it is just a matter of learning to process the pure volume. There are going to be classes that will challenge you. There are going to be obstacles that you are going to have to overcome. All of this is a part of the process. You are only facing what other successful men/women have met, meaning you’re only doing what other students have done before you. Your medical school would not have accepted you if they thought that you could not handle the information.
So let’s talk about studying. Repetition is the father of learning. I’m sure you’ve heard that before in some song or stated in some sense (I think Lil Wayne said that in the song “Shoot Me Down”). The more times that you view the material, the easier it will be to remember. I kind of see myself as the “lazy studier.” I’d rather look at material for 10 minutes a day for 10 days than spend 100 minutes on one day trying to learn the same amount of information. When you look over concepts multiple times, you have time to sleep on it. You process information when you sleep. There are studies that show that you retain information better after sleeping. Just Google “Sleep and Learning” or “Sleep and Memory” to see for yourself.
Approaching a block of information + creating a schedule
Now, think of information as a huge block that you have to learn and understand. Every day, every time you look at the material, every time you read or watch a video, you’re chipping away little by little at this huge block of information. If you set it up so you are doing this daily, by the end of the week you will have mastered the information.
The 1st pass – Getting those toenails wet.
I suggest that you approach learning new information by reviewing the subjects that you will be learning in class the day before. Spend about ten/fifteen minutes or so per subject and get the big picture.
You aren’t getting into the details of everything yet. Watching a video on the subject is an easy way, or you can read the chapter in the book. This way when you are in class, you know what is going on and you will be able to ask informed questions.
The 2nd pass – Up to your knees in the water.
Now your second time seeing the information is when you go to class the next day. If you don’t waste your time, sit there, and pay attention, you can get a lot out of class. Treat class like an in-depth study session since you already have a big picture of what is going on. Ask informed questions and make sure you understand everything before you leave class/lecture.
The 3rd pass – Thighs deep into the water and a couple splashes on your stomach.
The third time we take a chop at this block is going to be later on that afternoon of the lecture. Take another look through it to make sure that you got all of the high points that you need to understand. You are solidifying what you already learned. So within a 24-hour timespan, you have processed the information three times.
Want to hear what medical school is like from actual med students?
Check out our What is Medical School Really Like? series!
The 4th pass
Then the day after that, when studying, review what you learned yesterday at the beginning of your study session for 25 minutes or so. Start off your study session with about 10 practice questions or so to test your knowledge and see what exactly you need to focus on within that material. (Again, keywords – do questions!)
The 5th pass
Do pass 4 again the next day for 15 minutes (less time), and so on and so on. Again, do questions on the topic BEFORE you start to review. The result of using this method is that you will be spending LESS time studying outside of class. Keep it simple and study the material you will learn tomorrow, today. Learn it tomorrow and learn it again tomorrow night. Do that every day and you will be successful.
Next Week – add at least 10 minutes before each study day session to review topics that you looked over this week.
Now, let’s quickly talk about going to class. Depending on your institution, this is something you may or may not have to go to. Class could be online or in person. Some of your curriculums may be group-based learning (GBL) instead of lecture style. I would recommend if you go to class, that you stay off of social media. Sit there, pay attention, and actually attempt to understand the information. Ask questions and become actively engaged with your team (if GBL). When you ask questions, you remember things better because you are engaging your brain.
Take this. Say you have a class that’s about an hour and 30 minutes long and you go and dilly dally in class. You kind of pay attention. You kind of don’t. Guys: you’re looking at that girl with the nice dress, and ladies you are looking at that guy with the muscle shirt on (or whatever type of person you are into), and they have you daydreaming about them! I mean, you’re imagining your whole future life together at this point!
Later on that day when you go home and open your book, you think about what you learned in class but won’t remember anything. You will be thinking of that woman’s (man’s) well-formed body at the beach coming out of the water with the sun shining ever so brightly while they gaze at you in bliss, instead of cardiac embryology (not speaking from experience here or anything). Now you have to spend hours learning the information for the first time.
In many cases you are paying tens of thousands of dollars to get an education in medical school, so make that investment count. In lecture, use your teachers and ask them questions and make them work to teach you and have you understand.
Key takeaway points
- Repetition is key.
- Every day, study what you learned the day before, what you learned that day, and what you will learn tomorrow.
- Repetition is key.
- Start to incorporate review questions the day after you learn the topic.
- If you go to class, treat it like a study session.
- Repetition is key.
- Create your own schedule.
If you’d like to learn how to study to CRUSH STEP 1 and how to get a 260 on STEP 2, check out the full book at The Med School Survival Kit: How to Breeze Through Medical School While Crushing Your Exams.
When you work one-on-one with an experienced medical school admissions consultant, one with decades of experience guiding applicants just like you to acceptance at top medical schools, you position yourself for success. You learn how to identify your competitive advantage, and use it to get accepted. Explore our Medical School Admissions Consulting Services, choose the best med programs to apply to, and then confidently submit a stellar application that will get you ACCEPTED!
Wendell Cole, MD is an orthopaedic surgery resident and the co-host of Nailed It Ortho Podcast. He is also the author of The Med School Survival Kit: How to Breeze Through Medical School While Crushing Your Exams. To learn more, check out @IamDrCole.